What's Inside Comcast's Parker Box?

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is using boxes outfitted with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) silicon to power its small Xcalibur Web-TV combo technical trial in Augusta, Ga., multiple industry sources tell Light Reading Cable.

Speculation is rife about other which other components might also be housed in Comcast's new devices (reportedly carrying the "Parker" code name), but two people familiar with the project say the cable operator is initially using gateway-type devices made by Pace plc . Another source says the MSO is using a Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) box. Both of those vendors are involved in Comcast's RNG (residential network gateway) project. (See Comcast Tests Broadband-Fed Xcalibur Service and Rumor: Is This Comcast's 'Parker' Box?.)

But there's plenty of agreement among sources that the prototype device is running an Intel 4100 or 3100 chipset, and a custom user interface (UI) made by Vividlogic , the set-top software firm SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) acquired in January. That interface reportedly makes it easier for consumers to search and find regular cable video content as well as Web-based content. (See SeaChange Snags VividLogic for $12M.)

The interface, another source adds, uses Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) Qt, a cross-platform application framework and widget engine that could help Comcast bring the new, more capable UI to screens other than the TV, should the MSO end up using Qt beyond its early pilot work in Georgia.

Because the UI being tested is cloud-based, the idea behind this work (beyond trying out advanced navigation apps) is to allow the MSO to make additions and changes far more rapidly than it (and other cable operators) can with existing digital boxes, which require time-consuming regression testing when trying to make just the smallest alteration. In a way, this new approach at the set-top level is similar to the one Comcast is already taking with its new "Xfinity TV" search and navigation app for Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPads and Android devices. (See Comcast Invades the iPad and Comcast Launches Android App.)

The ability to deliver Web video and other Internet content is also being trialled, but is not currently a big focus at this point, a source close to the project says.

And the "Parker" box being trialled today is believed to incorporate some elements from the traditional digital cable set-top world. The pilot boxes use CableCARDs and are outfitted with a built-in wideband modem, Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) (for high-speed home networking), and a tru2way middleware stack, we're told.

As a significant caveat, all of the participating vendors said to be involved are subject to change, so there's plenty of room for other suppliers to break in later as Comcast's project progresses.

One source termed this phase of project, which involves only two dozen or so people, as "experimental," while another said it's all still in the "incubation stage." Comcast, meanwhile, has not indicated when or if this work will turn into a commercial product at all.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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