Lens logoLens logo
March 27, 2014

Thought Leadership for the Wireless Industry
In This Issue
And the Next Big Thing Is?
My Review of Comcast Cloud DVR
Hello all,

I have a confession to make. With regard to mobile, when asked to predict what are going to be the "next big things", I find myself a bit stumped. Is there anything truly game-changing on the immediate horizon, or are we in a "harvesting", or "pause" period? Read the entire column here.


Also, Boston is one of the first markets to have Comcast's X1 Cloud DVR service. Since mobile is a key part of the "TV Everywhere" experience, I decided to try it out. My conclusion: not ready for prime time. Read my review of cloud DVR  here, or below.    

Join Our Mailing List!
And the Next Big Thing Is...
With regard to mobile, when asked to predict what are going to be the "next big things", I find myself a bit stumped. Is there anything truly game-changing on the immediate horizon? I think we're
harvesting what has been built over the past several years, and laying the foundation for the next, phase of major innovation, which I think is 3-4 years away. Read here for my analysis across several categories of the mobile experience. 
hereReview: Comcast's Cloud DVR Service

Most of you know me as a mobile industry analyst/consultant, so why write about Cloud DVR? Well, mobile is as much a lifestyle as a technology these days, and mobile is a big part of the evolution of "TV Everywhere". That's my justification and I'm stickin' to it.


Boston is one of the first markets to have Comcast's Cloud DVR service. I have been using it for about two weeks, and although I see the potential, I don't think it's ready for prime time.


There are three main incremental features of Cloud DVR and the companion mobile app, Xfinity TV:

  • Watch live TV on any mobile device. You can watch any channel that is part of your Comcast subscription, live, but only when connected to the home network
  • Multi-room DVR. Watch DVR content on other TVs in your house with an X1 box, or streamed to a mobile device (again, only in your home)
  • Download DVR content for offline viewing away from home network. If you want to view recorded content away from your home, you take it "to go", by downloading a recorded program onto a portable device (must be connected to your home network do so). That content can then be viewed, anywhere, offline, and is temporarily removed from your "home" DVR. Once you've watched the program, you can "return" it to your home DVR. Think of it as sort of a lending library for your DVR content.

In order for Cloud DVR to work, you need to equip the extra the TVs in your home with an smaller X1 box, which requires installation from a Comcast technician to configure the settings for communication to the main DVR. Then you download a separate app, called Xfinity TV, onto your mobile device (in my case, an iPad Air).


For live TV viewing on the iPad, you can search for a channel or bring up a program guide which looks much like the interface on a home TV. This part of the service works well. Quality on the iPad, even HD, is good, although there is no setting for full screen.


For the multi-room DVR service, Comcast stores a copy of your DVR purchases in the cloud, which enables access to DVR content on other screens in the home and on mobile devices. A "replica" of your DVR content is shown on other X1-enabled TVs or mobile devices with the Xfinity TV app. When it works, it works well. The DVR UI on the additional TVs is the same as on the main TV. The UI on the mobile device is straightforward and well presented. That said, I ran into all sorts of problems during the two-week testing period. The remote X1 box crashed several times, which after several calls to customer service (literally, 2+ hours of time), was found to be linked to an "RF Communication problem between the remote X1 box and the main X1 box". This required another visit of a Comcast technician to fix the problem. While this problem persisted, I was also unable to stream DVR content onto my iPad for viewing in the home, or download it to go.


For me, the most useful feature is the ability to take recorded content for offline or mobile viewing, such as in the gym or on a plane. This is a terrific way to catch up on recorded shows when away from home, without having to worry about the availability of good WiFi for streaming (I never consider cellular, it's too expensive). In theory, the service is simple. You go to "saved" programs on the Xfinity TV app, and press "to go". The show is then downloaded onto the device. Once that content is downloaded, it can't be viewed on any other screens, until it is "returned". This 'lending library' approach must have to do with rights issues.  




When the "to go" option works, it's great. The interface is easy and the image quality of the downloaded content is excellent. It's nice to not have to worry about availability, cost, or quality of network connection. However, the "to go" service is riddled with problems. First, it takes a ridiculously long time to download a show. It took about 60 minutes to download 60 Minutes, on a 25 MB WiFi connection. There is a progress bar, but no indication of file size, unlike other download services or even other Xfinity apps such as Xfinity TV GO. Download times for DVR content must be brought into line with what it takes for similar file sizes on other apps in order for this to be a more viable service.


Several other attempts to download programs quit mid-stream. There were also issues with downloading when the iPad screen went into sleep mode. Then, the download service just stopped working altogether, displaying myriad techno-geek error messages such as "there appears to be a problem with the manifest for this recording", or "playback Issue: 503, we're not able to handle this request right now". This problem persisted for several days, and is probably linked to the communication issues with the main DVR that I had with my remote X1 box and the application.


So, time to call customer service. The good news is that there is a dedicated X1 phone support line. Write this number down: 877-599-1844. I only found this by going to "help" on the app - it is nowhere on Comcast's Web site and main Comcast tech support reps either don't know it or won't give it to you. The bad news is that the training and level of expertise of these X1 reps is all over the place. Even so, you do not, and I repeat, do not, want to call main Comcast tech support for issues with cloud DVR.  




Another general comment on the overall Xfinity mobile experience: Comcast must streamline the number of apps required to deliver its version of TV Everywhere. Currently, four apps with a set of overlapping, yet unique functions are required: Xfinity Remote, Xfinity TV Go, Xfinity TV, and Xfinity Streampix.


My overall assessment is that Comcast is just getting going with cloud DVR service and there are still lots of kinks to work out. To me, the most useful aspect is the ability to view programs away from home, offline. But it requires patience (long download times), planning (because you have to remember to download content on your home network), and perseverance (because it is buggy).


Cloud DVR represents an important step toward what the future will look like. It fills an important gap between mobile apps of networks such as ABC and HBO (where content can only be streamed) and Xfinity's own On Demand offerings (only select content can be downloaded). The technology is there. The biggest hurdle to overcome is rights and content negotiations, which would allow a customer to stream or download DVR content from anywhere, not just the home, or download it on any network, not just the home.


Recent Opinion Columns