I got my first hands on look at the Shaw Gateway and Portal System today and overall was quite impressed with the look of Shaw’s Newest Cable Box.
The Shaw Gateway and Portal System is Shaw’s competitive offering to Telus TV and Bell Satellite and offers several advantages and some disadvantages over it’s competition.
Equipment: Anyone who’s seen the Shaw Gateway cannot help but be impressed by it’s overall looks. The Gateway main Hub is about the size of an average size surround sound receiver and is Gloss Black in color with a Blue Arris backlight logo and some blue highlighted back lit soft touch buttons on the from of the box. The main Gateway Hub normally will sit inside your utility room so most of the time you won’t get to look at how pretty it is but if you do have an exposed equipment rack it will look outstanding amongst your other components. The Portal Boxes are about a third the size of the hub similar in size to the Motorola DCX3200 HD cable box or Telus TV standard set top box and can be hidden behind your flat panel tv or once again featured along side your other equipment and components. The Shaw Portal Box like the Gateway hub is Gloss Black in color with blue back lit LED channel or time display, ARRIS logo and soft touch buttons.
Remote: The Arris Shaw Gateway Portal remote is much smaller than Shaw’s standard cablebox remote with fewer buttons. The buttons on the Portal Remote are illuminated and backlit similar to Telus and Bell. As mentioned there are fewer buttons on the Arris Portal Remote which allows the remote to be smaller but makes navigating through various features more cumbersome and slower since many features are menu driven rather than simple one touch button commands. We of course prefer the one touch direct button access if possible.
Guide: Unlike Shaw’s existing Motorola or Pace Cable boxes the guide on the Arris Gateway Portal is FULL SCREEN 1080 and looks great. The overall layout to the guide is similar to Telus TV and Bell with a live picture in top right corner of the screen and the guide in the middle and bottom left hand portions of the screen. The Guide on the Arris Shaw Portal is much clearer and better laid out than the Motorola DCX cable boxes. The guide also contains more lines of channel information. During my demo there were no annoying ads on the guide however I don’t know if Shaw does feature ads on the Arris Portal Guide during peak hours like they do with the Motorola Cable Boxes which of course not only are annoying but take up one line of guide space.
Guide Channel Order: One of the minor glitches with the guide on the New Arris Portal is the inability to change the channel guide preference order from ascending or descending. I don’t know why they eliminated this feature on the Arris Portal cable box since it was on all previous Shaw cable boxes and also is offered on Bell Satellite Boxes. This little setting allows the guide numbers to increase or decrease when you move the guide up or down depending on your preference and choice. This is a simple programmable user setting that should be included on any cable box especially on a system that sells for over $500 dollars!
Menu: The menu one the Arris Shaw Portal box appears in the middle of the screen rather than at the bottom of the screen on the Motorola cable boxes, I find this annoying and would prefer to navigate the menu from the bottom of the screen rather than having it overlay in the middle but that perhaps is a preference adopted from years of using Motorola Cable boxes and also windows and Mac computers all of which have their main menus appear first at the bottom of the screen.
The menu includes picture icons for guide, settings, messages, PPV, Video on Demand, Search, Catagories, Games and most importantly PVR Settings and Recordings, just to name a few. As mentioned the guide looks GREAT in full 1080 HD however navigating the guide is awkward and less than intuitive even for an experienced integrator such as myself. It took me several tries to access my PVR Recordings since there are two sub menus you need to navigate to before you can access your list of recordings.
Recording options: The recording options are similar to the Motorola cableboxes which I find adequate but prefer the Bell PVR recording setup much better to Shaw’s. Shaw’s cable boxes do not allow you to record one specific TV show on one channel at one specific time of day, instead if the same show repeats on the same channel over and over during the same day, the Shaw PVR recording setup will record or re-record the same show over and over during the same day.
For example if America’s funniest Videos is on at 6:00pm and 9:00pm on CMT on Monday-Friday, you can’t set up a recording to record only the 6pm show each day Monday – Friday on the Shaw PVR tuner instead you can only set up the PVR to record the show once daily. The problem that happens with shows that repeat over and over again in the same 24 hour cycle is the Shaw PVR want’s to re-record them again on the same day erasing the old recording and replacing it with a new one. This means in the example indicated the Show would first record at 6pm however then at 9pm it would record again and erase the same show which was recorded only 3 hours earlier. This re-recording also ties up one tuner from recording a second show at 9pm. Shaw still uses this awkward PVR recording programing method on the New Arris Gateway Portal. Bell allows you to program the PVR to record only once a day at a designated time, let’s say 6pm, with the Bell PVR programming your show would record only at 6pm each day and would not re-record again at 9pm allowing you to use both tuners for live or recorded viewing at 9pm. I sure wish Shaw would change this about the PVR programming.
Six (6) HDTV Tuners: A fully maxed out Shaw Gateway Hub with 6 Portals would allow you to watch, view or record up to 6 HD Streams or shows at any one time. That’s more than Telus and similar to Bell.
Skip Forward and Backward Settings: The standard default settings for the Skip Forward on the Arris Shaw Portal box is 30 second skip ahead. the settings allow you to adjust this setting to 3 minutes, 5 minutes and 15 minutes skip ahead or defeat/cancel button. This makes no sense? Who came up with these settings? How about a 1 minute skip ahead setting?, who uses a 3, 5 or 15 minute skip ahead setting? and what’s the purpose of the defeat/cancel function setting. There already is a defeat or cancel function built into every button it’s called the Don’t Press the Button if you don’t want to skip ahead? Duh!
While there is an adjustment setting for the Skip Forward, I could not find an adjustment for the skip backward setting which is factory set and fixed at 15 seconds rewind. Once again the logic of this setting at 15 seconds eludes me, and not being able to adjust the setting to 30 seconds or 1 minute also is puzzling?
So the way the Arris Shaw Portal Skip/Rewind buttons work at factory default you would need to press the Skip button eight (8) times to skip past 4 minutes of commercials and if you overshot your commercial by 1 minute you would have to press the rewind button 4 times to rewind 1 minute. If this sounds confusing already you should try using it. The skip and rewind settings should be the same or at most a 2:1 ratio not 4:1 ratio, that’s just mind boggling – my only rational for this crazy, awkward, non-intuitive Skip/Rewind setup is that the programmers and engineers don’t want you to use the Skip and Rewind feature to navigate and avoid all the Shaw TV commercials you would miss if you could actually master the Skip/Rewind buttons of this Arris Portal.
Once again this minor glitch could be solved with a simple programming firmware change.
Glitches: During my demo navigating the Shaw Arris Portal from the guide to live TV and back seemed a little slower than on a Motorola DCX3400 box. It would have been interesting to do a speed test comparing the two boxes side by side by the Arris Portal did seem to be slightly slower. Live TV pause and play lag. During my demo I was watching Golf live and paused the channel then navigated to the guide, some menu items and then after about 5 minutes back to the golf channel attempting to resume play. At first the Arris Portal seemed to stall or the remote seemed to not be working, several presses of the play button finally got the recorded video to play however it was choppy at the start then smoothen out. I tried skipping forward 2 minutes and also found the skip to be choppy and erratic then playback resumed. I changed the channel and then went back to the golf channel and everything appeared fine. I had a second glitch trying to exit from the guide back to live TV which again required changing the channel and then tuning back to the previous channel which seemed to reset everything.
Audio: The Arris Shaw Portal cable box was connected directly to the demo TV via HDMI therefore I could not test the audio signal coming out of the Portal box to see if it exhibited the same Audio Dropout Problems encountered by the Motorola and Pace Cable boxes. I currently have a Motorla DCX 3400 PVR connected to a Yamaha Receiver is Fiberoptic Toslink cable which periodically experiences audio dropouts during live viewing and PVR playback. This is a know issue with Shaw however I am uncertain if it is related solely to the Motorola and Pace boxes or would also occur with the Arris Gateway and Portal System. I have never experienced audio dropout with Shaw or Telus although both those systems have had audio pixelation problems due to bad weather or poor steaming.
Price: At $600 for the basic system plus more for additional boxes the Shaw Arris Gateway Portal System is one of the most expensive Cable Box / Media Center equipment options available. Telus and Bell offer similar equipment at lower cost however Telus can only provide 1 or 2 HD live streams at a time to a single household while Shaw and Bell and provide up to 6 depending on the equipment configuration. Shaw Arris and Telus Optik TV remote controls are both similar in size and backlit while Bell’s remote on the dual tuner PVR is UHF (radio frequency – whole house) and the Bell dual tuner PVR also comes with a built in modulator for streaming Non-HD to other TV’s in your home via coax. The menus are all similar and display in HD.
For More information and video on the Shaw Gateway Portal System see our previous post: shaw-introduces-a-new-high-end-cable-box-to-compete-with-telus
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