Comcast Debuts X2

Brian L. Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO, arrives at a news conference at the annual Cable Show of cable-TV companies in Washington, where X2 was revealed. It will be available to customers later this year.
Brian L. Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO, arrives at a news conference at the annual Cable Show of cable-TV companies in Washington, where X2 was revealed. It will be available to customers later this year. (ANDREW HARRER / Bloomberg News)
Posted: June 13, 2013

WASHINGTON - Worried about filling up your DVR? Comcast, the nation's largest cable-TV provider, is rolling out a new platform that does away with the hard drive and saves TV shows online.

Comcast unveiled the platform, called X2, Tuesday at the annual gathering of cable-TV companies known as the Cable Show. The system takes its name from the X1 platform introduced last year and will be available to customers later this year.

The update is akin to a new operating system for a cellphone or computer; it will work on X1 set-top boxes through an optional update delivered via the Internet. Comcast also unveiled a small set-top box for secondary TVs in a home that is one-third the size of a typical box.

X2 was one of the many offerings here from companies seeking to improve the living-room experience. Time Warner Cable showed off an updated channel guide with personalized recommendations it plans to roll out on new set-top boxes this year.

Cable- and satellite-TV companies have faced criticism for offering hundreds of channels while providing clunky guides that make it difficult to find shows. Newer guides do a better job of showing off what's available on-demand, what's saved on the digital video recorder, and what's on live TV.

The X2's channel guide acts more like a website than traditional guides. Customers can customize the view to include weather and traffic apps.

Program listings include movie ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a "buzz" meter showing how many posts from Twitter a particular show is getting each hour. The guide also displays video from the Web, and includes voice-enabled search results for the first time.

Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts demonstrated the new guide's search ability by saying, "Find Don Cheadle." The guide pulled up 25 movies and TV shows featuring the actor as well as videos from the Web.

"The whole look and feel is meant to be easy, personal, smart, fast, and fun," Roberts said. "And I think we're just scratching the surface."

Comcast, with 21.9 million TV subscribers, expects to save money in the long run with its X2 platform by eliminating the hard drive from digital video recorders.

Executives also said it would help TV network operators by giving them the chance to insert commercials into shows that customers have saved online.

Ad-insertion technology represents a shot at Dish Network, which irked broadcasters with its Hopper DVR because it automatically strips commercials from prime-time shows for playback later.

This week, Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable-television company with 12.1 million TV subscribers, also conducted private showings of the guide it plans to test in New York, Los Angeles, and Syracuse, N.Y., in the fall before rolling it out to new customers and its top-tier subscribers this year.

Its guide also uses Internet tools for easy updating from afar, recommending shows based on a user's history and what they're searching for, allows people to browse shows by genre and title, and adds cover art to everything.

Time Warner Cable's updated set-top box has a 1-terabyte hard drive capable of saving 150 hours of high-definition content. Smaller boxes are being prepared for other TV sets that use the central DVR on the home network.

Customer retention is seen as increasingly important for the cable-TV industry, which has lost about 10 million subscribers in the United States over the last decade - down to 56.4 million in 2012, from 66.9 million in 2001, according to the research firm SNL Kagan.

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