To Xfinity and Beyond! (For real this time.)

Comcast xfinity tv everywhere fancastThat’s right, today is the day that Comcast officially launches it’s version of TV Everywhere, not quite in time for Hanukkah. While the Xfinity name is somewhat unfortunate, it appears we’re supposed to think of the service as the next generation of Project Infinity. For those of you paying attention, Comcast launched Project Infinity back at CES 2008 in an effort to beef  up its on-demand library. Xfinity goes to the next level by taking on-demand online, a phrase which was, incidentally, the original name for the new service. But I digress.

Comcast has now made Xfinity available to all subscribers of both its broadband and cable TV services. For authentication purposes, users must download software at the Fancast Xfinity site before being able to access content online, but once the Move Networks Abode Air video player is downloaded, subscribers are free to browse cable TV content online at will. Keep in mind that, yes, Xfinity viewing does count toward the Comcast bandwidth cap, but at 250 GB, there seems to be quite a bit of wiggle room. And for bandwidth monitoring, Comcast has promised to release a new Web-based meter in the first quarter of next year.

On the content front, Xfinity service includes shows from AMC, A&E, BBC America, Time Warner, CBS, and a dozen or so other programmers. Premium subscribers to Starz, HBO, and Cinemax can also access shows from those networks online.

To supplement your Xfinity viewing, you can surf on over to Hulu for more content. With the new Comcast/NBCU deal in the works, however, I can only assume that Hulu will, as Ryan Lawler predicts, become something of a lame duck in the next year. In fact, Comcast’s COO Stephen Burke just this week stated that the deal with NBCU lets Comcast create its own hybrid of the Hulu model – part free content and part premium television online.

There’s plenty more to say on the topic of Xfinity, but for now it’s worth it just to sit back and see how consumers react. If you’re a subscriber, please add your thoughts in the comments below. I’ll be putting Xfinity through its paces over the next few weeks as well, so expect to hear more about the service soon.

12 thoughts on “To Xfinity and Beyond! (For real this time.)”

  1. Hey Dave,

    Yeah saw this on TechMeme first. I’ve been playing with “Xfinity” for a while now. Since I’m a Comcast subscriber, and especially a Comcast subscriber with a Tivo, I’m looking forward to this service.

    So far though it isn’t working very well. So Big Bang Theory doesn’t have any shows on the web, but I always assumed it was on Comcast VOD. Maybe not? No shows listed. HBO has various shows you can’t get on Hulu, and I subscribe to HBO, so hey, I can watch something.

    Download the installer, authorize this laptop, and… nope.

    Chat sessions with Comcast. Two in a row. One with a TV person. Says I need to talk to the internet folks. Says she’ll transfer me. 15 minutes later, I give up. Start with the internet side this time. Nope. Again transfers me, though this time doesn’t say where. Just a blinking “Status: Your problem is being escalated to another analyst”. Well over an hour on hold now with nobody in sight who knows anything other than to ask me questions about my account number and such.

    Maybe they’re just busy on opening day. I’ll give them a break and try again another time. But right now I’m not so impressed. I hope they know that these initial impressions are important. If enough people have problems like these, nobody will be coming back…

  2. @James Thanks for the links. Very well written, and basically correct. Its going to depend on the balance between the channels that get paid by cable companies and the ones that don’t. NBC doesn’t get paid. ESPN and Discovery Channel do. Presumably those will be on Fancast and not on Hulu. Of course the problem is some of these guys are already going out on their own–ESPN shows for example are NOT on Fancast and ARE available from ESPN, for a fee. So some channels are already voting in favor of the a la carte model. There’s a lot of moving parts here and how its all going to go is completely unclear to me. I suspect in the end the internet will win out and cable companies will be getting less of people’s money. Certainly On Demand access to movies in one form or another is going to kill HBO and Showtime in the long run. Its going to be a battle royale though. Now if there were just a good TV-side STB or Console that could play Hulu with a good 10 foot interface and no need for a computer running PlayOn things might be different…

    BTW, I’m at home now after a few days on the road and the HBO shows I had trouble with earlier are now playing just fine. Didn’t change anything, so either Comcast fixed the problem, or some of this stuff doesn’t work when you’re not at home… I’ll know next week.

    Wow does the opening of Entourage look like crap at these bit rates. I’ve got a wide open pipe but the RTMPE encoding doesn’t seem to have a higher bit rate option. The opening HBO static macroblocks like crazy, and the constant panning of the Entourage opening looks to be a good test. Gaa. They need to have some higher bit rate encodings available.

    The whole point of the Move technology stuff is that its supposed to be adaptive, but that doesn’t seem to be working very well at the moment. It just stuttered continuously from my hotel room (the lowest bit rate wasn’t low enough for Hilton apparently) and the highest bit rate isn’t very good. I think Comcast has some work to do tweaking these rates.

  3. Glenn,

    I think we are in agreement that the current content delivery model – primarily cable and satellite providers offering broad packages (with a lot of stuff no one watches) while dictating terms – is about to undergo a major revision. A new paradigm is emerging.

    My belief is that cable and satellite providers can be players in the future; however, I think they have to realize that more and more people are inclined to get their content via the Internet (and given the choice of watching on a computer monitor or a larger screen via STBs like Roku, AppleTV, PopcornHour, etc.). Moreover, more and more people want a say in what content they buy, how and when they watch it. The winner(s) will be the providers – cable, satellite, Roku, Apple, Boxee, whoever – that can find a way to offer the best content, at a reasonable price, in an a la carte fashion.

  4. Hi guys,

    Like Scott I am from Comcast, though I am on the Fancast team. Let me fill in some details you were discussing.

    As Glenn discovered, you can use the service inside your home or on the road. Glenn is also right that we had a few issues over the first few days…many of which we have fixed. We are still in a beta and as issues come up we will fix them.

    Our Move videos are encoded with adaptive bit rates. One of the functions of this system is that the video starts playback quicker using low bit rate files, then when it detects you have both a faster internet connection and a fast enough computer, it selects better quality bit rates. You’ll notice it recalculate every 2 seconds for the first 10-15 seconds then arrive at a more stable bitrate. So the opening credits for Entourage may be a little pixelated, but you get the full quality by the time the real show begins. Again if your internet connection is not great, the video quality will suffer, but the show should continue to play and not stutter like with regular Flash video.

    By the way, we don’t encode this in RMTP or RMTPE as those are Adobe formats.

    If you are interested in seeing some really high quality stuff, we are now going to start adding in HD content. You can already check out Juno, Max Payne or the series finale of The Sopranos. all of which are in HD when you have a fast connection.

    As Scott mentioned above, try our help section for more tips:

  5. I am getting the error “video cannot be played” when I attempt to watch any HBO or Digital channel shows (premium content marked with a “key”) on Fancast. I subscribe to HBO and “digital” channels on my home account. I tried changing my “service provider” in the Fancast “my location” area, but the highest option I get is “Comcast – Digital” with a channel list that stops at 23. I’m not sure how I can get the Fancast site to recognize my subscribed service. I emailed Fancast support. We’ll see how long it takes before I hear back…

  6. Okay, I’m on the road again and can confirm that the HBO stuff works just fine. I’m watching the finale of The Sopranos right now. Doesn’t look that great on a 480Kbps connection at the Hilton anyway, but it *does* work. I’ll take a look at the same video when I get home.

    BTW, looks like the Comcast authentication stuff needs some kind of cookie, which I cleared out since I flush out all unprotected cookies whenever I start the browser. Will have to tease out which one it is since I don’t want to have to pointlessly redownload the software each time…

  7. Ok I am ticked I have comcast xfinity and cannot access the HBO or Starz on demand movies or tv episodes I open the movie and hit play and I get an error that the content is not available at this time. On top of that I have called customer service which seems to really stick. I started two weeks ago and they lost my job ticket the first time and haven’t resolved it after me making six additional calls. I finally got a tech call but after I went to bed and than they never called back I am very irritated is this the way all comcast service is? I wonder if they got some of the Obama bailout money to? Do you know if their CEO worked at AIG or GM before?

  8. I’ve got the same error that the content is not available. It seems like it only happens for premium content. No program would play when I used Google Chrome. Only Internet Explorer worked. Comcast doesn’t have a solution but they have a service ticket open for me too.

  9. All I know is that the online customer service told me that I WILL NEVER get upgraded as I only have Cable TV with comcast. Unless I give into the blackmail and purchase the triple play, I am not going to be given the new expanded TV channels. Reason enough to change providers, I’d say.

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