January 8, 2008 12:07 PM PST

Comcast introduces open-cable platform

LAS VEGAS--Few probably would have expected the chief executive of the world's largest cable company to stand on stage at the Consumer Electronics Show and announce that we no longer need cable boxes.

But that's exactly what Brian Roberts of Comcast did here during his keynote speech.

He's OK with it because he has something bigger planned. He used his speech--the first ever by a cable industry executive at CES--to announce the beginning of an "open" cable services platform called Tru2way, which enables cable service to be integrated directly into a variety of consumer electronics devices. Initial partners include Motorola, TiVo, Intel, Samsung Electronics, Microsoft, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Cisco Systems, and Sun Microsystems.

Photo: Comcast's AnyPlay device

When a consumer buys a device with Tru2way, she can bring it home, plug it in, and get all interactive cable services available from a traditional set-top box.

"It's a totally different business model," Roberts said. "Virtually the entire cable industry will support Tru2way by the end of this year." By that time, supported devices will already be available, he said.

The platform is Java-based with open APIs, so that software developers can write applications once that will work across nearly every device and any cable system.

TiVo is demonstrating here at CES how its DVR, or digital video recording, service works as an application on a Comcast set-top box, and Microsoft is working to enable all cable services to be received directly to a Media Center PC without need for a cable set-top box, according to Roberts.

Brian Roberts Brian Roberts

Next, Roberts introduced Toshihiro Sakamoto, president of Panasonic AVC Networks, who gave his own keynote here Monday, to discuss how Tru2way will be enabled on two Panasonic high-definition televisions. A 42-inch and a 52-inch TV branded with Tru2way will have cable services built right in, so no cable box is needed, and only one remote is required, Sakamoto said.

The pair also brought out the AnyPlay, part set-top box, part portable DVR branded by Panasonic and Comcast that Sakamoto showed off during his speech.

Comcast's chief promised to outdo satellite at the high-definition content game. "Comcast will put 1,000 HD choices in every Comcast HD home by the end of the year," Roberts said. "What satellite says they'll offer pales in comparison."

Part of that promise is based on a new system architecture Comcast will soon incorporate, called Project Infinity, which Roberts said will enable 6,000 movies to be delivered "instantaneously" on demand every month, half of them in high definition.

To introduce a new online-entertainment portal, Roberts brought TV and radio host Ryan Seacrest on stage. Called Fancast, the site enables users to find any piece of entertainment. It will allow streaming of certain shows and downloads of movies, and it will link to the iTunes Store, if it doesn't have it. Fancast will also show when a TV show is playing and make scheduled DVR recordings, it will find where a movie is playing and link to Fandango.com to buy tickets.

To enable faster downloads of HD content, Roberts announced that Comcast is testing out wideband, a faster option than broadband that would enable a 2-hour HD movie to download in 4 minutes. Wideband uses four or more standard analog channels at once to achieve speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. The technology will be rolled out to "millions" by the end of this year, with more to come, "if it's as popular as we expect," Roberts said.

Comcast, the nation's fourth-largest phone service provider, also previewed two services that integrate the company's other offerings.

The first is designed to bring iPhone-style "visual voice mail" to the computer. Called SmartZone Communication Center, phone and cable Internet customers will be able to see all their e-mail and voice mail messages in one in-box.

The second upcoming telephony service is caller ID for the TV. When a call comes in, the caller's phone number appears directly on the TV screen.

See more CNET content tagged:
Brian Roberts, Comcast Corp., set-top box, set-top, Consumer Electronics Show

15 comments

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New Platform, new catches?
I'm waiting to hear what the catches are.

It wouldn't surprise me one bit if this new platform included, built right in to it at the grass roots level, some anti-consumer devices.

For example, self destruct features that kill DRV recordings after a week, or features that stop you from time-skipping over the commercials.

It's cynical, I know, but I'm just so used to these companies doing something to screw the consumer over that I can't help but think that this too will have a hidden payload of nastyness inside it.
Posted by perfectblue97 (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
new ways
i agree with perfectblue97 this is just anthor way to screw the consumer over ( like there not screwing us now with there prices) but it might come down to you have to buy this new equipment in order to watch cable tv
Posted by pamnbob97 (2 comments )
Link Flag
don't forget to add
extra charge for each "extra" device that you will hook to comcast cable directly.
Posted by Starling#27 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Caller ID
Wow... caller ID on your TV. Novel idea. Most DirecTV receivers have had that feature for about 7 years now. And the catch with Comcast is that you have to have their VoIP phone service for it to work. Big deal...
Posted by bschmidt25 (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is not Java based
From the live-blog over at engadget, they said the system was open "like java", but they didn't say it actually was java. Considering that Microsoft is supporting this effect, I would say that it is almost certainly NOT java. In fact, the parallel that they drew to java really had nothing to due with being "open". I very much doubt this is open source (again, M$). What they meant, I believe, is that is it a standard api accross different devices, so it is like a jvm, which is a good thing.
Posted by gsacks (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OCAP is explicitly based on java
RTFS. Annex G specifies OCAP 1.0 Application API and it's most
definitely java.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cablelabs.com/specifications/OC-SP-OCAP1.0.1-" target="_newWindow">http://www.cablelabs.com/specifications/OC-SP-OCAP1.0.1-</a>
070824.pdf

It's possible that Microsoft would prefer a system that doesn't
have to implement 700+ java classes and 200+ java interfaces,
but that's what you need to have in order to support OCAP.
Posted by AudioDroid (6 comments )
Link Flag
Yes, it is
I double-checked with Comcast just to make sure I didn't hear incorrectly. They said that Tru2way is indeed Java-based.
Posted by ericaatnews (52 comments )
Link Flag
Sounds interesting... and expensive
Love DVRs, love HD, love it all, but I could love it just as much for HALF the price!

The most needed improvement for cable and satellite television isn't more bells and whistles, it is lower prices.

Please, when is the industry going to listen to that?
Posted by tompittman7 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My Plain Old Non Digital Cable Just Works
Strange, my regular Cable service just works. MY TV, VCR, DVD, Computer all work just fine. No need for a set top box.

The only innovation is in what services they will be able to offer (the 2 way part) that they can't with something like my current cable.

Still if it's truly universal, then it would solve the biggest problem I'm going to have going to HD. Right now I'm stuck wiht over the air transmissions since that's not propriatary.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
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What's the Difference?
What's the difference between a CableCard-enabled device and what Comcast is proposing?
Posted by jshale (37 comments )
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What's the Difference?
I think this is "CableCard 2.0"; with 2-way (and probably multi-stream) capability added.
Posted by DerWeissEngel (2 comments )
Link Flag
RE- what's the difference?
Plenty of difference! For starters, you cannot recieve OnDemand or pay per view(PPV) programming with a CableCard. You also cannot access interactive guides with it. The reason for this is that CableCard is not a true 2 way, or as we know refer to as Tru2way device. Also, there is not enough storage space built in to your television to capacitate any kind of recording options. Most likely, tv's in the future will come with internal hard drives for the dvr feature.
That is only scratching the surface! There are many ip based phone applications, and broadband aps. that will be greatly enhanced with Tru2way.
Posted by 1080iCON (2 comments )
Link Flag
okay, I guess it is.
I stand corrected, but still somewhat surprised.
Posted by gsacks (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Wideband" vs. broadband
any comments on how they intend to implement this "wideband" stuff? Is it true DOCSIS 3.0, or a pre-3.0 kludge?
Posted by DerWeissEngel (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Java is a ball and chain... Slow too...
As Steve Jobs said -- Java is a ball and chain... Too slow...
Posted by libertyforall1776 (650 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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