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More Cloud Power Comes to the DVR

Providing further proof that the future of the digital video recorder is heading inexorably toward the cloud, Comcast has followed a path first blazed by Cablevision Systems with the launch of its own network-based DVR service.

As a component of the MSO’s broader reaching cloud video strategy, the first iteration of Comcast’s new product was introduced in Boston last week alongside another new feature that lets customers stream the MSO’s full lineup of live TV programming to smartphones, PCs and tablets, so long as those devices are linked to the customer’s home network.

The cloud DVR and in-home streaming apps, elements that Comcast first showed off about eight months ago at The Cable Show in Washington, D.C., are being piped into Boston-area homes via Comcast’s separately-provisioned managed IP video network, and not over “best effort” public Internet connections.

Comcast has tacked both to its X1 DVR service, which already features a newly upgraded cloudbased interface (internally referred to as the “X2”) that provides a similar look and feel across set-tops, gateways, smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Service operators have shown an increasing interest in network-based DVRs, in part because they are less costly and more operationally efficient than traditional DVRs that put storage in the local settop. The use of IP and network-based storage also allows the system to serve content to a multitude of device types.

Although the cloud DVR and new IP-streaming apps limit access to the customer’s home Wi-Fi network, video portability and mobility are coming into play with a new “check-out” feature that allows customers to sideload unique copies of DVR recordings to tablets and smartphones (up to a maximum of 10 recordings per device) for offline, on-the-go viewing.

In Boston, the first market to launch the MSO’s X1 platform in mid-2012, Comcast is supporting many of the new cloud services features on Web browsers and a new “Xfinity TV” app for Apple iPhones and iPads. Comcast plans to extend support to Androidpowered devices sometime later this year.

Comcast’s first version of the cloud DVR offers 500 Gigabytes of video storage and allows customers to record up to four shows at once while watching a fifth. The operator has plans to expand it so customers can record up to six shows while watching a seventh, a spokeswoman said. In comparison, Cablevision’s recently relaunched network-based “Multi-Room DVR” (its brand name for the product) currently limits access to to recordings on set-top boxes, but lets customers record up to 10 shows at once.

Comcast’s cloud DVR customers are allowed to register up to 40 devices for in-home live TV or DVR streaming and to stream DVR-recorded content to up to five devices at the same time.

MORE MARKETS COMING

Comcast said it plans to introduce the new cloud DVR and in-home live-streaming capabilities for the X1 platform to additional markets later this year. It didn’t say which markets were next in line, but Philadelphia has been the site of earlier cloud DVR trials.

Boston, home to Comcast’s first cloud DVR rollout, is located in the network DVR-friendly 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in 2008, overturned a lower court ruling that handed a big victory to Cablevision and its network-based DVR.

Cablevision recently blasted a broadcaster-led lawsuit against Aereo, claiming it was “overreaching and damaging” because it took aim at the legal underpinnings of the MSO’s remote-storage DVR and other cloud-based storage services. Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the broadcasters’ appeal of the denial of their injunction request against Aereo. How the Supreme Court rules in that case will likely chill or accelerate the pace of cloud DVR deployments by pay TV providers.

TAKEAWAY

Comcast is following Cablevision into the cloud, bowing its first network digital video recorder in Boston.