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Comcast’s Roberts Wields ‘Xcalibur TV’

Chicago — Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts
unveiled at the Cable Show last week the operator’s Webconnected
and personalized “Xcalibur” TV guide — which
is still in the testing phase — and also rolled a video showing
a cable modem downloading videos at a rate of more
than 1 Gigabit per second over the MSO’s Chicago coaxial

One of the highlights of the Tru2way-based Xcalibur
guide was its integration with Facebook, a feature that
shows “friend trends” and tracks the shows your friends
have “liked”; you can then click on the show title to go directly
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 could enter “426”
and it would pull up an “HBO” quick search. The search goes
out over the network to a database in Denver, Roberts said,
and 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 previous
night’s box score.

“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
and using Xcalibur-powered Pace RNG 210N boxes, in a few dozen homes in Augusta, Ga. The service uses the mpx
video-publishing system from Comcast’s ThePlatform subsidiary
as the content-management infrastructure for the

Roberts’ presentation had been heavily teased in advance
by Comcast and the 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 panel discussion led by CNN anchor Erin Burnett
after the demo, 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.

“Sitting here today, I feel better about it than I did ... 18
months ago when we shook hands,” he added.

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 a speed of
1084.71 Mbps. The demo used two Cisco DOCSIS 3.0 modems
with 16 downstream and four upstream channels
for the 1 Gbps 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 staged a demo of a
CMTS delivering 4.5 Gbps downstream over 128 channels
and 575 Mbps upstream over 24 channels. Th e demo
used 16 DOCSIS 3.0 modems and measured the aggregated
throughput. Arris showed a “high split” on the upstream
side of 5-200 MHz.

In addition, Comcast demoed a 100-Mbps 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 experimenting with very high-speed
broadband include 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.