Comcast X1 technology adds new levels of interactivity


ComcastComcast has begun rolling out its X1 technology platform in the Philadelphia area, following Boston, Atlanta, Chattanooga and the Bay Area rollouts last year. X1 (formerly Xcalibur) originated with customer trials in Augusta, GA, since 2011. It’s just now rolling it out in Philadelphia and next is Colorado Springs. The company expects to have the service available in all markets by the end of the year.

The X1 platform incorporates IP technology, using cloud servers on Comcast’s network that allow Comcast to integrate interactive, customized apps and social media features with its traditional video services.  X1 includes a main screen with a sleek new user interface that integrates a customer’s video experiences and enables one-click access to a highly visual display of entertainment options. It also offers unified search and instant play, along with recommendations, with the ability to find entertainment content in seconds from TV listings, DVR recordings and Xfinity On Demand using a new smart remote. Specially tailored-for-TV features include customized social networking and music, radio, sports, traffic and weather apps.

The new companion X1 remote control app enables customers to use motion and gesture control to drive their TV experience through the touch-screen of their handheld iPhone and iPod touch.

Peter Key of the Philadelphia Business Journal reviewed the service and notes customers can also control their TV by talking into their iPhone, use your remote to send out tweets about favorite shows and search for programming based on the name of an actor or sports team, not just the title of a movie or a program.

Excerpts from his review:

“The platform is only available to new Comcast customers who sign up for the company’s Triple Play package, which includes cable, Internet and phone service, and existing Comcast customers who upgrade to the Triple Play.

Unlike the platform still used by most Comcast customers, the vast majority of the software behind X1 resides on Comcast servers in the cloud, rather than in set-top boxes in customers’ homes. The X1 update requires getting a new set-top box that functions much like a Web browser, and a new remote.

The X1 set-top boxes have three tuners so you can watch one program while recording two others and a 500-gigabyte hard drive for storing programs you record.

Of course, they’re up against some stiff competition, such as DirecTV’s Genie DVR, which can record five shows at once and has a 1-terabyte hard drive. Comcast can also make incremental changes to X1 pretty constantly, which it can do because the software behind the platform resides almost totally on its servers.

Where X1 most diverges from Comcast’s previous platform is its on-screen apps, such as “Weather,” “Sports,” “Pandora,” “Facebook,” and “Traffic.”

The “Sports” app is the most popular among X1 customers. Using it sends the picture to the left side of the screen and creates a list of game scores for whatever sport the customer selects on the right. On fall Saturdays, for example, a sports fan can watch one college game while seeing live updates on scores from others. If a score is of a game he can access, he can select it and the tuner will change to that game.

Its “Remote” app allows users to control their TV by speaking into their smart phone. They can direct the TV to turn to a specific station or show, or ask questions such as, “When are the 76ers playing?” or even “What should I watch?” and get responses to them displayed on the screen. Comcast is still tweaking this app and will make changes to it based on what people think of it and how they use it.

The “Remote” app also allows users to swipe their Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod touch to page through X1’s interactive guides on their TV screen, as well as program personalized short-cuts and favorites. They can also shake their device to pause On Demand programming they’re viewing and shake it again to resume viewing the programming.

Further down the road is a capability that will allow users to surf the Web on their tablets or smart phones and then put the images from those devices on their TV sets. Comcast also is developing an app that will enable users to get information about any song playing in anything they’re watching.”

See the Philadelphia Business Journal story here

RBR-TVBR observation: The Holy Grail across set-top boxes and SmartTVs is voice-commands and integration with Smartphones and tablets. “Make the TV Everywhere experience as seamless as possible” is the common thread now, and commands to access and manipulate content across these devices are synchronizing. On the back end, these new systems can now deliver a wealth of information (anonymous data or not) in near-real about the cable subscriber and their 360-degree media activities. It will allow for even more hyper-targeting with advertisers.