Update from The Cable Show 2012: Coolest Tech at the Show

by Brett Sappington | May. 23, 2012

Written by Brett L. Sappington, Director of Research

Comcast has been early to grab headlines at The Cable Show 2012 with the official launch of its X1 set-top box. While the new generation STB offers greater processing, new cloud-based features, and an EPG/remote control app for the tablet, the user interface has also seen some changes. Comcast has enhanced the search and discovery features of their UI but are not using any recommendation or user profiling technology. Instead, the MSO is maximizing the use of the available metadata in several ways. When a user selects a piece of content from the guide, a pop-up window shows information on the show and further discovery options, including Rotten Tomatoes reviews, a lookup of cast and crew, and a short list of other content similar to the one selected ("If you like Fast & Furious, then you will also like..."). Thus, the interface provides recommendation-like experience but without a basis in the user's preferences or usage.

Another Comcast announcement may have received less attention but ultimately may be more important. Comcast announced the launch of its Skype service. For $9.95 per month, consumers receive a specially designed camera/microphone that sits on top of the television as well as a small box that is connected via HDMI cables between the STB and the TV. The box is also connected via Ethernet to the home network, providing the broadband connection for the Skype session. Interestingly, this small box provides older set-top boxes with the horsepower necessary to not only run Skype but to also power a new TV user interface (currently different from the X1 user interface), interactive applications, and new (or future) value-added services. According to a Comcast VP, the Skype solution will work with non-Comcast STBs and allows Comcast to offer the service outside of their current footprint. So, effectively, Comcast is launching a hybrid gateway box that it can use to expand its geographic coverage without expanding its cable footprint. While Skype may be the only service that Comcast currently offers out of its service area, other operators may sleep less soundly as they ponder the OTT capabilities of Xfinity.

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