Comcast lets subs test drive STB features

US cable operator Comcast has added a new Labs section to its X1 cable boxes, allowing TV subscribers to test-drive new features before they’re officially integrated into the product.

“Gmail has always had the Gmail Labs features,” said Piers Lingle, Comcast’s VP of product development and planning during an interview, adding that his company wanted to bring the same approach to cable TV.

The new Comcast Labs section, which can be found on X1 devices within the settings, currently offers four different opt-in features, including a post-play experience that lets binge watchers quickly jump to the next episode, a shuffle feature that automatically plays episodes from a certain selection — think kid’s favourite TV show — and a way to lock the TV remote with a code that Lingle compared to the lock screen of your cell phone.

Lingle said that a couple of these features were built in response to feedback from customers, but the childproof TV remote was actually the idea of a Comcast engineer whose son often sat on the remote control, changing channels at random. Lingle added that these features will be tested for some time to get feedback and data, after which his team will decide whether to officially add them to the X1 set-top box.

Additional experimental features will be added to the Labs section in the coming months, including what Lingle called a “virtual video channel” — basically a personalised playlist of shows and movies compiled from a variety of sources that will appear in the regular programming grid, right next to traditional broadcast and cable TV networks.

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