Inside a Comcast ‘AnyPlay’ Installation


gadget arrived here
in the over-the-top
video lab: Comcast’s
“AnyPlay” streamer,
which makes it
possible for tripleplay
customers to
stream live and linear
TV to an iPad.

What lab, you
say? It all started
last summer. The
point of it is to see, firsthand, how
and why everyday consumers visit the
“connected” side of connected TVs,
and whether the stuff people regularly
watch is even available on those other
screens and services.

That meant hooking up tons of gear.
Panasonic’s “Viera” connected TV,
Boxee (live TV dongle on order), Samsung’s
connected Blu-Ray player, Apple
TV, TiVo, Xbox 360 Kinect, Google TV,
and standalone streamers made by
Sony, NeoTV and Roku.

If you or someone you know is considering
any over-the-top streamer as an alternative
to a multichannel-video subscription,
do this first: Make a list of what all
you watch. Why? Chances are good that
everything you watch won’t be available.

That’s where AnyPlay is different —
and I’ll say it — better. It’s an extension
of the TV programming you already pay
for, and because you can only view it
when you’re physically tied to the cable
modem and router that’s playing it out
(which keeps content owners happy),
chances are high that on AnyPlay, what
you watch is what you watch, just on a
different screen.

So far, AnyPlay is on trial in Nashville,
Tenn., and, happily, Denver. The install
involved the Motorola “Televation” box,
developed jointly with Comcast Labs.

It’s a standalone box. No video
outputs. Coax in, Ethernet out to the
modem/wireless router and voila: television
on the iPad. (Droids and other
devices to come.)

In tech terms, the box marries the
front end of a CableCard-based settop
with transcoding (MPEG transport
to IP) and digital rights management

Signal flow goes like this: Video
comes into the box over traditional
QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation)
delivery. It gets decoded and decrypted,
then shaped into IP, then wrapped in
DRM (Motorola’s “Secure Media”), then
streamed over Ethernet to the modem/
router, and from its Wi-Fi spigot to the
Xfinity app on the iPad.

The installation involved hooking
up the box, making sure the most recent
version of the Xfinity app was on
the iPad, then enabling the app. (“We
found an AnyPlay box! Would you like
to enable AnyPlay now for playback on
this device?” Oh yes.)

After that, a “play now” button shows
up next to the “watch on TV” and “record”
buttons on the iPad.

From an Xfinity app perspective,
AnyPlay is one in a string of feature additions.
It started with DVR settings and
snazzier navigation. Now, streaming to
tablets within the home. It’s an all-inone
app that moves new services to
market quickly.

How does AnyPlay compare to the
other lab streamers? Put it this way:
the lab stuff is in a back room. All those
screens, all those services and no TV at
the desk — until now! (I expect my quality
of work to degrade precipitously.)

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