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CES 2008: Comcast Embarks on Project Infinity

Las Vegas -- Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced a major expansion of the cable operator's HD, video-on-demand and online content offerings at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show here Tuesday morning, an initiative broadly referred to as "Project Infinity." (To watch video of Roberts' keynote, click here.)

Comcast and other cable operators are competing furiously with DirecTV, EchoStar Communications and telcos to offer consumers more HD programming. DirecTV and EchoStar have been fighting the battle by launching dozens of new linear HD channels. Comcast is responding with a mix of new linear channels and expanded VOD offerings, and it said it will offer more than 1,000 HD movies and TV shows every month by year-end, as well as the most popular new linear HD channels.

The on-demand platform -- which currently has more than 1,300 movie titles available each month -- will be the major focus of Comcast's content growth. Beginning next year, Comcast will offer more than 6,000 movies per month, with more than one-half of them available in HD. The company also plans to create a system of regionalized library servers to serve VOD content to consumers from several key locations across the country.

With a little help from AmericanIdol host Ryan Seacrest, Roberts also officially introduced Fancast, the Internet content portal that Comcast Interactive Media has been developing for more than one year and beta-testing since late summer. He called it "the launching pad for convergence between the PC and the TV." Fancast -- an ad-supported portal that offers content to Comcast subscribers, as well as general Internet users -- will now provide free content from Viacom, as well as CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, Lifetime Television and other major programmers through a Flash-based video player, with more than 90,000 videos available in total.

The portal also provides a personalized content listing, based on specialized recommendation software, and, in Comcast homes, it will provide the ability to program a digital-video-recorder set-top through a home network. A fan-based feature from Fancast called "6 Degrees," which shows interlocking relationships between various celebrities and shows, will also work on Comcast set-tops through Comcast's new "J-guide" navigation platform, a capability Roberts is expected to demonstrate.

Roberts also demonstrated wideband (DOCSIS 3.0) technology that will dramatically improve broadband speeds by bonding four cable channels together. Roberts demonstrated the four-minute download of a high-defnintion version of Batman Begins using the technology he first pitched at last year's Cable Show.

Comcast also said Tuesday that it is now the fourth-largest phone provider in the United States in total customers and that it has begun commercial deployment of SmartZone, a personal communications portal that combines and maintains universal contact lists across PCs and phones and allows Comcast voice-over-Internet-protocol phone customers to listen to voice mails through their computer and e-mail them to friends or colleagues.