Comcast Reveals Expansive Olympics Platform Including 4K/HDR
Good news comes today for Winter Olympics fans who happen to be subscribers of Comcast Xfinity cable TV service and have its X1 gateway platform.
The service, which is a sister company to NBC Sports that happens to be carrying the Winter Olympics coverage from PyeongChang, S. Korea to the United States, will be providing the most extensive live, VOD and even 4K Ultra HD/HDR10 coverage yet produced for the popular international event.
Comcast Xfinity said Wednesday that it is providing customers not only with multi-layered coverage on TV screens, but will replicate much of that experience on mobile devices through the Xfinity mobile app for use both in and out of the home, as well.
“We have a very rich metadata ingestion engine,” said Chris Satchell, Comcast Chief Technology Officer. “We take many sources and combine them. We layer in our own data and experience for our X1 platform, so while others can take [Olympics coverage] content from NBC, it doesn’t mean they can do this experience.”
Read more about the Xfinity Winter Olympics coverage plans after the jump:
Following the success of the Summer Rio Olympics, Comcast is rolling out a host of new features on Xfinity X1 and the Xfinity Stream app and web portal so viewers can customize and control their Olympics viewing experience across platforms, while staying on top of all the action from the multiple events going on simultaneously throughout the games, which begin February 8th.
We recently met with Satchell at CES 2018 to get a rundown of all the different technologies and services planned to deluge Comcast Winter Olympic’s fans with as much multi-sensory coverage and detail as they can stand.
Satchell said parent NBC Universal and Comcast will use the opportunity “to focus on innovation from both sides of our company. So what you’ve got is a creation of NBC Sports paired with the innovation we get from the X1 side of our cable TV business centered around the user experience.”
Although other multi-channel video service providers will be carrying Olympics coverage as well, Comcast has developed a unique way of packaging and accessing the more than 2,400 hours of content NBC plans to gather from the events. That’s the equivalent of the last two winter Olympics combined.
To present it all in a usable and digestible way, Comcast is leveraging the power of the Xfinity X1 gateway to provide what Satchell called “the most customized, personalized and mobile Winter Olympics we’ve ever done.”
For starters, Comcast this year has partnered with Team USA for in depth coverage along with the ability to promote the Xfinity brand by blending it in with the coverage throughout the experience.
For users, the experience starts at the guide, Satchell said. This is where people jump into the user interface and experience by pressing the Xfinity button.
Special for the Olympics, Comcast is adding short cuts in the home screen to help users quickly get into the key parts of the Olympics experience.
This begins with the Winter Olympics Home page, which is the home base for all of the coverage. Viewers will use this to jump off into other parts of the experience.
The Olympics Home page will feature active tiles with images of live events taking place at that moment. Satchell said the time difference in PyeongChang works out very well for viewing live events in the United States in Prime time.
“We won’t be delaying the showings across the country,” he said. “The events will be presented live as they happen on the East Coast and West Coast.”
The Olympics Home page will also be organized by sport, with collections of events listed under the various sporting events at the games.
Comcast users with 4K Ultra HDTV will want to make sure they have both the X1 gateway and the service’s XG1 v4 set-top box so they can receive events both in 4K Ultra HD resolution and with HDR10 high dynamic range enhancements as well. Satchell said as long as a subscriber’s package is eligible, there is no actual premium for the XG1 v4 box, which is available now and easy to self install.
Comcast will present select parts of the coverage that are mixed in 4K Ultra HD resolution with HDR and Dolby Atmos surround sound. The 4K/HDR coverage will appear as VOD options the day after the events take place, in part, to allow time to apply HDR contrast and color grading in post production for the HDR10 metadata.
The company continues to evaluate enhanced HDR profiles with dynamic metadata or Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) for future use, Satchell said.
Another Olympics Experience feature is called “instant video on demand (iVOD),” which will be available for all of the Olympics channels. This will allow viewers to restart any channel as it’s going, without the need to have been previously tuned to the channel or recording it.
Among some other added-value features will be athlete bios and “virtual channels,” which Satchell described as a collection of 50 random topic areas, like “Trending Now,” “Wildest Crashes,” and “Funniest Moments.” Each channel presents an editorialized playlist of videos made fresh every day and containing clips from NBC Sports coverage mixed with ancillary content brought in from the web.
“This provides a different slice on the games that you just can’t do on a normal channel,” Satchell explained. “What this will do is let you lean forward a little bit and jump from element to element, while providing a different level of control in consumers hands that they’ve not had before.”
In addition to the rich graphical interface provided for the Olympics coverage, Comcast Xfinity adds voice control through a push-button mic on the remote of compatible gateway devices. The system provides an effective natural language voice engine that will accept input like the name of a popular athlete to call up an event or bio on the person. Satchell said Xfinity customers currently log over 1 billion voice commands every quarter from 18 million active voice remotes.
Users can quickly jump around between the Olympics Home screen and various events, simply by pressing and holding the mic button and saying a command like: “Olympics Home,” and “Go into live.”
Xfinity X1 users will have access to a sports app providing a game companion that comes up on screen providing previews of events, in-game stats, individual player stats, highlights and other benefits. Comcast has provided similar functionality for all major professional and NCAA sports throughout the year.
Viewers will also have access to an “active page” they can go to in order to see where they are in a game or event, what day the event took place, what the local time is, what sports are coming up, what’s “medaling” at the moment, recent winners, etc.
Satchell said the active page was designed to be “the fastest place people can go to get the latest results on the games.”
Comcast is also providing subscribers with a mobile app that can be used in home or out of home to see all of the normal channels as well as the direct-stream channels from the NBC Sports app.
The mobile device app will also have access to the Olympics Experience including the Olympics Home that appears on the X1. Viewers can use this just as they do on the X1 TV screen to jump into games and related content.
As for owners of 4K Ultra HD televisions, like certain Samsung models equipped with Comcast’s 4K streaming app on the smart TV platform, Satchell said they will be able to view the games via the network and cable channels, but they will not have access to the Olympics Experience, which requires the power of the full X1 platform, Satchell told HD Guru.
Those living in Comcast territories who want to add the X1 (more than half of all Comcast customers already have it) and/or the XG1 v4 4K/HDR set-top client have three weeks to contact the company’s local offices to ensure they are set up and ready for the action.
“We are always ready for an X1 truck roll,” Satchell said.
By Greg Tarr
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