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TMCNet:  Comcast touts next new upgrade: The TV remote

[January 18, 2013]

Comcast touts next new upgrade: The TV remote

Jan 18, 2013 (The Philadelphia Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Sanity, at least as it regards the TV remote control, might be on the way.

Comcast Corp. says that, as part of the X1 upgrade to its interface and channel guide, the company redesigned its TV remote and removed 24 buttons -- almost half.

There are now 29 buttons instead of 53. (FiOS has 47.) X1, being rolled out in individual Comcast markets, among them Philadelphia, Boston, and Atlanta, is the most sweeping change to the Comcast look and functionality since the late 1990s and a seismic shift in how the nation's largest pay-TV operator delivers entertainment.

Most of the action with X1 takes place in the cloud, or on Comcast computer servers, instead of the cable set-top box. Comcast says the cloud-based system allows it to constantly add features and to tinker with X1's Internet functionality without having to swap out set-top boxes -- which can take years and many millions of dollars.

Internally, Comcast officials are calling X1 an "entertainment operating system." The new X1 set-top box, meanwhile, is mostly a souped-up DVR, or digital-video recorder, that can store 300 hours of standard-definition video and 60 hours of high-definition video.

"This is a reinvention of the way we deliver our services to consumers," said Marcien Jenckes, senior vice president and general manager of video services for Comcast Cable, who recently showed off X1 at the Comcast Center.

"This is what nobody else can do," he said. "Our ability to deliver a two-way connection to a television is a major competitive advantage." Jenckes was referring to the cable industry's advantage over satellite-TV providers, such as DirecTV and Dish, in that cable companies offer television and Internet.

Comcast says that X1 will be easy to use and that it conducted more than 100 tests and focus groups with employees and customers, similar to a consumer-products company developing a new laundry detergent or candy bar.

About 400 employees have been involved in the X1 project since 2009 in Philadelphia, Radnor, Denver, and northern California. One of those employees visited 60 subscriber homes to talk about X1 and how people used it.

Even Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts had a part. He said he liked the Rotten Tomatoes website -- known as a film-review aggregator -- and developers included its ratings in the X1 guide.

With the remote, Comcast removed buttons that weren't regularly used and combined several functions into one Xfinity button. Xfinity is how Comcast brands its TV and Internet services.

In addition to fewer buttons, Comcast's updated remote is slimmer. The company says it did ergonomic studies to come up with the shape.

X1 will be available to new Comcast triple-play subscribers -- those who take cable-TV, Internet, and phone services -- and customers upgrading to triple-play packages. Comcast plans to make X1 more broadly available over time.

Tom Blaxland, senior director of video products, demonstrated X1 and whizzed through what it could do. Excited, he said, "When we want to launch a new feature, we can change it on the server and do it overnight." -- Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @bobfernandez1.

___ (c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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