While Comcast has admitted defeat in its effort to acquire rival service provider Time Warner Cable, the company isn't sounding a retreat. Comcast made a number of significant product announcements in the past week or so impacting its pay-TV, Internet, and telephone service offerings.
These moves are designed to entice Xfinity cable-TV subscribers to renew their contracts before they contract the dreaded cord-cutter syndrome. Here's a detailed recap.
Xfinity remote with voice control
Built-around Texas Instruments-supplied RF (radio frequency) technology, the voice remote only works with the company's X1 cloud-based DVR. The company says X1 users can use the remote's blue voice control button to switch channels, search for movie or TV content, browse the Xfinity VOD library, record shows, get sports updates, and see what's trending on TV at any given time.
The best part is you can do all this using natural language commands. According to the press release, it's even possible to search for movies using popular quotes associated with them.
There's plenty more to come, though. The company envisions set-top boxes (and by extension voice-enabled remotes) being used for Internet searches, dinner reservations, weather updates and even connected-home control. If you're an Xfinity customer, you can get your voice remote for free so long as you're willing to pick it up yourself; shipping and handling charges may apply if you order it online. New subscribers will get the new at the time of installation.
Xfinity Share app
Cable companies aren't known for being at the pointy end of innovation, unless it entails devising new ways to suck unsuspecting users into deceptively attractive bundles. But the new Xfinity Share app is proof that things are changing. First teased more than a year ago, this quirky app allows X1 users to live-stream the feed from their smartphone's camera to anyone with an X1 DVR-capable set-top box and an Xfinity Triple Play subscription (that's TV, Internet, and phone service). X1 users can also share photos and recorded videos from their smartphones.
The app, however, will only truly come into its own later this year, when it will be possible to share the live streams with virtually anyone (not just fellow Xfinity subscribers). Also coming later this year is the ability to simultaneously broadcast to as many as five people; store live streams in the X1 Photos app; and pause, rewind, and stop a live video.
Xi4 set-top box
While the market penetration of 4K or UHD (ultra HD) sets is still in the single digits in the U.S., Comcast reckons that's more than enough to launch a UHD-capable set-top box. Called Xi4, the new set-top box will arrive sometime later this year and bring with it the company's Xfinity in UHD film and TV catalog to X1 users.
If Xfinity in UHD rings a bell, it's because it's the same app that has been available free of charge to Xfinity subscribers who own late-model Samsung UHD sets. According to the press release, X1 users will be able to access "hundreds of titles" originally produced for IMAX and other giant-screen theaters, including The Ultimate Wave Tahiti, Antarctica, Rocky Mountain Express, Fighter Pilot, and Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia. And if that's not enough to quench your 4k content thirst, you'll also be able to watch full current seasons of many popular TV shows from SyFy, USA, and Starz.
An HDR-capable Xi5 set-top box is also in the works, but it won't be available until 2016.
Gigabit Home Gateway
Just over a month after it began rolling out its Gigabit Pro fiber-to-home 2Gbps service in Atlanta, Comcast lifted the curtain on its first gigabit cable Internet modem at last week's INTX show. Gigabit Pro transmits data over fiber, whereas the new Gigabit Home Gateway modem is meant for an upcoming multi-gigabit internet service that will use Comcast's existing hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network.
Choosing HFC as the mainstay of its multi-gigabit broadband strategy is a no-brainer from Comcast's standpoint. This enables it to leverage its existing cable plant and infrastructure--a much more economical proposition than fiber. The company, nonetheless, will need to upgrade its HFC network to DOCSIS 3.1 (the latest cable broadband standard) and provide users with compatible modems such as this one.
The DOCSIS 3.1-enabled Gigabit Home Gateway modem will go into production later this year and begin rolling out to customers in "early 2016." Fully backward compatible with the existing DOCSIS 3.0 networking standard, the device is also a Wi-Fi router with built-in home-automation and -security capabilities. Crucially, it also has IP video support, which means we could finally see Comcast transitioning its TV services to an all-IP platform in 2016.
Why this matters: It's refreshing to see a cable company trying to entice customers with useful features instead of come-on deals for bloated collections of programming that most people really aren't interested in watching.
As for Comcast's broadband business, it looks as though Google's Fiber initiative forced its hand. In 2013, Comcast insisted there was no demand for such blazing Internet speeds; now it's launching the fastest internet service in the U.S.. In the end, the company could ensure it's early prediction comes true by pricing it higher than people are willing to pay. But it seems unlikely that Comcast would undermine its own significant capital investments just to make a point.