Comcast Skypes Up HDTVs

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Coming soon to Comcast subscribers’ televisions:
their friends and family.

Comcast will test high-definition video calling on the
TV in partnership with Internet-telephony firm Skype,
touting the service as a compelling “immersive” application.

With the service, Comcast customers will be able to
make and receive Skype video calls from their television
to any other Skype user — on TVs, PCs, compatible smartphones
or tablets — as well as send instant messages while
watching TV.

Comcast said customer trials for the Skype service will
begin in the next few months. The company did not announce
expected pricing or commercial availability; it
said it will release further product details later this year.

Last month, Microsoft paid $8.5 billion in cash to acquire
Luxembourg-based Skype from an investor group
led by Silver Lake. Previously, Skype was owned by eBay,
which bought the company for $2.6 billion in 2005.


For Comcast, Skype on TV promises to be a source of incremental
revenue on the telephony front as the growth
of its Digital Voice business slows down. Comcast — the
third-largest phone company in the U.S. — had 8.87 million
voice subscribers as of the end of March.

“TV has evolved into a social experience, and Comcast
and Skype will be delivering a product that personalizes
the TV experience even more and brings friends and family
together through the biggest screen in their homes,”
Comcast Cable president Neil Smit said in a statement.

Comcast will deliver the service through a Technicolormanufactured
adapter box — which provides an Internet
connection the TV and the Skype client software — as well
as an HD-quality video camera from Quanta and a specially
designed remote control with a QWERTY keyboard
on the back that lets customers chat via Skype as well as
control their television. The other calling party does not
need any special equipment beyond what is needed to use

“I believe we will be able to offer the best video quality
for Skype,” Cathy Avgiris, Comcast’s senior vice president
and general manager of communications and data services,
said. “I think we can provide the best value to customers
who buy the triple-play from us.”

Comcast has not determined pricing but the Skype kit
will be available for a “low monthly fee,” Avgiris said, rather
than requiring customers to purchase hardware up front.

The Skype service should work with all of Comcast’s digital
set-top boxes, she added. The only requirement is an
HDMI-compatible television that supports 720p for HD

“We have considered other options [for video calling],”
Avgiris said. Comcast decided to partner with Skype
because “we want this to be easy for customers and we
wanted to have a compelling offer with not a lot of upfront
hardware a customer needs to buy.”

What’s more, millions of Skype users will be able to
communicate with Comcast’s Skype-on-TV users, Avgiris
pointed out. Skype has 170 million users worldwide, and
the company delivered more than 207 billion minutes of
voice and video conversations in 2010.

Comcast Digital Voice customers will be able to accept
incoming calls while they’re watching TV with Caller ID
pop-up messages.

At the Cable Show in Chicago last week, Comcast demonstrated
Skype service with a separate Caller ID on TV
app, but the operator’s goal is to integrate Skye into its
EBIF app that provides Caller ID on TV, Avgiris said.

In addition, Comcast customers will be able to access
the mobile features of Skype through the Xfinity Mobile
app, which will offer the ability to switch a conversation
among multiple compatible devices (e.g., smartphone,
tablet or television).


The service will let Comcast customers import friends to
their address book from Facebook, Microsoft Outlook,
Gmail and smartphone contact lists, as well as find them on
Skype and see when they are online and available to talk.

“We are pleased to announce this partnership with
Comcast,” Tony Bates, Skype CEO, said in a statement.
“By combining Comcast’s broad living room reach with
Skype’s innovative communications platform and worldwide
community of users, we can bring video calling into
the heart of the home, allowing people to share life’s experiences
both big and small.”

Separately, Skype has agreements with Panasonic and
Samsung Electronics. Both manufacturers have embedded
Skype software in their premium Internet-connected
HDTVs and sell camera add-ons for them.