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Comcast's IP video evolution will be televised

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 8:40am
Mike Robuck

Comcast's vision for its migration to IP-based video is starting to sharpen with two key projects.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Comcast is going to deliver linear TV channels over IP to students at MIT. According to the story, Comcast will start testing the IP delivery of video this fall at MIT. The service will allow students to watch shows live on their TVs or PC over the campus' network without the need for a cable hookup.

The end goal is to be able to provide video services to the plethora of IP-capable consumer electronics devices that are flooding the market, as well as a shorter developmental cycle for Comcast.

"We want to deliver video everywhere people want to watch it," said Comcast's Sam Schwartz, president of converged products, in an interview with the newspaper. "We have to do a better job getting people to realize what they are paying us for."

While cable operators have been using IP to connect systems for years, the talk of transitioning to IP-based video services has been underway for years. Time Warner Cable teamed up with RealNetworks in 2005 for a trial in San Diego that used IP to deliver video to PCs, but there hasn't been much movement of the dial since then.

According to The Journal, Comcast will expand testing of IP video to its own employees later this year by allowing them to watch live shows via a small box or other Internet-connected devices such as gaming consoles.

Comcast doesn't plan on ripping out its HFC anytime soon, but IP video gives it a means to allow subscribers to take their video services with them. For now, Comcast is keeping the content within its footprint, although that could change once new agreements are reached with content providers and studios.

Also on the IP video front, Comcast's Xcalibur project has emerged out of stealth mode, thanks to a blog posting yesterday by Schwartz. Rumors of the Xcalibur project first emerged two years ago at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver.

Comcast is testing Xcalibur, which includes a new user interface based on Internet standards, in Augusta, Ga. Schwartz wrote that the goal of Xcalibur was "to take everything we've learned from the Web and tablets and bring it right back to your TV screen."

"By leveraging IP technology and our own 'cloud' servers in our network, we're going to bring you a user experience on television that makes it easier to search and select from tens of thousands of choices and makes the television screen personal, useful and fun," Schwartz wrote. "With Xcalibur, your TV will reflect your interests, favorite TV series, sports teams, movies and music.

"What's more, because our platform is based on many of the same standards used on the Internet (but travels over our network, not the Internet), we'll be able to bring apps, social media and other popular features to the market faster."

Schwartz said in the WSJ story that the Augusta trial of Xcalibur would be expanded to additional markets later this year prior to being launched next year.

New customers in Augusta who sign up for Comcast's HD DVR service will have access to the new features through Xcalibur Spectrum, which is an IP-based box reportedly made by Pace.

052611-Comcast-MyTV

Comcast subscribers can personalize their content by using the company's "MyTV" feature on its Web portal.

Comcast has also been busy getting other elements of its IP-video play in place, including the addition of content distribution networks (CDNs) in the larger cities that it serves.

"Sort of from left to right, our CDN is based on IP, as a way to more efficiently handle how we move video around our backbone, from source to destination," Comcast CTO said in a recent interview with CED. "In the headend, it's about adaptive coding, in cases where we need to transmit to devices with MPEG-4 decoders, and figuring out how to make our CMTS gear capable of converged service delivery.

"That brings in the CMAP work. In the home, our cable modem strategy will involve CPE with increasing numbers of tuners, to coincide with our wideband channel bonding efforts. And, in the back office and everywhere else, we're transitioning 'old to new' with web service interfaces and 'cloud' services, for lack of a better term.

For more on how other cable operators are approaching the transition to IP video, check out the current edition of CED.

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