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June 14, 2013

Comcast X2 TV Platform to Support Third-party Streaming Video

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Comcast (News - Alert) has taken the wraps off of X2, the appropriately named next iteration of its cloud-enabled Xfinity X1 Platform, aimed at driving more interactivity into the TV viewing experience with multiscreen support, personalization engines and social TV functionality. And, buried amid the details, it appears that the No.1 pay-TV operator in the world is opening the door, albeit narrowly, to over-the-top (OTT) content.

X2, which will begin rolling out later this year, is geared to be a customized TV product that integrates “live and on-demand TV, Web content, home control and a growing number of apps in one user interface, which consumers can access on a TV, smartphone, tablet or PC,” according to the company. The ability to bring in Web apps to the TV experience isn’t exactly a new idea—Comcast has been looking to leverage connected TV and TV Everywhere apps in order to bolster its broadband proposition. But that “Web content” has certainly not included the ability to easily tap OTT content via the Comcast user portal. The company suggests that this may be changing.

A new feature called Send to TV enables customers “to easily fling a Web page, like one that features streaming video, directly to an X1 set top box and view it on the big screen.” Does that mean any streaming video? So far, the details are skimpy: After downloading a bookmarklet onto their computer, tablet or smartphone, a customer chooses the Web content they would like to see on their TV, clicks Send to TV in their bookmarks bar, and the content from their computer or device then appears on the television.

Comcast also said that customers also will soon be able to quickly access TV-optimized sites from a variety of third-party partners in an expanding app marketplace—one assumes this doesn’t mean Netflix, but the possibilities for a hybrid type of service, possibly opening the door for a lower-cost TV bundle—are certainly interesting.

As far as the official details go, "The X1 Platform is an incredible example of what’s possible with cloud innovation," said Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO at Comcast, in introducing X2. "With the introduction of Web-based content to the platform today, and the promise of a faster and more integrated experience with X2, we’re adding more functionality to each screen in a customer’s home, and transforming our video product into a complete entertainment operating system."

The cloud-based aspect of the user interface means that Comcast can add new apps and services to the X1 Platform as they come along, so the feature set will be an evolving one. For now, X2 includes a personalized home screen accessible across the TV and across mobile devices that will offer a single view into the information the viewer cares about. The display will feature a collection of tiles that a customer can customize as they see fit, including integrating most-used apps on one screen. It can also be customized to include TV mainstays like recently recorded DVR content or info from a favorite app, such as traffic alerts weather forecasts or news headlines. Other Xfinity services can be incorporated as well, such as calendar appointments, voicemails from Xfinity Voice, as well as home thermostat and security status from Xfinity Home.

Continuing the personalization theme, the platform will recommend content that is playing on live TV based on the customer’s past viewing habits, and includes a new six-guide carousel that filters TV listings by specific category, such as sports, kids programming and movies, and also filters by age to help ensure appropriate family viewing.

Customers can also manage content from any screen so preferences, subscriptions, saved programs and parental controls stay consistent across the Comcast TV Everywhere universe.

Meanwhile, on the social front, X2 incorporates new features like viewer ratings from interactive services Rotten Tomatoes and Zeebox, and ratings from Common Sense Media for age-appropriate content. Through the dashboard, consumers can use tiles to track their social feeds or photos on Facebook and Twitter (News - Alert), and others.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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