WASHINGTON — Comcast is gearing up to launch a fully Internet-enabled television service this year that will provide live TV and DVR recordings on tablets, smartphones and PCs — but in deference to programming suppliers, it’s mostly restricting the service to access within a subscriber’s home.
The Xfinity Cloud TV will be available for Apple iPads and iPhones, as well as Android devices, PCs and Macs. Users can access live TV channels only within their homes over Wi-Fi, but will be able to “check out” DVR content by downloading it to portable devices for viewing on the go.
The service is “ecosystem friendly,” Comcast chief technology officer Tony Werner said. In conjunction with programming partners, the operator will be able to dynamically insert ads in real time on different devices.
Comcast’s approach stands in contrast to the service from Aereo, the startup that is retransmitting local broadcast TV and DVR recordings over the Internet – but isn’t paying the networks to do so. Major broadcasters are suing Aereo for copyright infringement.
Separately, Dish Network is delivering live TV and DVR content to Internet devices using Slingbox technology in its Hopper DVRs. Fox Broadcasting is challenging the Dish Anywhere service as a violation of their distribution deal.
The Comcast Xfinity Cloud TV service will be delivered as part of the X1 service, which the MSO anticipates offering in all markets by the end of 2013. Earlier Tuesday, Comcast topper Brian Roberts announced a user interface enhancement to X1, dubbed “X2,” which includes new web content, social media and recommendation features as well as a voice-enabled remote control.
“We are putting a TV in every person’s hand,” Charlie Herrin, senior VP for product design and development, technology and product development, said at a presentation here at the Cable Show. “It’s the first guide we’ve built for every screen from the ground up.”
While the restrictions on out-of-home viewing will likely disappoint (or confuse) some customers, most TV content viewing on mobile devices actually occurs in the home. About 82% of tablet-based viewing and 64% of smartphone viewing is by consumers at home, according to a study by the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence.
The network DVR service will start with 1 terabyte of storage — enough for up to 170 hours of HD video. Comcast execs noted that customers will be able to add additional storage beyond that, and there also will be an option to record multiple shows simultaneously.
Comcast expects to begin testing Xfinity Cloud TV later this summer in Philadelphia and Boston. Pricing has not been determined.
Initially, the service will be available on Apple iOS, Android, PC and Mac platforms. Comcast hasn’t made any decisions about extending Xfinity Cloud TV to connected-TV devices, such as Microsoft’s Xbox or the Roku set-top, according to execs.
The DVR service will let users start watching a recording on one device, and resume it on another. Both the live TV and DVR recordings are delivered on-the-fly, from one of Comcast’s six primary data centers across the U.S., to a consumer’s home. Comcast will deliver the full channel lineup that’s accessible through its set-tops, and the programming will include closed-captioning and emergency alert system info.
The operator ran a proof-of-concept trial of the streaming TV service at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., over the last year, in which about 3,000 students accessed video on a range of devices.
The Xfinity Cloud TV service was developed in-house by Comcast, whose developers wrote 14.6 million unique lines of code to power the system, according to Werner.
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