News

Comcast Gets Gadget Happy

6/06/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Comcast has designs for two new devices that would pry TV programming loose from subscribers’ living-room television sets — products clearly intended to protect its core cable video business from emerging Internet-delivered content players.

Last fall, Comcast registered for trademark protection for AnyReach, a portable TV and video player, and XtraScreen, which appears to provide a way to sling television content to computers over a wireless connection.

The AnyReach filing describes a handheld media player for recording and playing back audio and video, and alludes to “broadcasting and streaming” of media to portable devices.

XtraScreen covers “computer hardware and software for streaming audio and video content,” and well as wireless transmission of voice, data, images and information. The trademark application also refers to entertainment services providing television programming via a “global computer network” and wireless networks.

Comcast for now is not providing additional details on the devices’ features or when they might become available, senior director of corporate communications Jenni Moyer said.

Television, Sans TV Set
Comcast has registered for trademark protection on two devices:
SOURCE: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
AnyReach: portable, handheld media players for playing audio and video; and “broadcasting and streaming” media to portable devices
XtraScreen: “computer hardware and software for streaming audio and video content”; entertainment services providing television programming via a “global computer network” and wireless networks

NON-TV SCREENS

The filings hint at Comcast’s strategy to fend off — or co-opt, as the case may be — an array of video services aimed at non-TV screens.

Apple, for example, sells TV-show episodes and movies that can be played on its iPhone and iPod media players. TiVo, which is also a Comcast partner, provides a way to transfer DVR recordings for playback on PCs and mobile devices.

And Sling Media, now part of EchoStar, is pitching a version of its signature place-shifting product to the cable industry: the SlingModem, a CableLabs-certified DOCSIS 2.0 device that lets subscribers tune to any live TV channel or access DVR recordings from any Internet-connected PC.

For Comcast, a new handheld video player or TV-to-PC gadget would dovetail with some irons already in the fire.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Comcast and Panasonic debuted a digital video recorder that subscribers will be able to undock and take with them to watch TV shows or movies virtually anywhere.

The AnyPlay Portable DVR, developed by Panasonic for Comcast, is set to be available in early 2009.

The device functions as a regular set-top DVR, with 60 Gigabytes of storage. The “P-DVR” can be removed from the docking station, for video playback on its 8.5-inch liquid-crystal display.

“Consumers have told us they want easy and convenient access to all the great content Comcast provides, and the AnyPlay P-DVR does that,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said, in announcing the forthcoming device at CES.

In addition, Comcast is readying the launch of an “enhanced” cordless-phone system that will display e-mail and voice-mail messages on the phones’ handset screens, and let customers look up phone numbers and scan news and other information.

Comcast has not announced pricing or availability for the phones. At least one of the operator’s cordless-phone systems will be based on Thomson’s Advanced Cable Gateway (ACG).

The ACG, from Paris-based Thomson, provides multiple-line telephony via Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) wireless phones, and integrates an embedded multimedia terminal adapter (eMTA). It also includes a Wi-Fi wireless router, designed to let MSOs reach dual-mode phones like Apple’s iPhone.

INTERNET ON TV

Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, is in the process of whipping up a hybrid service that goes back the other way — to play Web-based video on TVs.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said last month at a financial conference that the company would “soon” offer customers a way to access Internet video on their television sets.

“Within a relatively short time — whether it’s a year,18 months or two years — it’s going to be very easy to get Internet TV on your big-screen TV,” Britt said at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York. “We’re actually going to have equipment we make available to subscribers that helps them do that.”

Asked if that equipment would be new or existing set-top boxes, Britt said it would be a new wireless cable modem that would allow customers to network everything in their house.

Mike Farrell contributed to this report.

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