Archives For Broadband

Much has been made of Comcast Xcalibur, the code-named IP-based service designed to feed consumers their Internet access and video content all through a single fat pipe. In fact, the term Xcalibur has been whispered in back rooms for years, with some of us afraid to speak it out loud for fear of karmic retribution. It’s only recently, however, that Comcast has started to leak some of the details around Xcalibur for public consumption. Here’s what we know today. Consider it an advance tutorial for whatever more we may learn tomorrow when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts speaks at The Cable Show. (Live stream available tomorrow morning starting at 10:00 ET)

The Box
Comcast Xcalibur Pace set-top
I first started hearing at the SCTE show last fall that Comcast was testing a Pace set-top box in the Augusta Georgia area designed to support both MPEG- and IP-based video. Since then, several sources have confirmed the information and offered further details. In addition to supporting IP video, the hardware (variously called the “Parker box” and the “Xfinity Spectrum box”) has a CableCARD slot, USB 2.0 port, IEEE 1394 connection, tru2way middleware, an Intel processor, four tuners, and between 500GB and 1TB of storage. The box is an HD DVR, which suggests use as a primary living room set-top, but its hybrid MPEG/IP nature also raises interesting possibilities related to the FCC’s AllVid initiative. Continue Reading…

Netflix Shipping Center

GigaOm has proclaimed that Netflix streaming and the cable industry are clearly in competition – vying for the same eyeballs and the same dollars. Yet, I’m not seeing it. Sure, there’s some overlap… of on-demand television content and back catalog films. But amongst the vast majority of my peers, and within my household, Netflix provides suplemental entertainment. And most of us choose to carry on with pay television services. We may bitch and moan about price hikes, billing problems, or customer service letdowns. But premium television remains quite compelling. Without live news, sports, or current, first run movies Netflix will remain largely a supplemental service. Netflix knows this. In fact, the GigaOm crew cites CEO Reed Hastings regarding the cord cutting mythos, “It’s not happening, it’s not anything we are causing, cable and Netflix are complementary.”

As evidence, GigaOm suggests that cable companies RCN and Suddenlink neutered their TiVo deployments by removing the Netflix app: “The logic? Netflix could get people to ditch their premium channels and ignore cable VOD.” However, RCN is very clearly on the record in its desire to offer Netflix streaming and Suddenlink is would “gladly” consider it. This is purely a licensing issue involving Netflix, TiVo, distributors, and studios. Rather than threatened MSOs blocking the (perceived) competition. Amazon Video on Demand, of course, is another story entirely.

As for me, I’m streaming very little Netflix these days. I’ve either already seen the content or just don’t find it compelling. In fact, between Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and HBOGo, I’m considering dropping Netflix altogether. Unless, I upgrade to more (Blu-ray) discs per month – reverting back to physical media to catch newer releases at bargain prices.

TiVo’s pushed out a press release that expands upon earlier news of a new four tuner TiVo Premiere Q and non-DVR TiVo Preview (pictured). An excerpt:

Consistent with TiVo’s mission to bring the TiVo experience to every screen in the house, these new products enable TiVo’s operator partners to provide a superior advanced television experience to non-DVR households, single DVR households, as well as multi-room DVR households. With its four tuners and support for broad range of video on demand content over IP, the TiVo Premiere Q serves as an advanced video gateway, while TiVo Preview provides the full TiVo user experience for non-DVR households and also functions as a thin client complement to those using a TiVo DVR, creating a fantastic multi-room viewing experience. Both set-top boxes support the full integration of operator services such as Video on Demand, PPV, CallerID on the TV and linear programming, plus access to broadband applications and services.

Unfortunately, for at least the moment, these products will only be available through MSOs… as the announcement goes on to say:

TiVo plans to make both new products available to its cable operator partners later this year.

Further, I reached out to TiVo this AM for clarification. Their response:

Premiere will continue as our primary retail offering. Premiere Q is digital-only, built specifically for distribution by cable operators.

So that answers the tuner question. And for the time being, those of us who prefer purchasing home entertainment gear without involving our cable provider are out of luck. However, a “primary” retail offering doesn’t necessarily preclude a “secondary” retail offering… online or via Magnolia. And I did confirm the Preview contains a CableCARD slot.

I’m preparing follow-up questions for TiVo, Inc. Get yours in below and I’ll report back with anything notable.

There was a lot of hype leading up to Microsoft’s keynote at the E3 conference earlier this week, with huge speculation that the company would launch a new live TV service on the Xbox. The announcement itself, however, was a bit of a let-down, at least for those of us in the US. After years of trying to get into the TV game, Microsoft’s latest foray involves live TV as an Xbox app. Sounds great, except the service is only scheduled to launch in the US “by the end of 2012,” and no major broadcast partners have been announced yet. Given how long it took Microsoft to add the Xbox as a U-verse set-top option with the AT&T service, I’m not holding my breath for a speedy deployment.

From Engadget’s coverage of the keynote, it looks like Microsoft has already worked out its guide software and DVR menus for Xbox TV. Execs also announced a new YouTube channel on Xbox Live, and there are hints (see photo above) that Microsoft is making headway with ABC. ESPN content is already in place, so that’s perhaps not a surprising development.

Dave and I sat down with a Microsoft rep back at CES when rumors of an Xbox live TV offering in the US were already making the rounds. And Microsoft has had live BSkyB TV on the Xbox in the UK since 2009. (Thanks, Lawler) It’s certainly progress, but other players are now pursuing the same over-the-top holy grail. Verizon theorized about FiOS as an app back in January, Comcast has said it will bring live TV to iPads later this year, and Time Warner launched a live TV app for the iPad back in March, with Cablevision following suit in April. Microsoft could have been a front-runner years ago with its Xbox-as-trojan-horse. In 2011, it’s just another player at the web TV party.

This Chattanooga choo choo is more than the little engine that could. Reporting over at GigaOM, industry analyst Craig Settles has detailed in two posts some of the impact the city of Chattanooga Tennessee is seeing from its gigabit broadband network. While I’m looking forward to a consistent 15 Mbps downstream connection, the good folks of Chattanooga are thinking much bigger thoughts thanks to their significant (and apparently hard-earned) broadband wealth.

First, the city is getting its money’s worth by implementing smart-grid technologies to increase operational efficiencies and cut down on costs. According to Settles, with a gigabit of bandwidth, the city’s public utility company can reduce power outages from hours down to minutes. During a recent spate of tornadoes, the smart grid saved an estimated 730,000 minutes of power (more than 12,000 hours), and eliminated the need for 250 truck rolls. That’s money in the bank.

Second, the city is offering some serious Wi-Fi benefits to the local government with a mesh network that delivers 16 Mbps of symmetrical service. Current applications taking advantage of the Wi-Fi access include a fleet of wirelessly-controlled helicopter drones that stream video feeds from remote and/or dangerous locations, and a new imaging program that scans and uploads real-world 3D images to create static holograms. (Holodeck, anyone?)

Third, Chattanooga is wooing new business interests with broadband capacity that makes big-data computations possible. SimCenter Enterprises (above) is one example located in the city, and it uses the gigabit connection for high-end modeling and simulation exercises.  Continue Reading…

Comcast Xfinity Verizon FiOS

I am on the verge of a move to Takoma Park Maryland, and being the cable geek that I am, one of the things I cataloged closely during the house hunting process was the variety of set-tops in living rooms around the region. Not that cable services were a factor in choosing a place to live (they weren’t, I swear!), but it was still worth a note to see what broadband provider might soon be receiving a portion of my monthly paycheck.

As it turns out, both Comcast Xfinity and Verizon FiOS are available in Takoma Park. Currently I’m a Comcast customer, and there are certain advantages to sticking with my existing provider, but the prospect of switching to a fiber-to-the-home service is just too tantalizing. Here’s my personal list of top pros and cons for the two megaliths of broadband service. Keep in mind this is far from a comprehensive list of features, but it’s the stuff I care about most. Continue Reading…

The eminently valuable Verizon Idea Exchange is not only a rich resource for customers and employees, somewhat reminiscent of the TiVo Community Forum back when TiVo actually cared participated, it’s also a blogger gold mine. Unfortunately, the news I bring you today represents a little short term pain based on customer feedback. Yet, it’ll presumably result in a better long term experience. The FiOS IMG 1.9 nationwide rollout has been temporarily placed on hold. From Verizon Director Joseph Ambeault:

We are pausing for a moment to incorporate some customer feedback into 1.9 (e.g. SD Override wizard and improved contrast between the text and background)… we’ll be back in action shortly.


We’re incorporating feedback we got from customers in the 4 markets that were already upgraded to 1.9.  Just some minor tweaks as we get ready to roll to other markets in the coming months.

Anecdotally, based upon ZNF commentary, it does appear some users have had difficulty reading text within the toned down color scheme. But I have no idea what this SD Override wizard is, as I do my best to avoid SD channels. Not to mention that most televisions offer plenty of display modes to stretch or zoom content. But our audience is probably a little more savvy than the typical cable customer and it sounds like Verizon may have ended up with a number of confused or disgruntled subscribers who’ve received 1.9. Hopefully, they clear these issues and resume the rollout in short order. As I’m ready for the 16:9 guide and whole home streaming to/from each and every HD DVR. Continue Reading…