Comcast Starts To Deploy IP-Only Boxes For X1

Comcast confirmed that it has begun to introduce an all-IP HD client video for its X1 platform in select markets around the country.

A Comcast official said the MSO is starting to deploy the new Pace-made device slowly in a number of unidentified markets, but added that Comcast expects the device to become “widely available across our footprint in Q1 or Q2 of next year.”

Comcast hasn’t made a formal announcement about the deployment of the Xi3, but word that it is being offered on select markets has begun to appear on Comcast message boards about X1, the MSO’s next-gen video platform that is currently being anchored by the XG1, a hybrid (MPEG/IP) HD-DVR that’s the MSO is presently sourcing from Arris and Pace.

The new Xi3 model (referred to as a “non-DVR HDMI Only” device on the Comcast support site) can work in tandem with the XG1, though it's expected to also work with an emerging class of “headless” gateways as well. According to data on the Comcast site about the Xi3, the model does support the MSO’s whole-home DVR architecture, but doesn’t yet support DVR trick-play functions such as pause and rewind. Update: Comcast said the only DVR-related function that is not currently supported on the Xi3 is "pause," but noted that it the function will be added to the mix by the end of the year.

The Xi3, however, is capable of using the X1’s full complement of applications, and it’s anticipated that it will also work with Comcast’s new Cloud DVR product.

All of Comcast’s X1-class boxes are based on the Reference Design Kit (RDK), a preintegrated software stack for IP-capable devices that’s being managed by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Liberty Global.

Comcast declined to say where it’s deploying the Xi3 now, though a poster on the user forum identified as “ComcastChad” noted that Xi3 devices are currently available in Comcast’s Nashville system, with Boston expected to join the list by the end of the year. A post also indicated that a "very small customer” trial is getting underway this week in the Hartford, Conn., area.

The new device is starting to appear as X1, now available in all Comcast markets, continues to play a central role in the MSO’s video strategy. Last week, the company announced that it had deployed about 5 million X1 boxes so far, while also noting that the product is having a positive effect on churn, creating higher ARPU, and is generating improved VOD and linear TV usage when compared to its legacy video platform.  

Neil Smit, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, said on the company’s earnings call last week that the MSO is “on track” to have the majority of its customers on X1 within three years.