Comcast quietly deploys 4K set-top

Comcast is now listing the XB4 DVR on a product support page for its X1 set-tops. The device appears to be identical to the Arris XG1v4, a 4K-capable device shown here. (FCC)

After several years of fits and starts and much hand-wringing, Comcast may finally be ready to launch its first 4K-capable DVR.

As first discovered by Light Reading, the cable operator has begun including the Arris-made XG4 on the list of set-tops it offers for the X1 platform. Notably, Comcast doesn’t list the device’s 4K support in charting its specifications. 

RELATED: Comcast pushing back 4K/HDR plans amid new developments

As Light Reading also noted, the XG4 has the same beveled corners and looks nearly identical to the Arris XG1v4, a six-tuner 4K DVR that the vendor has presented in FCC documents. 

Comcast had no comment for FierceCable. However, an individual with knowledge of the company's plans confirmed that the operator does plan on deploying the XG4 in the coming months. 

Comcast laid out an ambitious 4K agenda back in 2014, making a limited number of on-demand titles available for X1 users with 4K-capable Samsung TVs. In 2015, the cable company announced that its first 4K set-top was on the way. 

Speaking at a conference last year, however, Joshua Seiden, executive director at Comcast Innovation Labs, said the rapid evolution of both 4K/UltraHD and High Dynamic Range convinced Comcast engineers to slow their roll on deployments. 

For example, after toying with the idea last year of releasing set-tops with advanced display capabilities in time for the Summer Olympics, Comcast decided to hold off until tech standards, such as 10-bit HEVC, can become more cooked. 

Notable is HDR, which compared to 4K has quickly emerged as a more provocative proposition for consumers. However, HDR wasn’t a development priority until about 18 months ago. 

“4K for us will always go with HDR,” Seiden said. 

Comcast wants to deploy set-tops that are not only both 4K- and HDR-capable, it now wants to implement the 10-bit High Efficiency Video Coding standard, which it believes will improve the experience. 

Slowing the process, Seiden said, is the fact that Comcast is having trouble getting the decoders it needs to integrate 10-bit HEVC into set-tops. 

Meanwhile, as OTT companies like Netflix and Amazon have quickly established early beachheads in 4K and HDR programming, cable companies have been stymied, unable to decide on whether to deploy the high-intensity signals over QAM or IP. 

For its part, Comcast seems to now have some clarity on that issue.

"4K HEVC almost has to be done over IP," Seiden said, noting that a single 4K stream takes up almost an entire 6 MHz channel in a cable network.