When you turn your cable box on, what you’re really doing is opening up a secure gateway for data. You’re allowing every cable channel, every feature film, and all on-demand programming into your home. The technology behind it doesn’t matter to most, but we think it’s pretty interesting especially as trends are evolving.
The current format in which your cable box receives television data is called QAM, which stands for quadrature amplitude modulation. It’s really just a method for transmitting digital information that your cable box can understand, and then transmit to your TV.
But this is beginning to change. At last year’s Cable Show, Comcast announced X1, an all-new system of transmitting video using IP (Internet Protocol) technology, which has significant advantages, not to mention some pretty cool tech. X1 has already been rolled out in Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia and is expected to be available this summer in Washington, D.C.. We thought we would share a little information on how it works and what to expect when it arrives in your town.
As it is now, your cable system takes in the encoded QAM signal, decodes it, and displays the signal data as programming on your TV. Your cable system also takes in IP data; this is the data that goes to your web-connected devices and allows them access the Internet. Like your current box, the new X1 box will still do both of these things, but some of the data that used to transmit over QAM will now be transcoded into IP data. The data channel that was once used only for accessing the Internet will now also deliver programming and new features directly to your TV.
Technically, the new X1 boxes are a hybrid of QAM and video IP. While it is the ultimate goal to get all data to transmit over IP, the X1 will serve as a stepping-stone, allowing some data to go over IP and some to go through QAM. By introducing the X1, the need for customers to switch to an all-IP box suddenly and all at the same time is avoided.
The key benefit of having all information come through IP is that it will allow cable companies to deliver more content to a wider variety of devices, all with an improved user experience. Perhaps the best feature to come over the IP channel through X1 is a beautiful user interface and remote control system. Gone will be the days of a clunky menu with difficult-to-read channel guides and in will come a slick, customizable browser-based HTML5 content system. Not only will navigating cable channels feel more like surfing the web, but changes and system upgrades will also be easy to make, ensuring the cable experience can be regularly upgraded with new features. In fact, X1 trials in Augusta, Georgia already saw a Pandora app built right into the cable menu.
Because the cable menu is browser-based, an Internet connected device like your iPhone or iPad can control it. Actually, with a custom app, almost any Wi-Fi connected devices can control programming on the X1 box!
As we move to an IP driven communications network, X1 is a key step to building a better, more functional and easier to use information infrastructure. Comcast isn’t the only company introducing video IP systems. Cox, Cablevision, and Time Warner Cable are all working on their own version. Before long, all data will stream into our homes over IP, making entertainment, education, and business a seamless and ever improving experience.