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From Comcast, TV as data center

Boston first up to get advanced set-top boxes

Comcast demonstrated its new system in Boston at the cable industry’s biggest trade event, The Cable Show. Comcast demonstrated its new system in Boston at the cable industry’s biggest trade event, The Cable Show. (suzanne kreiter/globe staff)
By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / May 22, 2012
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A new service from cable television giant Comcast Corp. could turn the home TV into a home data center, tracking everything from business appointments to household security.

Comcast demonstrated the service, called Project Dayview, Monday during the opening day of The Cable Show 2012, the industry’s biggest trade event.

“It’s your own personal welcome screen,” said Neil Smit, chief executive of Comcast Cable. “It’s tying your entire life together.”

At the Convention & Exhibition Center on Monday, Comcast also confirmed Boston would be the first US city to see full-scale deployment of X1, a new TV viewing system that uses an advanced set-top box to deliver Internet-based apps and social media services alongside traditional cable offerings. For instance, X1 includes a customized app for Facebook, so viewers can inform friends of their favorite shows by clicking the “like” icon.

The X1 service will allow users to control their viewing with software apps on an iPhone or iPad. The result is an interface far simpler and more powerful than a traditional remote control. For example, the app allows users to set up “quick links” to favorite types of programming, like comedy films. By touching an iPad or iPhone link, a list of relevant films instantly appears.

X1 will be available to new Comcast subscribers in Boston May 30. The service will be rolled out to existing customers in coming weeks. X1 will require a subscription to the Comcast “triple-play” service, which includes cable TV, Internet, and phone service. Customers must also subscribe to high-definition TV and a digital video-recording service. Smit said there will be no additional charge for the X1 upgrade.

The Dayview system will deliver even more advanced features, including the ability to synchronize it with an appointment calendar. If the user has an appointment at the same time a favorite TV show is scheduled, Dayview will automatically ask whether to record it. If users subscribe to Comcast’s optional home security service, Dayview can let them see images from household security cameras or inform them remotely about a potential break-in. Comcast did not schedule a firm date for the launch of Dayview, but said the rollout will begin later this year.

Both X1 and Dayview highlight a major theme of the trade show: the relentless transformation of cable TV into an Internet Protocol-based, or IP, television system. Glenn Britt, chairman of Time Warner Cable, said IP television will eventually supplant the standard cable TV set-top box. “All things IP can create a much better user interface,” said Britt, because cable TV programming could then be seamlessly integrated with Internet video resources from sites like YouTube and Netflix.

Comcast also joined with four other major cable companies — Bright House Networks LLC, Cablevision Systems Corp., Cox Communications Inc., and Time Warner Cable Inc. — to unveil CableWiFi, a national network of Wi-Fi Internet hot spots. Customers of any member company will be able to use the other companies’ hotspots free of charge.

Currently, the service will provide free access to about 50,000 hot spots, mostly in New York City, Philadelphia, Tampa, Orlando, and Los Angeles. The companies plan to continue expanding the service. According to a Comcast website, it now operates 16 Wi-Fi hotspots in Brookline and Cambridge.

Independent cable TV analyst Jeffrey Kagan said CableWiFi could boost cable customer loyalty at a time of growing competition from satellite TV and streaming video services like Netflix.

“It builds the customer relationship. It helps build the brand,” Kagan said.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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