Comcast launches new X1 service in Utah to compete in innovative industry

Published: Tuesday, July 30 2013 8:25 p.m. MDT

Dan Baker, director of Product Management for Xfinity, uses voice control through his X1 remote app to change the channel during a X1 demonstration at Comcast in Sandy on Thursday, July 25, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utahns received the latest Comcast technology Tuesday in what company executives hope will revolutionize the television experience.

Subscribers in Utah woke up to traffic, weather, voicemail, stock quotes and sports TV apps, as well as Pandora and Facebook on their main menu as part of Comcast's new cloud-based X1.

"We believe this is the most innovative experience out there," said Matt Strauss, senior vice president and general manager of Comcast Video Services.

The company is the latest to offer viewers different options in an arena that is becoming increasingly more competitive.

The X1 platform is agnostic, so smartphones or iPhones, iPads or tablets can access more than 45,000 programs.

The idea behind the technology was to take television and the Internet, which were "fragmented" before, and provide a "centralized place to access everything," Strauss said.

Subscribers can use motions and voice commands from their iPhone to signal their TV to switch channels. Split-screen technology from Comcast allows a viewer to watch one sports game while browsing the scores of others that are playing simultaneously.

With the DVR feature, up to four shows can be recorded while a fifth is being watched. You can watch your recordings on any TV in the house and can even start watching in one room and finish watching in another.

Customizable X1 interfaces allow viewers to pull up nine most recently watched programs for easy access. And Comcast will use each program's "crumb trail" to recommend similar viewing to customers, Strauss said.

Because the technology is in the cloud, X1 and subsequent updates will be "seamless" for customers, according to Strauss. In other words, subscribers will receive upgrades on their current Comcast equipment.

Only Comcast customers will be able to access the X1 platform. Those with Xfinity Triple Play will be the first to receive the new technology, and Strauss expects the rest of Comcast's subscribers in Utah will receive the technology by the end of 2013.

XFinity Triple Play, which includes phone, Internet and cable service, is available starting at $99 per month for the first year.

Bundling

Comcast is among the Internet and cable providers that encourage bundling, which means offering more than one service from the same company.

Companies like Comcast and CenturyLink promote bundling and keep individual Internet, cable or phone options "artificially high" so consumers buy all their products from one source, according to Eric Hawley, chief information officer for Information Technology at Utah State University.

For instance, Comcast offers a basic Internet package for $74.95 per month. But if you buy a bundle that includes basic digital television, it costs $49.99 for the first six months.

While more product for less money may sound appealing, there are consequences to bundling, Hawley said. First, promotional deals usually start out as low prices and then businesses sometimes "sock it to ya later" by raising rates.

Hawley also believes offering multiple services "stifles innovation." Instead of specializing in one area, companies can sometimes spread themselves thin and offer "substandard products."

"There are few companies that are perfect at everything, but they all try to be," Hawley said.

Innovate or die

A few companies which may disrupt the market are those that offer individual services, he said. Amazon Prime Instant Video offers customized video and TV programming for $79 per year and Redbox offers streaming videos and rental of four new releases per month for $8 per month.

"That's a huge disruptor," Hawley said.

He also mentioned Google Fiber that will soon offer free Internet and possibly TV service to Provo residents.

Innovation is essential to growth for any company, making long-term business strategies a thing of the past, according to Michael Glauser, executive director of entrepreneurial programs at Utah State University.

"Basically you innovate or you die these days," he said.

Because of this, consumers can expect to see more changes in the companies that offer television and movies.

Here is a look at some of what else is available in the market:

DIRECTV, $24/month for 140+ channels, $86.99/month for 285+ channels. For the first year.

DIRECTV was this year's top cable provider, according to the 2013 American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

Subscribers can watch live TV from every room of the house and on their iPad and iPhone in the house. They can also buy movies to watch from their phone and watch recorded shows in any room in the house.

DVR technology allows for viewers to watch two shows from their playlist while recording two others.

The company also promises to provide more options for their subscribers.

"We continue to expand our offerings and develop new services for the platform to meet the evolving needs of our customers," Jade-lin Ekstedt, senior manager of public relations at DIRECTV, said of the company's future strategy.

DISH Network, $29.99/month for 190+ channels — $44/month for 290+ channels. For the first year.

Customers can watch recorded television and skip commercials, as long as they have a broadband connection, on iPads, iPods, tablets. Thousands of On Demand options are also available. Blockbuster @Home is available to new subscribers for three months. Subscribers also get free high-definition for life and DVR.

AppleTV, $99; palm sized

This device plugs into a viewer's television. It comes with a remote and uses the cloud to provide programming that can be viewed on the TV and on Apple products.

Airplay technology allows for video, music and photos from iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone to be played on an HDTV. It provides access to existing iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go accounts and sports programming and YouTube

Roku LT, $49.99; Roku HD, $49.99; Roku 2 XD, $79.99; Roku 3, $99.99; palm sized

Roku plugs into a TV. All of Roku products except for the Roku 3 are compatible with any TV. It offers 750 channels, access to existing Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO GO and Pandora account, and plays 720 HD quality video or better.

Google Chromecast, $35; thumb drive sized

The smallest of the devices, this device requires HDTV and provides access to Google Play, YouTube, Google Chrome, Google TV and existing Netflix accounts. It is accessible from tablets, smartphones, iPhones and iPads.

Slingbox 350, $179.99; Slingplayer 500, $299.99

The product allows the user to watch live sports, local programming, on demand video and DVR recordings in high-definition on smartphones, laptops and tablets. It includes an onscreen remote that allows for control away from a television.

This startup company, bought by DISH Network, was among the first in the field.

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