Apple iPhone and iPod Touch owners can now stream a massive collection of video content from the Comcast vaults over Wi-Fi. At last count, there was more than 4,500 hours of content available through Comcast's Xfinity On-Demand video service. The app also serves as a remote control and DVR controller for supported cable boxes.
I gave the app a whirl on my iPhone 4, choosing an episode of "Cowboy Bebop" from the TV listings. There's a sense of familiarity going, as I've already used the streaming functionality on the iPad, which was generally above average in performance and had respectable quality. The episode appears on my 3.5-inch screen, and after a few seconds the little algorithms adjust the quality of the image from '90s Real Player to "Ooh, Nice."
Then the video hiccups and doesn't play after about 12 seconds. After a reboot, the same behavior occurred (even with other content), but I believe it's just the effect of a sudden influx of people trying the service. Several others have reported issues already on the app store feedback reel. I believe Comcast will straighten out things accordingly, as previous versions have been quite stable.
The real question is whether you'd want to watch a small screen for hours at a time, but in certain circumstances it's still a great option.
It's fair to say that the Xfinity app, as an option for streaming, isn't too far away from competing with Netflix.
The only thing that separates it is the cable subscription requirement, and service is available on only a few devices. Regardless, the company has a lot of resources and relationships that may allow the service to grow. Comcast, with its huge physical presence, is now pushing the streaming-video asset; an interesting evolutionary role in a market hungry for content and advertising dollars. The Xfinity app currently has no commercials.
Wouldn't it be weird if Comcast offered a streaming-only subscription and greatly expanded device capability? A "mobile" cable box, if you will. CNET has requested further information about compatibility with HDMI output.
Unfortunately, Android users can't access streaming video with their version of the Xfinity app. Nonetheless, this update from the cable company is a strong response to Time Warner and Dish, which also stream content to mobile devices.