Comcast launches Xfinity set-top box

Cabler showcases Web-enabled hybrid

Comcast is looking to shake up the stodgy world of interactive programming guides with a new and improved Xfinity service being unveiled at the industry’s annual confab in Chicago.

The new technology will put apps on TV screens. One from Facebook enables subscribers to get programming recommendations from their friends.

Xfinity will also power search across linear channels, VOD, DVR and additional Web-based content — though not open access to the Internet. It will also include a personalized interface-branded MyTV that tailors viewing options to subscribers’ specific interests, from sports teams to favorite shows.

On Thursday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts will demonstrate Xfinity at the Cable Show, where the souped-up interface is intended to let Wall Street know the MSO is meeting the challenge of innovative over-the-top solutions from the likes of Google TV and Apple TV. The industry has long been criticized for onscreen experiences that are difficult to navigate.

Xfinity will be powered by a new hybrid set-top box powered by Intel, Pace and Comcast-owned ThePlatform. It is based on an experimental system Comcast has internally referred to as XCalibur since it was first deployed last year in one market, Augusta, Ga., where it was marketed under the brand name Spectrum.

Comcast has not specified yet where or when the new set-top box will be deployed or whether it will come at additional cost to new customers or current subscribers.

Separately, Comcast is also testing an all Internet protocol-based system that could deliver TV to any device. Previously implemented for PC and mobile, Xfinity hasn’t been deployed on television sets.

Other apps that will be part of Xfinity will deliver real-time information on traffic and weather.

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