Is 4K Ultra HD finally coming to cable TV? Well, sorta, kinda, not really, but… Yes, Comcast announced that it will, later this year, make a 4K TV set-top-box available to customers with 4K TVs. So what’s the but about?
The cable company is adding Ultra HD to its X1 set-top-box platform and will debut in the form of the Xi4 box. The Xi4 will be able to send full Ultra HD resolution movies and TV programs to a 4K TV. That content will include TV programs from channels including SyFi, Stars and USA plus movies created for 4K, IMAX movies and others.
But wait, Comcast doesn’t even deliver 1080p except for VOD, how can it now give us 4K? Well, there’s a little catch here. The 4K TV content coming through Comcast Xfinity is not traditional cable transmission. You won’t be able to channel surf 4K channels. Rather, the 4K TV offerings are the same ones that the company already provides via internet streaming on a TV app to some Samsung 4K TVs. In other words, Comcast is offering 4K streaming, or VOD, not 4K cable.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? Probably not, as streaming is now the primary way to receive 4K content, and with this set-top-box you won’t be restricted to a select number of Samsung TVs if you want Comcast’s offerings. On the other hand, while the X1 box (and presumably the Xi4) is a DVR, it’s probably not a DVR for 4K content. Because the 4K TV content will be streamed, DVR functions may not matter, unless you hate those forced commercials that cable companies put into their VOD offerings. Also, what’s available to be streamed in VOD changes from time to time. A movie offered for one month, might not be available the next, whereas a movie you recorded to your DVR from a cable channel will be there until you delete it.
Comcast didn’t say anything about pricing for this upcoming box or whether there would be an extra subscription required. The streamed VOD movies will likely be priced independently, as is usually the case for these things.
Oh, and there’s more. Next year Comcast plans to launch another 4K box, the Xi5 which will be capable of passing high dynamic range 4K content to compatible TVs. If you have one of those TVs now, well you’ll just have to be content with regular old dynamic range until then. If you don’t know what HDR is, read this article.