Comcast Preps X2 even as X1 Ramps Up

BTR_Feature_Art_X1_7-22-13 Even as Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) continues to roll out its cloud-based entertainment operating system, dubbed X1, the company already has announced a next-gen platform release, currently being vetted by internal test groups and targeted for release in the fall.

Piers Lingle, VP of product planning and development at Comcast, took some time this week to explain more about the details of the announcement, originally made at the Cable Show.

For starters, although the update is being called X2, it is actually a user interface that will sit on top of the X1 platform. In other words, it could be more accurate to say X1, version 2.0, Lingle said.

Highlights include a customizable dashboard, offering the ability to see information from apps across the customer's Xfinity services - voicemail, news headlines, or home thermostat, for example - and more personalization, meaning better content recommendations.

Comcast has an internal data group called Compass, responsible for organizing metadata and building algorithms for recommendations. Sources include programming data from providers such as Rovi (NASDAQ: ROVI), usage data from Comcast's different platforms - including native set-top boxes as well as X1 - and third party data, such as box office results.

"(Compass) takes the signals and comes up with the results for personalization. They basically provide the application, X1, with a set of services," Lingle said.

"It is less about the individual customer and (more about) looking at usage patterns," Lingle added, noting that the model is akin to Amazon's, which can show what other customers who bought a particular product also purchased.

"If people watched this show, they are likely to watch these other shows, too. (The engine) gets smarter as more people use the different platforms," Lingle said.

There is tacit personalization inherent in the system as well. If children mainly watch the TV set in the rec room, the recommendations will be more oriented toward kids' programming, whereas with the bedroom TV, the suggestions will be geared toward what the husband and wife watch, Lingle said.

In addition to the enhancements X2 will bring, Comcast also has made several other announcements recently about X1. For example, a "send to TV" feature will allow some videos to be "flung" from a web page on a handheld device to the TV screen. The X1 set-top boxes have a simple web kit browser, Lingle said. The tablet or smartphone essentially is instructing it to go to a particular URL.

"It will render it on the screen as best it can," Lingle said. "The simple web browser can only render some sites well .... (Some) have developed web experiences to be used with the remote control. There are a few dozen sites out there," Lingle added, citing YouTube as one designed for a lean-back experience.

As for video from the Internet, the set-top box can play non-DRM content.

Another development will be the transition to a cloud DVR where not only the scheduling logic is in the cloud, but also the content. "The (consumer) will get more space and more capabilities in terms of the shows they can record at the same time," Lingle said.

Comcast is freeing up physical space as well, by utilizing MPEG-4 instead of MPEG-2. "The rule of thumb is two-to-one. You can record double the amount in the same amount of space."

The company also has revealed that a new set-top box, the XI3 - smaller, power-efficient, capable of playing IP video - will be used as a spoke in a hub-and-spoke scenario with the XG1 gateway. Comcast also uses the RNG150 in this type of architecture, although Lingle noted that the XI3 looks to be a little smaller and cooler.

Monta Monaco Hernon is a free-lance writer. She can be reached at

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