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How Comcast's Xfinity TV App Stacks Up Against HBO Go, Netflix

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Today, Comcast finally upgraded its mobile app, Xfinity TV, and now offers roughly 6,000 hours of On Demand content to subscribers who own the iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad. The top players are all present—HBO, Showtime, Starz—making streaming premium content on your mobile device a cinch.

With the upgrade, Comcast now joins the ranks of Netflix and HBO, two content providers making waves in the mobile space, and more importantly, joins the increasingly fragmented world of mobile entertainment. How does Xfinity TV stack up against its competitors?

Apart from the slow-loading and clunky UI, the app's most noticeable flaw (overlooking its unnecessary attempt to double as a TV guide and universal remote) is that it's not mobile. The app only works over Wi-Fi, so if you're outside in the park or traveling for work, don't expect to stream "Game of Thrones" via your iPhone. Xfinity TV is not 3G friendly—quite a serious oversight, no?

In order to watch "Game of Thrones," you'll have to hit up the series on HBO's app HBO Go, which has significant 3G problems of its own. I've been playing with the app for a while now, and if your experience is anything like mine, you'll know that it's not uncommon to face the following interruption message at least a half-dozen times during an hour-length show: "This is an audio-only stream. For the video stream, please connect to a stronger mobile signal or Wi-Fi network."

Yes, an audio-only stream. Seriously. Midbroadcast, the screen simply goes black (for no apparent reason—you'll notice I have full bars), and you're stuck pointlessly listening to content that a transistor radio could transmit. Do you have any idea what it's like to watch an audio-only version of "Game of Thrones," HBO? You can hardly understand the characters' accents in the first place, and most viewers are only watching for the fight scenes and excessive nudity.

To truly have the best mobile experience, you'll still need Netflix, which remains the dominant player in the space. Only issue? Netflix does not have "Game of Thrones," nor much of the other premium and new content that Xfinity and HBO can offer. While Netflix's library of streaming content continues to grow at an impressive pace (see deals with Miramax, Relativity Media, and Epix), it's the original and fresher content that gives Comcast and HBO a leg-up, even as Netflix tries to dive into the game with its own series, "House of Cards."

If only HBO and Comcast could streamline their apps for the mobile experience, the companies could give Netflix a run for its money.

[Image: Flickr user KatKamin]

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  • Danielle

    I don’t have anything
    against Comcast of Xfinity and I was actually doing a little bit of research
    and I came across a site that outlines the benefits of each company.  I’ll be moving into my first apartment soon
    in Baton Rouge and
    I’m clueless about getting another TV service. 
    After a time of researching, I found that DISH Network is the best
    company to go with and now that I work there, I agree.  If you’re conflicted over getting new
    service, I recommend you check out the site!

  • NathanielRichmond

    DISH Network version of TV everywhere you do not have to have WiFi and it works with 3G or 4G just fine plus you can watch live TV and DVR recordings. Working for DISH Network I can tell you DISH Network uses sling technology to give their customers TV everywhere on Smartphones, Tablets, and Laptops. If you are looking to buy the adapter and cannot find where to get one dont worry DISH Network sells it for only $99. Check out this great link

  • Matt Roberts

    One more comment, and I'll move on. It should be said that the requirements that Apple puts into place are for all video file formats except for the .m3u8 compression which Netflix is likely using. This compression breaks videos down to essentially 15 second chunks, so a user doesn't have to chew through a bunch of bandwidth.

    The .m3u8 compression is a great implementation, and it's likely that the performance issues you're seeing with HBO Go or XFINITY are related to them not using that file compression. I could be totally off-base, though.

  • Matt Roberts

    This is actually a limitation of the way that Apple requires video to work for an app to get approved. You either have to provide an alternative file type (such as an audio stream) in case 3G coverage breaks down/gets overloaded, or if providing an alternative file type doesn't appeal to you (because it's a super-crappy idea), you have to require a WiFi connection.

    I don't have much any experience in the two apps you mention, but I know that those are the parameters for video-driven apps. Part of me (ok, most of me) believes that this requirement by Apple is part of a handshake agreement they have with their carriers to keep from blitzing partner networks.

  • Seth Lyon

    It might not be mobile and I'm usually not the biggest Comcast fan but . . .Last night, when crashed under heavy traffic from Game Of Thrones fans, delivered with impeccable streaming of the new Game of Thrones episode. Would be really interested to see how much additional traffic Comcast received due to HBO's technical troubles.