Comcast On the iPad: The Best App I Wouldn’t Pay For

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Comcast added the ability to watch on-demand video streams to its iPad app Wednesday, extending the availability of its TV Everywhere content to a new device. Early reviews of the app were generally favorable, so I decided to check it out for myself.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m not a cable subscriber right now. In fact, I don’t even own a TV, watch get most of my streaming content either on my laptop or on my iPad. But my parents subscribe to Comcast, paying upwards of $180 a month for phone, broadband, digital TV, the premium movie package and one DVR. Back when Comcast first rolled out its TV Everywhere service, I asked for my family to create an account for me so that I could test it out (and I was a bit underwhelmed).

Frankly, over the last several months I’ve forgotten about my TV Everywhere access, catching up on shows that I can get through Netflix or even Hulu Plus instead. And while I had downloaded the Xfinity TV app when it first came out, just to see how it worked, I didn’t really do much with it. Controlling my family’s DVR recordings or navigating their local programming guide didn’t seem terribly appealing to me. But now, thanks to my familial connection, I can take advantage of streaming video that Comcast just rolled out on the iPad app.

My first impression is that the app is extremely cool for the content that’s available on it now. I haven’t watched HBO in ages, but the entire first season of Boardwalk Empire is available on the app now, so I’m looking forward to catching up on Steve Buscemi’s hot new show. Movies like The Book of Eli and The Blind Side — which are in HBO’s pay TV window right now — are also available through the app.

But while HBO content is certainly a highlight, the overall content selection is a bit spotty. Most notably, as BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield points out, TV shows from Turner channels TNT and TBS have varying amounts of content available. Some shows — like TNT’s Men of a Certain Age — have 6 episodes available, while others — like TBS’s Lopez Tonight — have just three episodes available.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how many episodes from what season of a show make it to the app. That’s confusing and could be problematic for consumers, who might want to use the iPad app to catch up on older episodes of certain shows. The good news is that more content should be coming online soon, as Turner just did a deal with Comcast to bring online more shows from TNT, TBS, CNN, HLN, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. Live video streams will also be coming to the Comcast iPad app soon as well, enabling viewers to watch linear TV from the tablet device — as long as they’re at home and connected to their home network.

When stacked up against other video apps, the Comcast Xfinity TV app does pretty well: It’s pretty fast and videos stream in very high quality for the device. Once you get over the fact that you won’t have the ability to watch full seasons of most shows, it works well as a time-wasting app for watching some library cable content.

While I generally enjoy the Comcast iPad app, I’m still skeptical that it will work as a defensive measure against users who might choose not to pay for cable and find their content elsewhere. For big-time cable users, it will provide one more screen from which they’ll be able to access some of their favorite content — particularly if they’re HBO fans. But I wouldn’t necessarily sign up for Comcast if I didn’t already subscribe just to get access to the app.

The bottom line is that for me, “free” access to HBO content is pretty cool. But I probably wouldn’t pay $150 a month for it.

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