Cable TV giant Comcast said it is about to take the next step into delivery of 4K Ultra HDTV, by rolling out later this year its Xi4 set-top box (pictured above, right) that will add Xfinity 4K UHD services for subscribers with supporting TVs.

The Cisco-made set-top box will bring to all subscribers the streaming service that first launched through an app on new Samsung 4K Ultra HDTVs late last year.

More on the Xi4 and Xfinity 4K UHD service after the break:

The service, called Xfinity in UHD, will be backed with a library of select movies and TV shows in 3840×2160 4K UHD resolution, which is four times higher than the previous best, Full HD 1080 service. Comcast said it will offer the 4K UHD service over the Xi4 as part of its managed on-demand offering at no additional cost. The 4K content will be encoded in the HEVC/H.265 compression format.

The cable company demonstrated its commitment to 4K UHD by also revealing plans to go one better next year, when it wants to add the Xi5 “wireless” set-top box, which will bring the ability to stream 4K UHD programming with added high dynamic range (HDR). The Xi5 will link to a bridge modem or gateway device in the home, without the need to string coaxial cables.

The Xi5 box will include an HDMI 2.0a input to support HDR, although the company said it is still waiting to determine which HDR format the system will support. A number of standards-setting procedures through the Ultra HD Alliance and other bodies are currently underway for HDR.

Once the format is determined, HDR will bring to 4K UHD titles improved contrast, black level, brightness and gray scale in TVs enabled to read and use special metadata sent along with the original data stream. This will help viewers see images with expanded detail and color that is normally lost in very bright and very dark areas of a picture. This bright and dark detail will be visible on the same screen at the same time. Some sets will be able to boost brightness in select areas of the screen for a more natural looking image.

As for the Xi4 launching this year, Comcast plans to offer a service that is very similar to what is currently available over the Xfinity 4K app currently available on 2014 Samsung 4K UHD TVs. Comcast is working with Samsung and other manufacturers to bring the streaming app to other models and brands of 4K UHDTVs. That service requires viewers have a pre-existing Comcast Xfinity TV subscription.

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The Xi4 will essentially add the same capability to a set-top device used by a Comcast subscriber to connect to any brand of compatible 4K UHD TV.

In a statement, Matt Strauss, Comcast Cable general manager and executive VP, said, the Xi4 will bring 4K UHD to customers seamlessly and with no additional equipment or costs.

“We are committed to providing the highest-quality entertainment experiences across platforms and our next-generation set-top boxes deliver on that promise—providing our customers with UHD and HDR programming on the biggest screen in the home,” he said.

Comcast said it plans to add hundreds of titles to the Xfinity in UHD catalog and library, including films originally produced for IMAX and from K2 Communications and Havoc TV like “The Ultimate Wave Tahiti,” “Antarctica,” “Rocky Mountain Express,” “Fighter Pilot” and “Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia.”

Comcast said the Xfinity in UHD library will enable subscribers to make “unlimited virtual 4K linear channels” by creating personalized playlists.

It will also offer full current seasons of hit TV shows such as Syfy’s “Defiance;” USA’s “Playing House,” “Satisfaction” and “Suits;” and original programming from STARZ including “Outlander” and “Power”.

Looking to keep step with 4K streaming services from over-the-top movie services including Netflix, M-GO and Amazon, and satellite TV providers DirecTV (Dish will add a UHD service later this year through a 4K Joey box), Comcast began the 4K on-demand service offering late last year through an app that’s was initially available only on 2014 Samsung UHD TVs, providing a free content library.

By Greg Tarr

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