Comcast customers annoyed at monthly charges for cable-box rentals may have gotten some good news from an unexpected source Wednesday: Comcast itself.
Later this year, Comcast's Xfinity TV programming will be directly tunable on Roku streaming devices (selling for less than $100), as well as Roku software-enabled television sets and 2016 model Samsung Smart TVs, the company said.
And that's just the start, suggested Comcast senior vice president Mark Hess. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will "expand the range of retail devices our customers can use to access TV cable service without the need to lease a set-top box," he said. "By leveraging the open HTML5 standard that has been widely adopted across the industry, we are providing a common framework to make it easy for TV and other device manufacturers to bring our Xfinity TV Partner App to customers on their devices."
While hardly a project developed overnight, this new alternative TV-tuning option will surely be seen in some quarters as a retort to the Federal Communications Commission's plans for opening up the cable-box business to "third party" product makers such as TiVo and Google.
In his blog posting, Hess pointedly noted "in light of the success of the apps-based model in the marketplace, the far-reaching government technical mandate being currently proposed by the FCC is unnecessary."
The proof remains in the pudding. Hess said the app would provide access to Xfinity TV cable service, including the Xfinity TV guide, live and on-demand programming, and cloud DVR recordings. It will also deliver the "closed captioning, video description and other accessibility features" available with Xfinity's set-top boxes.
But tuning through the channels on a Roku or Samsung device may prove slower, a possibly big annoyance that has shown up on other streaming TV apps.
Unlike the now-300-channel Time Warner Cable access available through Roku, Samsung, and Xbox devices in parts of New York and New Jersey, you don't need to rent any cable box from Comcast, but you will need to acquire a Comcast gateway modem - possibly at a monthly fee if taking Internet service from Verizon FiOs or any other provider besides Comcast.
The content streamed to Roku and Samsung devices from the Xfinity TV Partner app does not ride on public Internet connections but rather on a closed track that Comcast calls its "managed IP network."
That's the approach the company is already using for its Stream "skinny bundle" Internet TV service available in Boston and Chicago. It enables users to stream shows to their heart's content without any of it counting against their monthly data cap, a limitation policy Comcast has also been testing.
The same free rein is not available with alternative pay services from Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Starz, CBS, and others.