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Time Warner Cable: Worst TV Interface Ever?

The DVR menu is in the "Help" tab, video on demand is impossible to navigate, and the remote control has teeny weeny buttons. And we wonder why cable companies like Time Warner Cable are losing subscribers.


TWC remote. Can’t even tell you what that green button is with the reversed-out text. Who designs these things?

There is no excuse for a bad user interface. So why are there so many?

I remember asking my husband – a security manufacturing guy – years ago if there was a reason that alarm panels were all so ugly. Was it somehow cheaper to make them ugly? The answer was no.

And today, I am just as awed that so many digital user interfaces are ridiculously bad. I can’t imagine that good designers are that much more expensive than bad ones, especially when you’re talking about well-financed firms like Time Warner Cable, purveyor of one of the world’s worst TV interfaces.

I’m pretty sure I saw my husband cry the other day while clutching a TWC remote, unable to get to a recording of “60 Minutes.”

It’s no wonder. The DVR menu is under the HELP tab. Makes perfectly good sense.

There’s the DVR ... in the help menu with parental controls. Right.

I won’t even go into the unnerving universal remote that TWC supplies with its digital cable service. Even if I could see the tiny labels on the tiny buttons, they wouldn’t make sense.

The entire TWC experience is epitomized by the video-on-demand feature – something I had never used until about a month ago. I think I hit the VoD button by accident.

What a mess!

Seems like a nice feature, right? You can watch some good prime-time shows whenever you want? As long as you can find them? Which you can’t?

VoD is an attractive service, which I never knew about from my last cable experience (12 years with Comcast) since I used a Windows Media Center with CableCard. It could potentially keep me from cutting the cord with TWC, but TWC does everything to repel me from the service.

In the video below, I demonstrate how a person might find Honey Boo Boo on TWC VoD. It isn’t pretty. On so many levels.

You think cable companies are losing subscribers because of cheap online competition? Maybe they’re defecting because of the bad user experience.

VIDEO: Time Warner Cable VoD experience: terrible GUI

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Article Topics

News · Blogs · Gui · Twc · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

31 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Seth_J  on  11/01  at  01:46 PM

I’m making Julie saying “Let’s watch Honey Boo Boo” into a ring tone. Hilarious!

Posted by Brian Galante  on  11/01  at  03:30 PM

This is so completely true.  Being used to Comcast and DirecTV, my family and I were subjected to TWC this summer having been in Maine for a couple of months.  it is by far the most buggy, convoluted, unresponsive interface I have experienced on a digital video system of any kind.  The menus make little sense, things are buried where they shouldn’t be, and the remote design is a step above primitive.  Once I felt like I finally got the gist of it after a few weeks, they “updated the software” to an even more confusing menu layout, where we were constantly getting kicked out of one menu and back to the beginning as we made selections.  At that point we pretty much just stopped using VoD, and just recorded to DVR or watched in real time.  And even the DVR and general navigation menus were buggy and unresponsive.

I feel like a complete and utter nerd writing all of this, but the nightmare is still fresh in my mind, so it feels good to vent to someone else who felt the pain.

Posted by Chris  on  11/01  at  03:31 PM

Well at least your TV is working…so now you can be frustrated with that POS cable box.  FYI the green button is your DVR List (your recordings).

Better yet, get rid of that turd and get a TiVo Premier XL…VoD is a joke anyway.

Far better reliability and interface and if you’re ummm too frugal to get a universal control system the peanut remote blows all other OEM controllers away!

Posted by Mike in Tampa  on  11/01  at  03:34 PM

Time Warner Bright House in the Tampa Bay area the worst cable provider in the US.  Over five months and 30 technicians TV Box problems, internet what a joke edge was faster, yet they wanted there invoices paid for non service.  What is this country coming to. grin

Posted by Ryan  on  11/01  at  03:45 PM

I agree totally with this article!  I just moved from Chicago and had Comcast.  Expensive, yes, but the slightly “cheesier” looking GUI was very easy to navigate.  I’ve had TWC in Kansas City now for about a month - and am very frustrated with it.  Sure hope it changes soon….

Posted by Finn Petersen  on  11/01  at  03:49 PM

You want a bad remote (small buttons plus very un-ergonomic placement of major DVR controls) plus “hidden” menus? Just try CenturyLink Prism TV! And don’t get me started on the “being able to record four shows at once from the whole-home DVR” . . . what’s the POINT when only ONE can be HD?? We’ve had the service since June (after switching from Bright House Networks (a TWC partner and “spinoff”) and my poor wife still hasn’t figured out how to access recorded shows.

Posted by jim  on  11/01  at  03:55 PM

Folks, take a trip to South Jersey, stones throw away from Philly!! Pretty much where Comcast began, and check out Comcast’s service… One step ahead of the good ole rabbit ears!! We have the oldest equipment and network. The menu still looks like something from the 70’s/80’s and it is just horrible to look at.. I have a better shot of grabbing a box of crayons and drawing my own menu on my TV screen. And to make matters worse their service is horrible.. Switched back to Comcast a little over a year ago and the sound cuts out every day and the screen pixelettes every day!! Hey Mr Roberts, fix your crap and I will make sure I pay my bill on time!!!

Posted by Jason Knott  on  11/01  at  04:27 PM

It’s all relative. This summer we vacationed in New Hampshire and the house had TWC. We could not get over how much BETTER it was than our Charter Communications interface at home.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  11/01  at  04:48 PM

You liked that, Seth?

Posted by Nanthan I  on  11/01  at  05:02 PM

I’m not going to say I think it’s the best interface ever but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as you’re making it out to be. It’s laggy at times I will give you that. As far as needing to go to the help menu to get the DVR list is just simply not true. Yes you CAN get to it that way but if you cant figure out how to get to it by hitting a single button on your remote than that’s your problem. Same goes with OD. It’s not nearly as hard as you are making it out to be. I found that show OD in less that 20 seconds. Entertainment od, scroll over to TLC select honey bobo and then what episode you want to watch.

Like I said I’m not saying it’s all that but most all of the things you are complaining about are user error. I work in IT I know ALL ABOUT user error

Posted by Dan  on  11/01  at  05:12 PM


You are wrong.

It is *NOT* the worst TV interface ever.
It is THE WORST INTERFACE of anything ever created in the history of man.

Take everything you rightly called out, and then add in that they just change features on a whim. One day something works, the next day it doesn’t. The day after, a menu item moves. What a complete mess.

And don’t even get me started that on their new boxes (like the one you obviously have) 30 skip is unavailable, even though it clearly is supported generally.

We are giving them a few more months before we switch, and we work very hard to tell our story to anyone who will listen.


Posted by insider  on  11/01  at  05:27 PM

it was designed in a South Central Asian country by low rate engineers.  No UIX input other than color scheme and font.

This is what happens when MBA’s get tasked with rolling something out.

Posted by ron  on  11/01  at  06:43 PM

i have universal control which is helpful many shows seem to overlap the times and conflict forces you to decide not to record the next show in the guide.

Posted by pcompton  on  11/01  at  06:46 PM

I feel your pain Julie.  You obviously haven’t seen WOW’s GUI.  You and I are peas in a very painful pod.

Posted by jwinn  on  11/01  at  07:52 PM

I’m this close to going Hulu full time. Great story that needs telling.

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