Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) almost certainly has more QAM set-tops deployed in the U.S. than any other cable operator, but that doesn't mean it's wedded to QAM forever. Jeff Baumgartner at Light Reading Cable has learned that the MSO is working on its first all-IP HD set-top. The X3, as it's been dubbed, is likely part of Comcast's Xcalibur plans, and may eventually be paired with the X1 made by Pace (LSE: PIC). The X1 is a hybrid QAM/IP gateway. It was designed specifically for Comcast's next-generation video platform.
The shift to IP is a common theme in the cable industry, but everyone acknowledges that the transition will take many years. In the meantime, operators are experimenting with a number of different hybrid models of video delivery. The big MSOs all have iPad apps that stream select content over the Internet, and Arris (Nasdaq: ARRS) has proven there's a market for more hybrid gateway products. Comcast, however, has been a frontrunner in the IP department from the beginning.
In addition to building out the Xcalibur platform, Comcast has several other IP initiatives in the works. In February the operator introduced Streampix, an on-demand Internet-based service that's been compared to an early version of Netflix's (Nasdaq: NFLX) streaming service. Then there's the Comcast Xfinity app on Xbox, which streams on-demand content over the MSO's managed IP network. And finally, there's the Comcast AnyPlay device. AnyPlay is a video box made by Motorola (NYSE: MMI) that converts QAM signals into IP so they can be shared over a WiFi network.
It's unclear yet how exactly Comcast plans to use the new all-IP X3 set-top. Baumgartner speculates that the product could be an indicator that the operator will start streaming its entire lineup over IP as well as QAM. However, the X3 could also be slated to act as a client that receives content from a hybrid QAM/IP gateway. In that case, video on demand services could pose some difficulties, but perhaps Comcast plans to deliver just its VoD content over IP in the near future, much like Verizon does with FiOS TV today.
There's a lot we still don't know, but with The Cable Show right around the corner, we could get more details soon. Maybe Comcast will shed some more light on Xcalibur in Boston next month.
- see the Light Reading Cable story
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