In a post from a little over 2 years ago, I pondered if the cable box would become the de facto “connected TV” device as Comcast gave a sneak peek of its next generation Xfinity TV platform.
Simply named X1, I upgraded last Sunday, since its rollout to various markets began last Fall. And by many accounts, X1 has the potential to be the only connected TV device television households need given the platform continues to iterate and evolve.
After using it for a week, three things really stand out for me:
- DVR Everywhere: At last, all my TVs access a single DVR library so now I only need to set recordings in 1 place and then recorded shows can be watched on any of my TVs. You can record up to 4 shows at a time while watching TV and Comcast will be expanding the number of “tuners” later this year for even more simultaneous recording capability. This cloud-based approach will roll out later this year and hopefully (one day) allow DVR’d programs to be watched on Xfinity’s iOS app – something I personally can’t wait for as more and more of my TV consumption shifts to my iPad.
- iPhone Remote: X1 has its own iPhone remote control app that could essentially replace its standard remote control with the exception of power on/off. While many of the app remote functions would be quicker by just using the regular remote control, there are two features that save time including shortcuts to filter the guide/on-demand library and, most helpful, is the voice control to find programs. Sort of Siri-like, voice commands include things like “Watch <program name> or <channel name> or <network name>” to easily change channels or “Find <program name>” to search for a specific title, or advanced guide filtering like “show me all movies on <network name>.”
- Visual Interface: The entire user experience looks and feels modern – an enormous step forward from Comcast’s previous platform. The on-screen guide is clean and visual and movement from screen to screen is very fluid. The use of TV show/movie art makes program discovery that much easier.
While X1 comes with a few apps like Pandora, the most important apps to smart/connected TV users are streaming content apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus. Since the X1 platform is IP connected, it’s technically possible for the platform to house these apps – the hurdle will be for Comcast to successfully negotiate deals with these streaming content providers. Until then, it’s one of the biggest reasons why the platform shows potential as a connected TV but not quite there yet.
Comcast is currently in beta with a sort of “airplay-like” functionality called “Send to TV” - although it only works (at the moment) via a browser-based bookmarklet that needs to be installed.
So what’s in store for the platform? Developers in Comcast Labs are currently working on voice control features for Android phones as well as for regular remotes. Later this year the second version of the platform, aptly called “X2,” will be available for customers, which will bring much more personalization, customization, social features, and a better integrated cross-device experience. And this is where things get even more exciting as true convergence – that thing we all dreamed about 15 years ago – really begins to happen.
Due in large part to IP technology, new and valuable experiences around television are evolving a break neck speed – further placing TV in the “new media” category.