Light Reading

Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
10/3/2012
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Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has picked Pace plc as one of the suppliers for a new IP-only high-definition video client box in development called the XI3, Light Reading Cable has learned.

Because it's IP-only, the XI3 won't contain a QAM tuner. It's anticipated that the XI3 will use Comcast's new cloud-based user interface and obtain linear video from a primary gateway that can transcode QAM video into IP streams that can be shuttled to the client box via the home network.

Light Reading Cable first reported in April that Comcast was developing an IP client box called the X3. (See Comcast Sizes Up All-IP Set-Top .)

According to a source familiar with the product, the Pace XI3 is based on the Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) BCM 7428 chipset, supports MoCA 2.0, and features HDMI, Ethernet and USB ports, and an option for a 802.11n Wi-Fi module. Comcast declined to comment on the project.

Here's a sneak peek at a design for the XI3.



And what's with that SD Card slot? The XI3 doesn't have an internal hard drive, so the slot could be used for memory expansion. But it's also plausible that Comcast could use an SD Card as a local, mini-DVR that could buffer a small amount of live TV programming for trick-play functions (pause, fast-forward, rewind, etc.). Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) toyed with the notion of using an SD Card as a "lite" DVR for a tru2way "set-back" box it showed off in 2010. (See Tru2way 'Phantom' Box Is a DVR Lightweight .)

The XI3 is also an obvious candidate for a network DVR that Comcast is testing in the Boston area. (See Comcast Tests Network DVR in Boston .)

It's not known when Comcast plans to deploy the XI3, but it's not expected to show up until 2013 at the earliest.

The XI3 appears to be a product based on the Comcast Reference Design Kit (RDK), a bundle of software for hybrid QAM/IP gateways and IP-only clients. Comcast hopes the RDK will help cut product development cycles to a year or less. The X1, a hybrid gateway also made by Pace, is the first product to come out of the RDK project. Following launches in Boston and Atlanta, Comcast expects to deploy the X1 in at least three more major markets this year. (See Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction and Comcast's Cloud TV Service Rolls Into Atlanta.)

Comcast is expected to select multiple suppliers for its X-series boxes. Among chip and set-top vendors, other RDK licensees include Evolution Digital LLC , Motorola Mobility, Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Entropic Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ENTR). Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Technicolor SA (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH) are also rumored to be among the RDK licensees. (See Moto Licenses Comcast's RDK and Comcast's IP Set-Top Club Expands.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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craigleddy
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craigleddy,
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12/5/2012 | 5:19:54 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


Just to be clear, this IP box isn't intended to provide a modem connection for HSD to a PC, correct? So it's not a hybrid gateway like the ARRIS Moxi box or similar products that provide QAM video for TV and Docsis 3.0 HSD for PC.


If that's the case, I wonder why Comcast is going through the pain of rolling out an IP STB at the same time that they have to roll out D3 modems. Wouldn't it be better to do it all in one box, if possible? Maybe they think they can fulfill IP needs through the home network? Or maybe it's just too expensive?   


 

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
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12/5/2012 | 5:19:53 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


No, the way I understand it, this would be a client box that feeds off a headed or headless gateway via the home network via MoCA or possibly Wi-Fi. As for whether it could  link directly to PCs... perhaps that's a potential use case, but not one that has been brought up to me.


 I think you will see this all-in-one sort of gateway device (with Docsis 3.0 built in) emerge that will feed not only IP clients like this one but tablets, smartphones and connected TVs.  It's not the death of the set-top (they'll never go away, IMHO), but i think we will see the rise of the gateway.  Those gateways woudl essentially serve as the demarcation point to support all these devices on the home network.  This IP client box represents  just one piece of the puzzle, i think.  JB


 


 


 

opticalwatcher
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opticalwatcher,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:19:53 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


So, this is kind of like a Roku box, with menus more like a regular set-top and licensed to receive Comcast channels?

craigleddy
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craigleddy,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2012 | 5:19:52 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


To Jeff: Yep, it's a good starting point for IP video, plus you toss in the RDK and other bells & whistles and it's one nifty box. They can run their cloud IPG and interactive apps and do home networking. 


So I guess their thinking is to get this out there without mucking it up by trying to serve HSD needs too. D3 HSD can take care of itself for now.


Guess those Comcast guys aren't as dumb as some say they look. JK! :) 


Thanks for the pic too.     

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
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12/5/2012 | 5:19:52 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


I think this will help to extend  the UI/guide and services and apps that  Comcast is offering now on the X1 platform to secondary TVs in the home using a relatively inexpensive client device (the XI3).  But the XI3 need to work off in tandem with a gateway or a new version of the X1 that can also do transcoding, or at least that's how I understand it.   


Early on Comcast will try to extend the X1 UI to millions of already deployed RNG 150 boxes that have QAM tuners but also have an IP interface so it can access the new cloud-based guide.    But I believe that these new XI3 clients should be less expensive than those RNG models, so this is a more forward-looking view of what Comcast has in mind from a gateway/client archtiecture.  JB


 

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
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12/5/2012 | 5:19:51 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


And  HDMI, to connect to the TV. I think alot of the content will be piped into the client device via MoCA. If you look at cable STBs today, lots of them already have USB and  Ethernet ports, but are they being used for anything? USB could connect to a separate storage device maybe like a sidecar DVR? and there's a Wi-Fi option... perhaps 11n and later 11ac will let the cable guys spray video from the gateway to the client device wirelessly if it's being set up in a room that doesn't have a coax outlet and can't use the MoCA option?  JB


 


 


 

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:19:51 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


Here's the backside of the box: 


<img alt="" src="http://img.lightreading.com/2012/10/225538/9315.jpg">

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:19:51 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


I have a shot of the back as well. I'll try to add that in. As costs go , there's no CableCARD in these IP boxes, so that's a significant savings right there because it means the CableCARD will only be in the gateway on not required on every device that's hanging off of it, including the XI3. And i think you are right in that Comcast's not going to go out and do a bunch of switch outs of the old boxes, but suspect they'll probably &nbsp;roll them out in tandem with the new gateways when they are ready. JB


&nbsp;

gconnery
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gconnery,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 5:19:51 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


Well, the back would be more interesting. Meaning, does it have an Ethernet jack, or a coax jack (for MoCA presumably) or both?&nbsp; Etc.


I'm not clear how this is cheaper/better than the existing QAM boxes honestly, given the need to install an in-home gateway box.&nbsp; There are obvious advantages to having that in-home gateway box--allowing STB-less TVs, support for tablets, maybe VOD on TiVos etc.&nbsp; So there are advantages to this in the long run potentially (if there are standards beyond just Comcast at least) but I do wonder if it will actually be cheaper.


And of course as usual Comcast isn't going to take back all their QAM boxes and replace them with these, rather they'll just roll out at a glacially slow pace perhaps driven by a new service offering.

craigleddy
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craigleddy,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2012 | 5:19:51 PM
re: Meet Comcast's IP-Only Set-Top


Based on your story and what I can make out in this pic, it looks like there are ports for coax, Ethernet and USB. I assume the IP video runs through good ol' coax. So then what's the Ethernet port for?


I suppose it's a data backchannel for service authorization and provisioning, refreshing the IPG, maybe VOD order fulfillment, and other data needs, as opposed to a connection for other devices. Unless those chores can be handled directly through the IP stream via coax?


It may just be the back of a box, but for cable this IP video stuff really is a whole new world.&nbsp;


&nbsp;

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