Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Comcast's Xcalibur: Another race back to the past?

Light Reading has published an article about Comcast's new Xcalibur service, which is in an early test in Augusta, GA. The details of the service are still sketchy, but it appears to be a hybrid web-to-TV set-top box codenamed "Parker", possibly the one under development in Comcast's Seattle labs that I wrote about last year. According to Light Reading's sources, Xcalibur is a "managed over-the-top" video service that's designed to compete with offerings such as Apple TV, Boxee, Roku and Google TV while keeping subscribers inside the Comcast tent.

Xcalibur is said to offer a limited, hand-picked selection of websites and video services. It's yet another "walled garden" approach, and it's very likely that you won't find any content on Xcalibur that's competitive with any of Comcast's existing services.

It's true that the other over-the-top video services are also walled gardens to some extent, but with the exception of Apple TV, that's not because they're deliberately closed off. It requires some development work, but anyone can make their video content available on Boxee, Roku or Google TV. In the case of Boxee and Google TV, they want to offer even more web video content but are actively being blocked.

If you want to envision what Comcast could be doing, consider France's Free. Earlier today, Engadget wrote an article about a new over-the-top IPTV set-top box that's been launched by France's Free (Iliad) Internet service, the Freebox 6. Here's what the box has:
  • 250GB hard drive
  • Blu-Ray drive
  • 802.11n WiFi adapter
  • HDMI output
  • 3D support
  • Built-in DECT adapter for wireless telephones
  • Web browser
  • Motion-sensing remote
  • Joystick
  • Two powerline Ethernet adapters
Depending on whether you're a new or current Free customer and how long you've owned your previous Freebox, the cost will be between 60 and 120 Euros (approximately $80 to $160), and monthly triple-play service will be 29.99 Euros/month ($40.14). It offers all of Free's 154 basic video channels at that price, and 213 additional channels on higher tiers.

Comcast, and virtually every other U.S. multichannel video service provider, is driving to the future while staring in the rear-view mirror. A walled garden approach won't fly, but you wouldn't expect anything more from a company whose most exciting recent development is an app that turns an iPad into a remote control.
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