Comcast Opens ‘Labs’ Section On X1

Comcast confirmed that it added a section on its X1 interface that gives customers a way to try out apps and features under development at its Comcast Labs division.

Comcast said it rolled out the feature to all X1 customers last week, and that it intends to provide access to new apps-in-the-making every month.

GigaOm first shed light on the the new X1 app test environment on Monday, reporting that Comcast will use it to receive feedback and data on them before the team decides which ones will be launch commercially on the cloud-based, IP-capable platform.

Comcast has since posted a blog about the effort, noting that the new Comcast Labs subsection is offered on X1 under "Settings/Preferences" and that it will serve as a "sandbox" where cusotmers can beta test new features before they go live.

Early on, Comcast is allowing X1 subs to experiment with the following four apps, which are all available on an opt-in basis:

-Next Episode Suggestions (pictured above): Offering a tool that encourages binge-viewing, this feature tees up the next episode in a series after a customer finishes watching the previous episode, telling the customer if it’s offered via video-on-demand, is stored on the DVR, or is offered for purchase.

-Shuffle Play: Automatically plans a set of episodes from a kids TV series or music videos from a specific artist, as long as there are two or more on-demand selections to watch. The playlist will begin playing in random order when a customer selections the “Shuffle” option.

-Last Watched: Comcast is testing a way to expand the functionality of its existing “Last” button to include additional rows such as “Last Channels,” and “Continue Watching,” enabling users to find and resume shows being viewed via VOD or the DVR, as well as “Recent Applications.”

-Childproof Remote: This test feature temporarily locks the remote by pressing the Up Arrow button three times followed by L-O-C-K (5-6-2-5). Subsequently entering this code will unlock the remote.

Comcast offers X1 in all of its markets, but has not said how many of its 22.6 million video subs are on the platform. However, it has begun to offer X1 in double-play packages (video plus broadband), complementing its original rollout strategy that largely centered on new triple-play subscribers. Comcast said it’s currently installing X1 at a rate of nearly 20,000 customers per day.

The ability to tee up and switch out experimental apps and features on a rapid speaks to the agility of Comcast’s new cloud-based platform. That’s in stark contrast to how long it takes for operators to spool up new features and apps for resident set-top platforms, which can require months of regression testing.