Laptops and Game Consoles Could Replace Set-Top Boxes in Comcast Test

Comcast
Comcast is testing a system that would let users replace their set-top box with any Internet-ready device, like a laptop or video game console.

This isn't the same tech that lets you watch live TV on your laptop, or use your iPad as a program guide. Instead, it uses the Comcast broadband network to deliver a signal to your television via VoIP.

This adds flexibility and, potentially, mobility to cable, which has been hamstrung to date by its need for co-axial cable and a set-top box.

Comcast will use MIT as a testbed for the VoIP delivery system, starting this fall, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

Why Is This Important?

The move is significant for a couple of reasons.

First, as Journal reporter Jessica Vascellaro notes, VoIP is the same technology that AT&T's U-Verse and various smaller companies have used to make an end run around pay-TV providers. In other words, Comcast proposes to beat competitors at their own packet-switched game.

Second, although Comcast says it has no plans to offer the service in geographic areas where it is not currently the cable TV provider, using VoIP would make it technically possible. If this happens, Time Warner, Cablevision and other competitors could kiss their monopoly goodbye.

Third, it reflects what most TV fans seem to prefer, which is to watch TV in the time-honored place: On the couch, in front of the biggest tube we can afford.

That preference apparently extends beyond live TV to on-demand choices. Comcast said today that its Xfinity On Demand service serves up 350 million VOD programs a month from 25,000 "entertainment choices" (TV series, movies, sports and music).

Dan Frommer at Business Insider says that works out to about 8 hours 45 minutes of VOD per month, compared to Nielsen's March numbers for streaming Netflix users (almost 10 hours per month) and Hulu (5 hours 15 minutes per month). "And all of these are still peanuts compared to the more than 150 hours of TV that the average American watches per month," Frommer adds.

Unlike Netflix and Hulu, Comcast's on-demand programming doesn't cost anything extra. It's bundled free with a monthly cable subscription.

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