The 40-car pileup that is the UPC Horizon Box

Published by marco on

Background

We’ve been subscribed to UPC Cablecom for almost 15 years now.

In Switzerland, you have two parts of a cable package: a fixed price that pays for the cable company to get cable into your apartment, and a content package for services over that cable.

Until recently, the fixed price had been included in our rent and we’d had a pretty good deal on services for TV/Landline/Internet. This year, the cooperative where we live decided to stop including the fixed price in the rent. This because a lot of people in our building weren’t using the cable connection: they had Swisscom instead, which uses DSL.

Our setup

Because we’ve been subscribers for so long, we still had the older-model Mediabox with a separate router with no wifi capability. We have our own wifi router connected to the cable router. Our setup is as follows:

  • Two coax cables to the wall: one for the Mediabox and one for the router.
  • The wifi router is connected to the cable router via Ethernet.
  • The TV is connected to the wifi router via Ethernet.
  • All other devices are on the wireless LAN.
  • The landline is connected to the cable router.

This setup works just fine and we’re happy with it.

Upgrade time

We strolled down to the UPC store—they actually have an office in our town—to find out that we’d have to choose a new content package that included the fixed price.

We were a bit leery because we’d been riding an older contract that had been upgraded all the way to 250Mb/s and we didn’t want to lose too much speed or pay too much more. We needn’t have worried: we got a new package that’s 200Mb/s, is a bit cheaper than what we paid in total before, and replaces our Mediabox with the Horizon box.

Old and busted: Mediabox

 MediaboxOur Mediabox was quite old and hadn’t had a software update in a while. Plus, it sometimes (read: often) rebooted itself and lost all of its settings, including favorite channels that we’d painstakingly set up. It messed up recordings, sometimes storing them in two separate files that left out ten minutes in between. Fast-forwarding and rewinding was very juddery and difficult to control. We figured it couldn’t get any worse. Also, it took a long time to come back from standby in eco mode.

New hotness: Horizon Box

Ooooh…Horizon Box. We had heard…things. Bad things. It was supposed to be slow. It had a weird UI. Spoiler alert: all of these things are true.

 Horizon BoxSo we took our new box at no cost and headed home to install it. Setting it up for TV broadcast was easy enough. The menus are definitely a little weird but we relatively quickly figured out where the radio channels are and how to set up favorites again (hopeful that they wouldn’t be erased at the next reboot).

Flying too close to the sun

I saw in the settings that there were several Ethernet and RJ45 ports and, in the settings, there was wireless support. I thought it would be nice to consolidate everything to one box and get rid of my own wireless router and the cable router. That would save me two power plugs and one coax plug.

I tried to get it running but, long story short, these two features need to be enabled by UPC Cablecom to run through your Horizon box instead of a separate router. I talked to an extremely helpful tech guy from Germany who explained, more or less in so many words (paraphrased from German), that “I shouldn’t try to use the Horizon box for Internet or phone because it’s too unreliable. That, when it fails—and it will fail—at least I would only lose my TV reception and would still have the Internet and landline.” This was at once both refreshingly honest on his part and disappointing news.

Not only that, but if the Horizon box manages Internet and phone, then it cannot be used with the “eco” standby mode. The separate router and Apple airport express that I have use less power than the Horizon box in “medium” or “high” standby power mode.

Attention – Error Code 8160

The replay feature works no better on the Horizon Box than on the Mediabox. The few times we tried it resulted in the error code above. It’s possible that it only allows replay for shows after the activation time, but then it could just say that. Either that or the bloody thing still doesn’t allow replay for a show that hasn’t completely finished. That is, if you show up late for a show, you can’t just watch it from the beginning until it’s completely over. Super-useful.

The menus are just as slow as on the Mediabox.

Changing channels is also slower on the Horizon box because it insists on showing a picture-in-picture of the channel whenever you scroll around the guide or channel list. Instead of letting me scan around the guide quickly, the stupid thing ties the menu-navigation speed to the speed of the tuner—which is dog-slow, even in 2017. There is no option to turn off this feature.

Although it provides no routing, the Horizon box has access to the Internet. I could log in to Netflix, which worked OK but was no better or worse than the app on our Samsung TV. The YouTube app doesn’t let you log in to an account, so you can only choose from the firehose of generic YouTube content.

One final note: disabling the wireless

So I left everything the way it was, except I shut off the built-in wireless network in the Horizon box. This was also not as easy as it sounds. The Ethernet ports and the WLAN provide no routing unless the Internet is enabled from the UPC mothership.

Not only that, but the administration panel to manage the WLAN is only available if you connect directly to the Horizon box with an Ethernet cable. The instructions don’t mention that and they also indicate that you should browse to http://gwlogin.net, which is a parked domain. Instead, you should use http://192.168.192.1. The administrator name and password in the instructions are correct.

Conclusion

Our setup is stable and working and we’re hoping to learn some new things about the Horizon box. Maybe some of the detriments I outlined above are just due to lack of experience. Fingers crossed.