Comcast Brings Voice Control to X1 Remote - Multichannel

Comcast Brings Voice Control to X1 Remote

Feature Runs on X1 iPhone App; MSO to Extend Voice Recognition to Androids and ‘Traditional’ Remotes
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Comcast’s iPhone-based navigation app for its X1 platform has sprouted a set of ears.

The MSO on Wednesday announced that it has added a voice control feature to its X1 Remote that enables users to discover content and change channels by network name by simply uttering those commands into an iPhone microphone. 

Comcast noted that the feature lets users navigate the X1 service using simple phrases such as “When is the next Phillies game?” or “Show me all action movies on HBO.”

Comcast did not disclose any vendor partners for the new voice control feature. "We've built a modular architecture that includes some solutions developed internally in Comcast Labs and some third-party capabilities," a Comcast spokeswoman said. Nuance Communications, the company that powers Apple’s Siri software and is a tech partner for DirecTV’s new speech recognition feature, did disclose Comcast as a customer in 2010, but did not reveal the specific nature of that business relationship. Veveo, a firm that makes a version of its SmartRelevance Conversational Platform for video platforms, also lists Comcast as a customer.

This video demos the new X1 Remote feature. Comcast Labs is also working on extending voice control features to Android smartphones as well as “traditional” remote controls.   

Comcast launched the X1 Remote app in mid-2011, initially giving customers the ability to navigate and browse the service by pressing buttons and pinching and swiping the screen. The app works in tandem with X1, a next-gen, IP-capable video service featuring a cloud-based user interface that Comcast has already launched in at least 10 markets, including Boston; Atlanta and Augusta, Ga.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Philadelphia;  New Jersey; Colorado;  Washington, D.C.; and several cities in California. The MSO intends to launch X1 in half of its service footprint by the end of June and in all markets by the end of 2013.

Comcast said adding voice control will help X1 subs find what they’re looking for faster.

"This feature lets customers get to the content they want to watch in fewer steps than it would take with a traditional remote control by simply saying what they want to do instead of translating that into a series of remote control button presses. The X1 platform we’ve built and cloud services on our network are enabling us to deliver innovative, real-time updates like this to consumers faster than ever,” said Comcast SVP of product design and development Charlie Herrin, in a statement.

The MSO, which is targeting X1 primarily to new triple play customers, has yet to say how many customers are on X1. It lost 60,000 video subs in the first quarter, ending the period with 21.93 million video subs, including 12.02 million subs who take “advanced services,” meaning they subscribe to DVR and/or HDTV services.

While voice-based navigation has been a key feature of the Kinect system for Xbox 360 for years, pay TV operators have been joining the voice control wave of late.

In April, DirecTV introduced a similar voice search feature for its app iPhones and Android apps, with plans to start beta testing this summer. AT&T’s U-verse TV service also offers a voice recognition feature.