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Comcast Tests Broadband-Fed Xcalibur Service

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is testing a new IP-capable video service in Augusta, Ga., that combines Web-fed content with the MSO's traditional video services, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the paper, the pilot effort, called Spectrum and dubbed internally as Xcalibur, leverages a set-top that lets consumers watch, search for, and view Web video on their televisions. The MSO reportedly could launch the service sometime next year.

Light Reading Cable blew the lid off that initiative -- first labeled as Excalibur and later as Comcast Converged Products -- in October 2009. (See Comcast Forges 'Excalibur' for IPTV.)

Sources familiar with the project have referred to it as a "managed over-the-top" video offering that will allow the MSO to offer it as an option as consumers become increasingly interested in using the Internet to fulfill their video needs.

In addition to providing defense against the "cord-cutting" trend, the service will give consumers a Web-to-TV option without requiring them to use specialized boxes from sources such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Boxee . (See Boxee Launches Cord-Cutting Box and Google TV Guns for Cable Deals .)

Update: Comcast, we've been told, is not placing much emphasis on Web-sourced video at this juncture of the experiment. Instead, there's much more weight being placed on new user interfaces and navigation systems. Also, the broadcast-TV and on-demand video content being fed to the test units arrives via regular, non-IP means.

Although this offer is apparently targeted to Comcast's existing sub base, there are rumors that Comcast's longer-term strategy involves offering OTT subscription services outside its traditional footprint using adaptive rate video streaming. (See Rumor: Comcast Plots OTT Stealth Attack and Cable Adapting to Video's Streaming Future.)

Of recent note, the Comcast Converged Products, or CCP, division has been looking to fill some key technology posts, including Solutions Architect/Technical Program Manager (IPTV), and Metadata Software Engineer. Those job postings continue to bill CCP's work as the MSO's "next big thing," citing a "next-generation platform" that will provide video access to TVs, PCs, smartphones, and other devices.

According to the WSJ, the Augusta trial involves a "limited" amount of Internet content, including some Web video and access to some social-networking apps, though the MSO could expand this walled garden later. The MSO also hasn't decided when or if it will launch it wide, or what kind of price such a capability would carry. Comcast was not immediately available for further comment, but confirmed the "small trial" to the WSJ, noting that the MSO is "testing many technological approaches to understand how best to meet consumer interests..."

The story notes that Comcast boxes aren't currently being used to receive Web content, but that Comcast is using "experimental" hybrid QAM-IP boxes called "Parker" -- an apparent homage to the main character of the Spider-Man comics and movies.

However, Light Reading Cable reported last month that Comcast's new Residential Network Gateway (RNG)-class boxes can be "flipped" to support IP video via software and firmware upgrades. The MSO has already deployed millions of RNG boxes equipped with Docsis cable modems, essentially seeding its markets for a broader IP video strategy. (See Comcast 'RNG' Set-Tops Have IPTV Potential .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:15:59 PM
re: Comcast Tests Broadband-Fed Xcalibur Service

Although Comcast's RNG boxes can be flipped to do IP-based apps and content, it seems clear from the story that Comcast's testing a new box for this trial.  No hard evidence to cite here, but Comcast's been rumored to be using a box from Verismo in some way, and this trial seems like a nice candidate for that.  Here's a bit more on Verismo's ambitions to serve OTT and the concept of the "virtual MSO."  JB

Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:15:58 PM
re: Comcast Tests Broadband-Fed Xcalibur Service

Or not.  Also hearing that this is all about a next-gen gateway. More soon. JB

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