Comcast will plant a flag in Ultra High Definition TV land later this year, with the first X1 set-top box cable, Xi4, capable of streaming "4K linear channels" to the Ultra HD TV of your choice. An even better box is on the drawing boards for release next year.
Until now, early adopters of the new ultra high resolution video format – offering 4 times the pixel count of high definition TV – have had to settle for the slim content pickings provided through apps on their smart TVs (Samsung, LG, Vizio) by streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Live, M-Go and Vudu. Or, if they have a Sony-made model, could also choose from a few hundred UHD movies and TV shows for rental/purchase, either pre-loaded or downloadable to a dedicated hard drive.
Also of late, DirecTV customers with a Genie box have had the option to pull out (download) then playback a sprinkling of films in the super res format, but only if they also own a special DirecTV UHD ready-TV made by Samsung. A Comcast UHD app is another Samsung TV exclusive.
Comcast's new box will theoretically allow viewers with ANY brand of UHD set to create "unlimited virtual 4K linear channels by creating personalized playlists from the Xfinity in UHD library," said a company statement released today. The announcement mostly touts content from Comcast-owned, NBC/Universal aligned channels, like USA Network's "Playing House," "Satisfaction" and
"Suits" and Syfy's "Defiance," along with documentaries created initially for "giant screen theaters" (IMAX) and "original programming from STARZ." As Warner Brothers and Disney are also prepping movies for UHD services – initially for Walmart-owned Vudu – that content could eventually join the catalogue.
A second generation UHD set top box, dubbed the Xi5, is promised for next year from Comcast. It will be able to decode a coming UHD enhancement called HDR - short for high dynamic range – that allows shows to be encoded with a wider gamut of colors and bolder contrast range. An on-screen sun or other bright object really pops out in three-dimensional (without the glasses) fashion. HDR also will be a given in the next generation UHD Blu-ray disc standard, to be unfurled at year's end or early 2016.
Vizio recently showed off prototypes of its first HDR-ready UHD TVs, using Dolby picture enhancing technology, but without putting a price or availability date on the sets. Other manufacturers are still debating whether to build their TVs to one HDR standard or to keep the technology "open." Also still being shaped are the techniques for getting the higher data rate HDR/UHD signals to a TV in wired or wireless fashion - the latter using a new Wi-Fi format called 802.11ac Wave 2 which Comcast's Xi5 box is likely to use.
All good reasons to hold off on that UHD-TV purchase, a little longer.