PHILADELPHIA - Cable companies aren't known as nimble innovators, but Comcast Corp. is out to change that perception this year with ultrahigh-speed Internet service, more high-definition content, and gadgets that link video, phone, and broadband services.
"We're about innovation and having the best network," chief executive Brian Roberts said in a preview of his speech at the Consumer Electronics show today.
Roberts is expected to demonstrate a technology that delivers up to 160 megabits of data per second: It will allow him to download a high-definition copy of "Batman Begins" in four minutes. The technology, DOCSIS 3.0, will start rolling out this year.
"If it's as successful as we hope, in 2009 and beyond we will have it available in millions of homes," he said.
Robert hopes the speed-up will boost growth of Comcast's broadband service, which has been slowing.
Cable systems largely enable download speeds up to 10 megabits per second - compared with up to 50 megabits per second from Verizon's fiber-optic service FiOS.
Roberts said Comcast plans to offer more than 1,000 high-definition videos this year, including up to 300 movies on demand that may be free or included in a subscription or pay-per-view service.
That's a salvo aimed at DirecTV Group Inc. in their race to amass high-definition content. Philadelphia-based Comcast and El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV settled a lawsuit last month over which has better quality HD.
Roberts said Comcast will be creating "superservers" to store the extra video-on-demand content and supplement those in the neighborhood that move shows and movies to customers' cable boxes.
When a customer wants to watch a show that's not stored in the regional server, the computer will dial into the national server to access the content and bring it to the home, Roberts said.
These national servers will enable Comcast to offer 6,000 movies on demand - 3,000 of them in high-definition - without requiring customers to get a new cable box.
Moreover, Roberts said the cable system is a "secure, licensed world" that should reassure movie studios that their content won't be easily pilfered.
To supplement its horde of movies and TV shows, Comcast plans today to officially launch its Fancast website, which has full TV episodes for old and new shows as well as some movies.
Within months, Comcast subscribers will be able to check TV listings on the Fancast site and have the digital video recorder attached to their TV to record a show.