Comcast turns on Microsoft’s TV software

Microsoft’s new TV software, which includes an interactive programme guide (IPG), will support advanced digital cable services, including the launch of dual-tuner digital video recorders to 1 million customers. The move is expected to further attract consumers to video-on-demand (VOD) services.

The announcement is the first major US deployment of Microsoft’s Foundation Edition software. With the launch of dual-tuner DVRs supported by Foundation Edition, Comcast customers will be able to record their favourite programmes digitally using an on-screen interface that Microsoft says is easier to use and navigate compared to the TV Guide Interactive software which dominates the US cable market. Viewers also can pause and rewind live television broadcasts, build a customised list of recordings by using the DVR’s repeat-recording capability to record multiple episodes of favourite shows, as well as record high-definition television (HDTV) broadcasts.

As part of the change, for an extra monthly premium, Comcast will start offering set-top cable boxes with built-in digital recording capabilities and hard disks for storing recorded television – effectively giving the cable box the same functions as stand-alone devices such as TiVo. The price for existing digital-cable customers will be an additional $9.95 per month on top of their current bill. For current high-definition subscribers, the price to upgrade to the digital recording box will be $4.95 per month.

Microsoft TV Foundation Edition software will be available immediately on new advanced digital set-top boxes with dual-tuner DVR technology. The software will be automatically downloaded in phases to all other set-top boxes in Washington state over Comcast’s digital network in the next few months.

“Comcast is a leader in providing new products on our unparalleled two-way digital platform, and we are always looking at new ways to bring our customers more value, choice and control,” said Len Rozek, senior vice president of Comcast’s Washington market. “The Microsoft software will help our customers get an amazing cable television experience. As Comcast continues to roll out advanced video products – such as VOD, HDTV and DVRs – it’s crucial to deliver a user experience that allows customers to easily navigate the many choices they have to find what they want, when they want it.”

Foundation Edition 1.7 helps cable companies maximise revenues by providing a better, more integrated customer experience and better merchandising opportunities for premium TV offerings and managed content services. It gives multiple service operators the opportunity to up-sell new and existing services, whilst striving to improve consumer satisfaction and retention. It also provides consumers with easy access to interactive games and information portals such as local weather, sports and news.

Enhancements to the software include a ‘smart’ progress bar that appears during playback and shows how much of the programme remains and how much buffer space is left, a channel mapping feature that lets you record a series even when it moves from one channel to another, and smart series options that let you record a specific number of episodes, skip rebroadcast episodes and reruns, set priorities for programs in case episodes conflict, and input the start and end times of programs. In addition, buffering lets viewers record the entire show they’re watching even if they don’t start recording until halfway through the program. Knowing Microsoft, there’s also the opportunity somewhere down the road for Media Center PCs to connect to Comcast video services, as well. And if the company manages to strike a deal with other digital TV providers, such as BSkyB, most of us will have Microsoft software in our living rooms as well as our workplaces.