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Cable Show 2011: Comcast's Roberts Pulls Out 'Xcalibur' TV, Gigabit DOCSIS

As promised, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts provided a look at the operator's Web-connected and personalized ‘Xcalibur' TV guide -- which is still in a testing phase -- and also rolled a video showing a cable modem downloading videos at more than 1 Gigabit per second over the MSO's Chicago coaxial plant.

One of the highlights of the Tru2way-based Xcalibur guide as shown by Roberts was its integration with Facebook. The feature shows "friend trends," which tracks the shows your friends have "liked"; you can then click on the show title to go right to the show.

"The guide becomes what your friends tell you to watch, not what the alphabet soup tells you to watch," Roberts said.

Other apps in the Xcalibur guide include weather, traffic and the Pandora music-streaming service.

The guide also features a quick search function with cellphone-style predictive text entry, so you can enter "426" and it pulls up "HBO" quick search. The search goes out over the network to a database in Denver, Roberts said, the results and metadata are returned in real time.

The box, built by Pace and powered by Intel's CE 3100 media processor, includes an RF remote, "which is fantastic," Roberts enthused. "That means the box can go anywhere. That's right off the bat a great feature."

In showing off the personalization features, Roberts brought up the Lovable Losers from Chicago's North Side. "So I'm interested in the Cubs," Roberts said. After pausing a beat, the Philly native added, "By the way, not really."

The point was, he typed in "Chicago Cubs" and the Xcalibur guide showed all programming related to the baseball team. Eventually, he added, the guide will be able to show related info, such as standings or the box score from last night

"Coming from the cloud, it can do that," Roberts said.

The guide provides recommendations, too, based on the channels users record on the DVR as well as which shows, actors or teams they've picked as favorites.

Comcast is testing a service, dubbed Xfinity Spectrum, using Pace RNG 210N boxes, in a few dozen homes in Augusta, Ga., which is powered by Xcalibur. The service uses the mpx video publishing system from Comcast's ThePlatform subsidiary as the content management infrastructure for the service.

Roberts' presentation had been heavily teased in advance by Comcast and NCTA. His demo came after an opening interview with Oprah Winfrey, who touted her OWN venture with Discovery Communications, and a brief keynote by Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, about supporting military families.

In a following panel discussion led by CNN anchor Erin Burnett, Roberts was asked about the Comcast deal for NBC Universal and whether it showed that the MSO believed "content was king."

"I've never bought into who's king or who's queen," Roberts said. "You start by saying, what's a great business? We wanted to get larger."

Added Roberts, "Sitting here today, I feel better about it than I did... 18 months ago when we shook hands."

In the DOCSIS 3.0 demo, Roberts downloaded 23 episodes of NBC's 30 Rock in 1 minute and 39 seconds. He then showed a speed meter measuring the throughput, which indicated the connection had sustained 1084.71 Mbps. Comcast didn't say which equipment it used in the demo.

The 1 Gbps demo wasn't really an industry breakthrough. Several cable operators and equipment vendors have already shown off DOCSIS gear exceeding 1 Gbps. The U.K.'s Virgin Media, for example, is testing 1.5 Gbps, and Cisco Systems showed off its CMTS delivering a 48-channel bonding group to hit nearly 1.6 Gbps at CableLabs' recent Winter Conference in Atlanta.

Separately at the Cable Show, Arris is staging a demo of a CMTS delivering 4.5 Gbps downstream over 128 channels and 575 Mbps upstream over 24 channels. The demo uses 16 DOCSIS 3.0 modems and measures the aggregated throughput. Arris is showing a "high split" on the upstream side of 5-200 MHz.

In addition, Comcast is showing a demo of 100 Megabit per second symmetrical DOCSIS service for businesses -- providing 100 Mbps both upstream and downstream -- using an Arris modem with eight downstream and four upstream channels.

Other providers are experimenting with very high-speed broadband, including Verizon -- which has tested symmetrical 10 Gbps over its FiOS fiber-to-the-premises network -- and Google, which is building a 1-Gbps fiber-based network in Kansas City, Kan.