Comcast Hopes to Slay Google TV with Xcalibur

Comcast is testing a new set-top video box code-named Xcalibur that includes DVR capability, robust search capabilities and limited Web access, according to The Wall Street Journal. The new service will let users search for live, on demand and recorded television, offer social networking access, as well as a limited number of online videos. From the sound of it, Comcast is hoping to do what it always does: deliver preselected content to your television with limited user choice.

Although this time, Comcast will try this approach using a Web capable set-top box that appears to emulate features found in Google TV and the recently launched Boxee Box. The most obvious comparison between Google TV and Xcalibur is the robust search functions Comcast's set-top box would have. Google TV also lets users search across a variety of content sources including broadcast television listings, the Web, installed Google TV apps and even DVR recordings on select devices.

But the biggest difference between Google TV and what's been reported about Comcast's Xcalibur is Web access. The Journal says Xcalibur can access a "smattering of Web video" and supports "some basic connections to social networks to comment on television shows." It's not clear what that would mean in practice, but it appears that Comcast will only offer a dumbed-down version of the Internet through Xcalibur. Google TV, by comparison, lets you browse the complete Web, although whether you will be able to find any online content to watch using Google's set-top box is another question entirely.

Despite Xcalibur's restrictions, I suppose it's a good sign that Comcast is showing signs of life by trying to redesign its business for the age of on demand Web content. But the big question is how NBC's stable of programming will play into all of this. Comcast's recent bid to take control of NBC from General Electric is under review by federal authorities. If Xcalibur survives the beta testing process and materializes into an actual product, Comcast could be forced to allow Google TV, and other similar competitors, to access NBC's online content. NBC in October blocked Google TV from accessing some of the network's Web content.

Xcalibur is just the latest move by Comcast to increase its online offerings. This year, Comcast unveiled the Xfinity Internet TV service for PCs and mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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