Cable companies aren't known as nimble innovators, but Comcast Corp. is out to change that perception this year with ultra-high-speed Internet service, more high-definition content and gadgets that link video, phone and broadband services.
"We're about innovation and having the best network," Chief Executive Brian Roberts told The Associated Press in a preview of his speech at the Consumer Electronics show on Tuesday.
Roberts is expected to demonstrate a technology that delivers up to 160 megabits of data per second: It will allow him to download a high-definition copy of "Batman Begins" in four minutes. The technology, DOCSIS 3.0, will start rolling out this year.
"If it's as successful as we hope, in 2009 and beyond we will have it available in millions of homes," he said.
Roberts hopes the speed-up will boost growth of Comcast's broadband service, which has been slowing.
Cable systems largely enable download speeds up to 10 Mbps — compared with up to 50 Mbps from Verizon's fiber-optic service FiOS.
"Cable looks like it will be able to keep up with the Joneses, thank you very much," Craig Moffett, senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein in New York, said of the new technology.
Roberts said Comcast plans to offer more than 1,000 high-definition videos this year, including up to 300 movies on demand that may be free or included in a subscription or a pay-per-view service.
That's a salvo aimed at DirecTV Group Inc. in their race to amass high-definition content. Philadelphia-based Comcast and El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV settled a lawsuit last month over which has better quality HD.
Roberts said Comcast will be creating "superservers" to store the extra video-on-demand content and supplement those in the neighborhood that move shows and movies to customers' cable boxes.
When a customer wants to watch a show that's not stored in the regional server, the computer will dial into the national server to access the content and bring it to the home, Roberts said.
Movies on demand
These national servers will enable Comcast to offer 6,000 movies on demand — 3,000 of them in high-definition — without requiring customers to get a new cable box.
Moreover, Roberts said the cable system is a "secure, licensed world" that should reassure movie studios that their content won't be easily pilfered.
To supplement its horde of movies and TV shows, Comcast plans on Tuesday to officially launch its Fancast Web site, which has full TV episodes for old and new shows as well as some movies.
The site also incorporates Fandango, the movie-ticket purchase portal, which Comcast bought last year.
Within months, Comcast subscribers will be able use the Fancast Web site's TV listings to set up the recording of programs on their home digital video recorders. Comcast said it plans to work with other video providers so the Fancast DVR feature will work on their systems as well.
Roberts also said that Comcast's Tivo service has been launched in New England and would be available in more markets in 2008. Tivo will be available as an add-on service for a fee Comcast will share with Tivo Inc.
In voice, Comcast is rolling out a caller ID service that pops up on TVs and computers of customers who buy its video, Internet and phone package.
And, with VTech, Comcast is developing a cordless phone with a mini-screen where users can access e-mail.
The phone, now in testing, also will offer viewable voice mail like Apple Inc.'s iPhone does, where users can see a list of messages and choose which to hear first. And it will offer weather forecasts, sports data and a phone directory.