The Cable Alternative: Sezmi

The Cable Alternative: Sezmi

Gregory Han
Jun 15, 2010

Product: Sezmi
Price: $299*
Rating: Recommend*

It's been about a year now since we cut our digital satellite cable service, a decision born out of budgetary reasons and also for the fact we were paying for something that we were only using for a very small portion in our daily lives. We patchworked together a hodge podge of online services with downloadable content via a PS3, streaming video and Blu-ray rentals via Netflix on our computer and admittedly, occasionally found ourselves regretting we didn't have cable TV anymore (mostly during live sporting events). This last month we've been trying out a fairly new service, Sezmi, which aims to merge all the features of cable TV, home theater PCs, media+gaming consoles into one package.

The big news worth noting right off is the Sezmi system's initial $299 price has been dropped down to a very budget friendly $149.99 at their primary retail partner, Best Buy, for a limited time. The Sezmi package includes a set top receiver with 1TB hard drive with DVR compatibility, a fairly basic remote, and a two-piece antenna reception system, and this new sale price might sweeten the deal for anyone looking to cut their expensive cable habit, since Sezmi's per month subscriptions start at $4.99, compared to prices double or triple that amount when subscribing via cable providers. Users also receive the bonus feature of a an integrated DVR without the per month fee normally associated with Tivo, something we've never experienced at home prior due to the extra cost normally associated with it (TV addicted friends thought we're crazy for living without one).

Out of the box, the Sezmi system impressed us with its ability to pull down over the air broadcasts using its subwoofer shaped antenna, especially since we were unable to receive more than a small handful of stations using an amplified indoor antenna prior. The Sezmi system is really a dual receiver system, with the larger antenna providing over the air local channels (arguably something you could do with a regular antenna) and the set top box using an internet connection to serve up digital cable television stations, alongside additional features such as TV and Movies on Demand and YouTube.

The Sezmi antenna was able to pull in 72 channels, with just three rated as "weak" or "poor". 72 channels seems like a lot, but in reality, many of these channels include multi-broadcast of the same network and also a wide variety of foreign language channels (something we actually quite like watching here in Los Angeles, so we personally counted this as a plus). These channels are supplemented by 23 cable channels, which include CNN, TCM, MTV, DIscovery and SyFy (ugh, that network name update still strikes us awkward) when you subscribe to Sezmi Select Plus ($19.99/month), trumping regular cable providers with a much more reasonable pricing tier for basic cable subscription. Also of note was Sezmi's customer service team was very helpful, friendly and quick in helping us setup the system after we had some reception issues, something rare during this era of outsourced hit and miss service.

Where Sezmi is still lacking is in its HD content (the system is capable of 1080p/1080i 60Hz, 720p 60Hz or 480p 60Hz). All HD content depends upon over the air broadcast, something an aerial antenna or indoor antenna in a good reception location can bring you without the monthly fees. But for a renter like ourselves, the Sezmi does offer an affordable bridge between the viewing options of a cable provider and some of the features we used previously on Apple TV and the PS3. Watching the NBA Finals in HD has been a wonderful savior, but then watching the cable stations in standard def without their HD counterparts has reminded us why we paid so much with DSS before.

YouTube and other podcast material on our TV has never been a selling point for us, but for those of you who do like watching cats on Roombas and Taiwanese Whitney Houston impersonators in the living room, the option is there for you to enjoy. More to our liking was the on demand content, specifically HD movies. The HD edition of Sherlock Holmes downloaded to play in about 7 minutes, and there was nary any hiccup or artifact issues during playback. Selection is similar to those offered via Apple TV or the PS3, mostly blockbusters and older films (we're not cutting our Netflix subscription any time soon), with new titles added every week.

We only wish the system's remote/menu system was so smooth and trouble free. The system has a tendency to occasionally miss remote commands, sometimes ignoring us, sometimes registering the command a couple seconds after it has been pressed, making for some frustrating operation (we've since programmed our Logitech remote, which seems to be somewhat better at transmitting our wishes, so perhaps the issue is a remote hardware one). Think of the way Christopher Walken delivers a line and then you can imagine how the Sezmi system sometimes operates. It doesn't happen all of the time, but enough so that scrolling through channels or menu screens can feel like driving through a parking lot with speed bumps. We hope to see a system update that resolves these issues in the near future.

If you're a family or roommate household, the My Sezmi feature can be helpful at keeping settings and preferences distinctly your own. Each user can log-in with their own preference settings, and these settings are available with an programmed icon on the remote; the My Sezmi button allows access to content reflecting past viewing habits according to your ratings and downloads in similar fashion to Tivo. So far the system has been good to note we're a hoops loving, arugula-eating, PBS sort of viewer, and has served up recommendations that reflect this dichotomy.

The DVR feature affords users up to 1,400 hours of programming, depending upon HD or standard def content, and as advertised. The 1TB is large enough to safely store away both our daily downloads of California's Gold and the TCM movies we've missed, a new luxury we're still learning to remember to use.

Our Sezmi representative pitched the system as an umbrella solution, combining many of the hardware and software options used to pull in digital, broadcast and online content all into a single device, skirting our question about why a la carte subscriptions aren't yet offered (and this is not to point fingers just at Sezmi, but all cable providers). It's partially what we want one day: a single box solution which handles anything and everything we throw at it, out of the box. But currently the Sezmi is maybe halfway there, providing that very convergence of sources, but not with the full variety and ease we hope for ideally. With more cable channels and on-demand content being planned for rollout later this year, the Sezmi at its reduced price is a product we can recommend for those looking for an affordable way to watch basic cable and broadcast TV, with the options of on-demand entertainment. Yet, it's not quite there for the XBMC+Boxee+Handbrake multi-file format crowd, nor those looking for the full spectrum of HD content across all channels. With those limitations accepted, we're still very pleased finding an affordable service which makes sense to our wallets as much as it does to our viewing eyes, making it a solid stopgap solution during these times when media providers are trying to figure out this whole digital content conundrum.

UPDATE: Sezmi contacted us about an update, expanding their entry-level Sezmi Select offering this week in Boston; Detroit; Houston; Kansas City, Mo.; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Miami, Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; and San Francisco. Customers can order their Sezmi system and subscribe for the service online at Sezmi.com. The new upgrade includes new Entertainment Zones, online browsing of the Sezmi on-demand catalog and many other new features and performance enhancements.

Pros: Simple setup, strong reception even in weak transmission location, recent price drop makes purchase very reasonable, low per monthly costs compared to cable, 12,000 movies and television shows available on demand, solid choice for renters on a budget, excellent customer support.

Cons: Remote functions can be sluggish, user interface needs refinement, no HD cable stations (just local over the air broadcast), currently limited selection of channels compared to cable providers, set top box hums too loud, still no real a la carte options

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend
Recommend*
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.

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