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Comcast's Parker box goes for a test drive at the FCC

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 3:09pm
Mike Robuck

Comcast's Parker boxComcast is planning its first major rollout of its next-generation Xcalibur service for early this year, so it makes sense that reports are surfacing that the box, which is called "Parker" by Comcast, being used for the service is making its way through testing at the Federal Communications Commission.

Both Engadget and Ubergizmo reported yesterday that the hybrid Pace-made Parker box was working its way through the FCC's approval process. The information posted in an FCC link showed a user manual and label examples and locations for the Parker box, which uses Intel's system-on-a-chip (SoC).

Xcalibur blends a cloud-based user interface, richer graphics, and better navigation and search capabilities on live TV and video-on-demand.

After Comcast CEO Brian Roberts officially introduced Xcalibur and the Pace box at The Cable Show last year, Comcast said in its third-quarter earnings call that Xcalibur would be launched in a major market early this year ahead of a wider rollout later in the year.

The Parker box was also put through its paces during a trial last year in Augusta, Ga.

"We've been very pleased with the test results," Comcast Cable President Neil Smit said during the third-quarter earnings call. "I think in terms of rollout; we're currently working on rollout. We'll go to a major market in the first half of the year, and then we'll be rolling it out on a more widespread basis during the year. Then we'll be able to roll out Xcalibur across a variety of platforms, including the Parker box that we have in Augusta, additional high-end set-top boxes, and other customer-owned and -maintained devices, such as the Xbox and other devices.

"From the positioning perspective, we're not quite clear how we want to position it yet. We're working on that, what customers it will go [to], and the pricing and whatnot, so that's work in progress."

The service brings more Internet-like capabilities to TV viewing and allows Comcast to develop new products and services on a much faster cycle than the current set-top box environment.

Attendees at last week's CES event in Las Vegas were able to see the Parker box in action during a joint demonstration between Comcast and Intel at the latter's booth.

At CES, the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) unveiled its Premium Video standard, which enables networking to various DLNA-certified devices in the home. Comcast and Intel used Premium Video during the CES demonstration.

Comcast/Intel's multi-screen demo sent MPEG-2 streams in 1080p to various devices in a proof of technology demonstration, according to Comcast engineering fellow in the office of the CTO David de Andrade. CES marked the first time that Intel and Comcast had taken the wraps off of the demo that used DLNA guidelines and Premium Video.

The proof-of-concept demo added in an IP port on the Parker box to securely deliver Premium Video to DLNA devices. De Andrade said the roadmap of the future would include transcoding of the various streams in the box, as well as adaptive bit rates.

The CE devices in the demo, which were based on Intel's SoCs, included a Samsung tablet and an Acer all-in-one PC, both running Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 9.

For the technology demonstration, Comcast and Intel used wired Ethernet to the Acer all-in-one and 5 GHz Wi-Fi to the tablet. The live programming was provided by the local CBS and Fox channels.

There's no timeframe for availability of the Xcalibur-based Xfinity TV guide on the DLNA client, but the service would provision DLNA-certified devices within a home without the need for multiple DVRs.

Nidhish Parikh, the president and chairman of DLNA, said at CES that there are currently 13,000 DLNA-certified devices, which translates into half a billion devices in consumers' homes. The number of devices is projected to increase to 3 billion by 2016.

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