Is Comcast doing away with the cable box? It’s taking a big step in that direction with the introduction of the Xfinity TV Beta app for Roku. The company announced the availability of the app in a blog post yesterday afternoon.
First things first, this is not cord-cutting. With this new app, you get the full cable experience including Xfinity guide, local broadcasts, cable programming, premium networks, and access to cloud DVR recordings. This is the full cable experience, with live and on-demand programming. Crucially, in order to use the app, you need to be a Xfinity cable and Internet customer.
The upshot of the service being tied to a cable subscription is that when you use the TV Beta app, what you watch does not count as Internet data. That’s a good thing because you can have as many as five Roku’s streaming concurrently, and up to 45 devices registered in one house. This is about transitioning the cable experience to the Roku platform
You do have to keep one set-top cable box during the beta trial, but customers are free to return any extra set-top boxes and use Rokus instead. The press release’s wording hints at a future where you won’t need a cable box—at all—to enjoy cable service. Namely, it notes that future phases of this program will include the ability to purchase Roku’s directly from Comcast.
For now, Comcast is not charging an “additional outlet fee” for concurrently using multiple Roku devices to run the TV Beta app. It’s not clear what the company might charge for that capability once the program comes out of beta; Tivo customers currently pay $7.50 per month for the privilege.
The Xfinity TV Beta app is available in a wide variety of Roku devices, which need to be running firmware version 7.5 or higher. Here’s the full list: Roku TV (Models within the 5000 and 6000 range), Streaming Stick (3600), Express (3700, 3710), Express+ (3710), Premiere (4620), Premiere+ (4630), Ultra (4640), Roku 4 (4400), Roku 3 (4200, 4230), and Roku 2 (4210).
Of course, because the app is in beta, you can expect additional features in the future. For example, you cannot currently purchase content such as movies through the app. It also doesn’t support playback of already purchased content. Then again, if you are using a Roku, you got plenty of other options when it comes to buying movies. But the point is that the app’s feature set will grow.
Does this spell the end of the cable box as we know it? Only time will tell, but it certainly speaks volumes about Roku’s disruptive influence. I doubt there are many people reading this who will be sad to see the rental cable box disappear for good.