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Comcast To Allow TV Customers To Ditch Set-Top Box (usatoday.com) 113

An anonymous reader writes: In response to the FCC's efforts to open up the pay-TV set-top box market, Comcast said today it will allow some of its subscribers to watch TV without leasing a set-top box. Customers with a Roku TV, Roku streaming media player, or 2016 Samsung Smart TV will be able to watch Comcast's TV programming through the Xfinity TV app embedded in the TV set or Roku devices later this year. However, customers will still have to subscribe to a standard cable TV package from Comcast's Xfinity brand. "We remain committed to giving our customers more choice in how, when and where they access their subscription," said Mark Hess, a Comcast senior vice president, in a prepared statement. The FCC has responded to Comcast's recent announcement saying in a statement, "While we do not know all of the details of this announcement, it appears to offer only a proprietary, Comcast-controlled user interface and seems to allow only Comcast content on different devices, rather than allowing those devices to integrate or search across Comcast content as well as other content consumers subscribe to."
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Comcast To Allow TV Customers To Ditch Set-Top Box

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why not all???

    • Why not all???

      If you want fancier service they will want to control the hardware so that they can stream ads at you, better track your viewing, maybe deliver nonstandard signals, etc...

      If you want basic service the only point of the set top box is to increase your cable bill and then WAY overcharge you if it doesn't get returned when you disconnect service.

      If their move is in favor of consumers generally, they will discontinue the need to have a box with basic service. These are probably the people most likely to leave

    • time warner has been offering this for months (years if you count the ability to use the TWCTV app on a roku. still needed a box but could use rokus everywhere else)

      the most likely reason its only some customers is a general small roll out to check for quality issues before loading up millions on a stream of something rather than going through the normal channels (pun intended)
    • Because this is a test phase. After all they want to be sure that no one can get their service for free. They did say this is a trial so it may eventually become available for everyone, but they still expect most customers will continue to use set-top boxes.

      Also take note that the service isn't going to be tied to only people having Comcast as their ISP so they hope to take customers away from other cable companies by allowing them to use their application to watch Comcast TV even though they are using XYZ

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @07:42PM (#51952567) Homepage

    Bought a HD Homerun that supported Cablecard. Installed that in the basement and use the Nexus Players in the bedrooms and the Living room to watch TV. The MythTV server in the basement records and the shows appear in the PLEX list. Works fantastic.

    Plus My way the recordings are not encrypted and kept locked away from me, so when I fly out to a customer's job I simply load what I want on my laptop and I have them in HD glory. I'm too cheap to pay for Plex Pass so I cant stream to my phone across the internet.

    • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @07:57PM (#51952635)
      This. I have no idea why this is news, or what is new about it. They were quite happy to let me turn in my set-top box in exchange for a cablecard. That was two years ago, now.

      The only not-fantastic part of the problem is that HD View cannot keep up with HD content on either of my PCs, and SiliconDust dropped support for HD Quick TV. I'm now using VLC which seems able to keep up.

      • Because this has nothing to do with CableCards? I mean, I know the headline is kinda basic and could be read as meaning they're finally providing some alternative to STBs, but what the headline actually meant is explained in the summary, which is talking about Comcast offering itself on some IPTV platforms such as Roku.

        • Because this has nothing to do with CableCards?

          That's right. They would have allowed me to turn in my set-top box whether or not I was getting a cableCARD, and that was years ago. Allowing "some customers" to "ditch" their STB is not news.

          Nor is the fact that Comcast will allow customers to watch content online. I've had the Xfinity app for a long time. And over the net. The fact that Xfinity content can be viewed online is not news.

    • Cablecard fees (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @08:20PM (#51952779) Homepage

      So you're still paying an extra monthly fee for the cablecard. There is no difference.

      • by mveloso ( 325617 )

        My cablecard is free. Isn't everyone's? ISP: comcast.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Cocks cable charges $2 for each cablecard, but you also have to get their "Tuner Adapter" or you will only get 1/4 of the channels. The TA is about the size of a 14" notebook, plugs into the USB of the Tivo or other tuner, and is between the cable inlet and the wall outlet, and requires yet another wallwart to power it. Cocks cable went total DRM on all channels, so cable ready TVs won't work anymore unless it has a cablecard slot. Fucking pirates they are.
          • by Anonymous Coward
            Actually they went SDV (switched digital video), which means instead of flooding all the bandwidth of the cable with every single channel whether you're watching them or not, they only send you the channel(s) you're tuned to. This is why you need the tuning adapter: it tells the headend which channel(s) to send. If your Tivo or cable-ready TV was SDV-ready, you wouldn't need the adapter, but none are yet. Since a ton of bandwidth is freed up this way, they can offer much faster Internet service. Also the
        • $3 on FiOS TV. Also, this is a 6 tuner card I have in my Roamio.

      • 1. I'm not paying a fee for a cablecard.

        2. If you've never used a cable card, then you wouldn't realize that yes, there is a difference.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Why are you paying for a cablecard fee? Cablecards are free unless you ask for 3 or more of them.

        your cable company must really suck compared to Comcast as the first two are free with them.

        • You do realize that Comcast changes the terms based on what city you live in correct?

          For me Comcast charges $170 a month for their triple play package and 25mb internet. if you want faster internet you pay another $30 a month.

          • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

            FCC rule requires a "reasonable" number of cablecards to be free.

      • Back when I involuntarily* had cable, I accepted only the single "free" SD cable box. Then I got an HD HomeRun and when I traded in the "free" box for a CableCard, suddenly an extra credit appeared on my bill. Perhaps you're right that even the CableCard isn't free, but it's certainly the closest Comcast will let you get without further FCC intervention.

        (* Comcast wanted to charge me more for Internet by itself than for Internet + basic TV that year)

    • I took a different approach. I installed a playon server. Pointed it at free streams from CBS, NBC, etc as well as paid streams like Hulu and have it make them available on demand via my roku devices. Plus for shows that are of limited availability or commercial overflowed I have the playon server record the episode and play it back at my convince.

      So my cable bill has been reduced to a HBO, Hulu, Free streaming from the networks, and amazon prime subscriptions (I'd have amazon prime either way though).

    • You don't need Plex Pass to stream content from your Plex server to your phone. I do it all the time. All you have to do is forward the port (32400? I forget now) the Plex server uses. I have a DynDNS domain that I use to directly access my server, but if you don't want to go through that, you can go to the Plex web page, log in, and it provides a link to your server. :)

    • I really like my SiliconDust tuner. I've used it for many years with Windows Media Center, but I've recently started hooking up other devices (Kodi on Raspberry PI and Fire TV stick).

      Unfortunately, their DVR software is still a work in progress, so most of the recording is still done by WMC. You may be having better luck with Nexus Players, though. The View client for Android is ahead of all the others. That only works on my 7" phone. I think they're mostly working on the Windows 10 client right now.

      Not

      • Plex is much like Kodi (as far as I have read about Kodi), it allows streaming of video to whatever device, and it on the fly transcodes video for each device so it receives its optimal resolution/bitrate/codec. It may be that your QNAP doesn't have the horsepower for the on the fly transcoding, I know my Synology rack mount SAN/NAS did not, and actually crashed trying to do it. I run Plex on my file server, which used to point to the NAS, and now points to local drives as I have decommissioned the Synolo

        • Kodi doesn't have any kind of server component - it's just a client. It can play from content from file shares, DLNA, and other sources. SiliconDust has a Kodi plug-in that plays Live TV from the HDHomeRun tuner, and recorded content from where ever that's set up on the local network. Pretty handy. Kodi doesn't do any transcoding.

          For MCE content, I use MCEBuddy to transcode the MCE recordings into mpeg4, and I can point Kodi to that file share. It plays those files very nicely, even over Wifi.

          I think yo

          • I understand the feeling on the SiliconDust stuff, I used to have a triple tuner cable card unit from them (and a dual antenna one before that), but when MS dropped Media Center, I went out and bought a Tivo to do the same things I was doing on the computer. MCEBuddy works pretty well with Tivos too, the only thing is automating the retrieval from the Tivo, which can be done with other software. For some reason MCEBuddy is a little flakey with Tivo recordings, but when it works, it works really well.

            The n

    • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *

      I'm too cheap to pay for Plex Pass so I cant stream to my phone across the internet.

      I've never paid for Plex Pass either, but streaming works like a champ for me on my phone and my Chromebook (the latter just uses the web interface).

      What phone are you using? Plex apps for Android and (I think) iOS are free, but they're charging (via Plex Pass) for the Windows app. Then again, the web app works pretty much the same on Windows devices as it does on Chromebooks (just tested it on an HP Stream 7 to verify),

  • by The New Guy 2.0 ( 3497907 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @07:57PM (#51952643)

    In a related development, Roku TV and Samsung Smart TVs have integrated a Comcast set-top box into the TV set....

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @08:07PM (#51952683) Journal

    Instead of regulation, why not just take away their monopoly status and all other exclusive contracts that block the competition?

    • You can't take away a monopoly status that wasn't granted by the government. I.e., you can't just "take away" a defacto monopoly. To do so, you'd have to force other companies to compete.
      • The corrupt local/municipal/state authorities grant and protect the monopolies. That's why we need to call in the Calvary to pry open the market.

        • The corrupt local/municipal/state authorities grant and protect the monopolies.

          No, they don't. The franchises are non-exclusive. That's not a monopoly. You want to meed the standards of the franchise ordinances, you can get a franchise, too.

          The only monopoly involved is the defacto one created by economic realities. You can't legislate that monopoly away.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            economic realities

            Yes, the economic realities of kickbacks [wired.com]... how to make a monopoly not look like a monopoly...

          • by afidel ( 530433 )

            The franchises are non-exclusive

            Eh? The VAST majority of franchise agreements in Ohio were exclusives for a class of service (ie phone vs cable) until the state of Ohio passed a universal franchise law at the behest of AT&T and Verizon which wanted to offer triple play bundles. I happen to use an overlay cable provider (W.O.W) because my community was one of the few without an exclusive franchise agreement and let me tell you, competition works, $25/month for 30/5 internet with no caps.

            • Eh? The VAST majority of franchise agreements in Ohio were exclusives for a class of service (ie phone vs cable)

              I have yet to see an exclusive cable franchise, despite asking for links to one every time this discussion about "monopolies" comes up. Yes, the phone companies have exclusive franchises based on a long history, but every cable franchise I've seen has been explicitly non-exclusive.

              You are talking about your internet service, which is not the same as a cable franchise. I know of no ISP franchises, and there are plenty of ISPs. I have at least two choices for ISP using DSL, for example.

              The delivery system i

              • I have yet to see an exclusive cable franchise, despite asking for links to one every time this discussion about "monopolies" comes up

                I believe the one I provided sums it up pretty well. Cable, phone, internet, let's not pick nits. Communications is a heavily protected industry.

        • In some parts of country that may once have been true. It's not true now and it's complete nonsense anyway. Most of us have at least two, sometimes more, TV providers. Over here, at minimum, I can think of Comcast, at&t, and Dish Network. There's probably a microwave provider as well that I'm missing.

          • Yeah, and they really aren't competing against each other as much as they are fixing prices. It's kind of an old "Standard Oil" thing.

            • My Dish Network bill is about 60% of the price offered by Comcast for roughly the same thing, so if they're colluding in some way to fix prices, they're not doing a very good job.

              The reality is your anger is misplaced. Cable costs a lot because of the pricing structures of content providers, not so much the cable operators. Most of us would be happy with TBS, TNT, USA, perhaps a sports channel, MTV, and the antenna channels. The cable companies literally cannot offer that package, they're obliged to tack

              • I have no anger against the companies. They only do what comes naturally, whatever they can get away with. It is the government that protects them from the consumers, and to cut to the chase, it is the consumers that vote for that government, and that is where my "anger" is always directed. People are just too mousy and submissive in the face of authority. The push back is insufficient. I only want to open the market to competition. Comcast, Disney ABC, NBC Universal, Viacom all share ownership in each othe

      • by kbdd ( 823155 )
        "You can't take away a monopoly status that wasn't granted by the government. I.e., you can't just "take away" a defacto monopoly. To do so, you'd have to force other companies to compete."

        I bet AT&T may disagree.

    • by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @11:12PM (#51953463)

      That won't work because this is a textbook example of a natural monopoly [wikipedia.org]: almost all their costs are fixed (maintaining infrastructure) and the marginal cost per customer is basically zilch. (You turning on the TV costs them almost nothing.) Even without a government-granted monopoly, their monopoly status would happen naturally.

      Why is it a natural monopoly? Suppose you had two different companies, each with their own cables running down your street. The two CEOs would look at eachother and say: why are we wasting all this money maintaining two sets of cables. We should just merge, maintain just one set of cables (saving money in the process), and become a monopoly to boot! (Exercise for the reader: understand why not all situations lead to natural monopolies. E.g. why do we not have natural monopolies in grocery stores?)

      That might sound silly, but that's basically what we have now. Many houses have access to only two internet providers: the phone company and the cable company. Since TV signals are digital nowadays, they often offer the same services. The only thing keeping cable and phone companies from merging is government regulation.

      What's the best solution? I'm not sure, but taking away their monopoly status will not foster competition on it's own. In my area, it would just lead to an ATT-Charter merger, which sounds horrible...

      • All monopolies require state protection.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          All monopolies require state protection.

          ...Never heard of Standard Oil I take it? Or U.S. Steel?

          • Yes, they needed the government to lock out the competition and back up their anti union activities. And without the "Pnks" (Pinkertons, basically a private government agency) and the regular police and their guns, they would be no bigger than anybody else.

        • by dlenmn ( 145080 )

          All monopolies require state protection.

          [citation needed]

      • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Thursday April 21, 2016 @12:29AM (#51953701)

        What does any of this have to do with TV? Keep the wires as either a municipal utility or a regulated regional monopoly with capped rates. Allow anyone interested to offer content or provide end user customer service on equal basis. Apps will be on every cheap smart TV and streaming box in no time and high value networks will be motivated to offer standalone services rather than subsidize unpopular channels.

      • by dinfinity ( 2300094 ) on Thursday April 21, 2016 @03:20AM (#51954105)

        What's the best solution?

        Nationalizing all infrastructure that is critical to society.

        • Why was that modded down? That is precisely what is needed. The state builds and maintains the infrastructure and leases it without prejudice. Freedom of choice will then sort out the chaff.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Not sure why this still applies. If I have a Roku box, why not pay Comcast and get the Xfinity app to watch TV even though I live in a Time Warner region? Cable cutting taken full circle virtually?

        Not that I would while they're bundling,

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The solution is to separate content from delivery.

        The cables( or fiber) should be a regulated monopoly the same way water, sewer, electricity is. They should be content agnostic. But unfortunately that would be efficient and make sense.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @08:19PM (#51952767)

    Will there be outlet / mirroring fees?

    DVR modes locked out

    missing
    local channels

    local RSN's
    local RSN alts
    other channels

    PPV events
    MLB EI
    NBA LP
    NHL CI
    VOD

  • Since using their app which you then have to install on your hardware, instead of theirs, will probably do something to make you hate them. If you don't understand that statement, you've never been a Comcast customer.
  • by bogie ( 31020 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @08:51PM (#51952963) Journal

    This is Comcast we are talking about. I'm sure watching the video counts towards your data cap.

    Today I got a flyer for Comcast w/DVR for $89 month. Great! Right?

    Actually let's see what the real price is. $89 base fee+$5 Broadcast TV Fee+$3 Regional Sports Free+$10 HD Technology Fee(what? you thought HD was included?)+$10 Cable Modem Free+Other taxes and fees. So really that $89 is actually $120 month plus tax. And after 1yr it's $130 month plus tax.

    Comcast, "we charge 40-50% above our teaser rates because we can".

    • Don't forget all the taxes they're allowed to pass on directly to the customer without mentioning them until they're on your bill.
  • How about I give you the finger, and you give me my phone call.

  • Look at the fear! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @09:14PM (#51953063)

    The set top box rules have them scared. It took the cable companies nearly 10 years to shape cable card into a controlled non-open platform and the companies are scared that the new attempt by the FCC to open up cable access will actually succeed so Comcast is working preemptively to try to head off the rules again. Just like Cable card when they asked the FCC permission to build a certification lab that became the gateway to denying any device that didn't work exactly how the cable companies wanted and as poorly as possible to discourage their use they will use they independent contracts to ensure any non-set top method of access is both crappy and second rate.

    I own Roku devices but I don't trust Comcast and I know without a doubt in my mind this is another attempt to undermine open access. With a Roku contract they can build a channel that is both second rate and crappy in every regard and then point to that and tell customers that's what they get when they don't rent a box. Roku being the sellouts they are will also allow Comcast to do this.

    Don't cheer this, recognize it for what it is, an attempt to end run the open access provisions by letting Comcast write the rules, just like they did with cable card.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @09:26PM (#51953109)
    seeing as how they were about to be forced to do it at gun point.
  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2016 @10:24PM (#51953319) Journal

    I live in Seattle, have Comcast and their Xfinity App streams the channels like shit. Some shows I would be unable to watch because it would keep dying out. And this is using a decent Comcast internet connection. Going thru the web was usually a bit better, but not much.

    All in all, and a Comcast customer, I would not recommend using the Xfinity app, i would recommend using usenet service or torrent sites if you want to watch quality versions of the show.

  • Comcast has a internal "Darling" division called VIPER (Video over IP Engineer & Research) already working on the possibilities of eliminating the set top box. They have known trouble has been brewing on this front for awhile now.

  • I could go one about this stuff, but to make it short, I am surprised that they would want customers to stream everything to boxes that most likely are not able to do multicast stream joins. Current cable technologies like SDV do something similar to IP multicast streams being joined at the edge, just in a really bad way using new QAM frequencies per stream, but if they just used settop boxes that did IP multicast joins directly to the network it would way be better and still save tons of bandwidth.
    Most peo

  • by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Thursday April 21, 2016 @03:48AM (#51954167)

    Most of this can be done now with the Xfinity streaming video website, and of course some channels have Roku apps or stream on Youtube which has an app.

    But there is one big problem with this: All of it uses your meager 300GB of Comcast bandwidth. Every stupid moment of it uses bandwidth.

    Watching cable TV the old fashioned way with a set-top box does not use bandwidth. I can leave all the TVs in my house on whatever channel I want all month long and it won't use even one kilobyte.

    But if I put NBCSports (only for F1) or QVC on my laptop or Roku, bam, I am gobbling up bandwidth like crazy. This happens even if I go somewhere else and use an Xfinity hotspot to watch. The system counts that bandwidth against your account.

    Use too much bandwidth and you get to pay more for overages. Xfinity is gonna make bank "letting" people watch TV on their Roku boxes. How nice of them.

    Now I could pay for unlimited bandwidth and my total Comcast bill would be about $130 and I could watch all the TV I want. OR I can keep it as it is, and have a nice TV package with a couple hundred channels, and pay $119. HMMM. Sure I only get 300GB that way but that's enough for my current use.

  • I had Comcast for past two years (I recently switched to AT&T) and didn't lease a set-top-box from Comcast: I have a TiVo Premiere and just rented a cable card from them. I have never had a Comcast DVR (been a TiVo owner since TiVo model 1), so I can't compare their features. But since I've always bought with lifetime subscriptions from TiVo, I've never been a renter. It works fine and even has a (crappy UI) working Xfinity on-demand app.

  • As the owner of a Samsung Smart TV, I don't want this option. Samsung's Smarthub OS is glitchy as hell. Maybe they have fixed it since I bought my TV...
  • They'll allow us! Are they not merciful??

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