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Summary:

If regular users are going to start video chatting in the living room, it will need to be drop-dead simple to do. The good news for Comcast and Skype is that they seem to have succeeded in creating a pretty user-friendly solution.

comcast skype

When Comcast announced that it would be partnering with Skype  to bring video chat to the living room of its subscribers, there was some question about whether or not it would succeed where other home-video-chat services failed. For the service to really take off, it would need to be drop-dead simple: After all, Mom and Pop aren’t going to sign up if it’s not as easy to make a video call as it is to make a phone call.

On the Comcast Voices blog on Thursday, the company showed off a couple of videos demoing exactly how it will do just that. The good news, not just for Skype but for Comcast subscribers, is that it looks like the companies succeeded in creating a service that virtually anyone can use.

The key to the service, from a user-experience perspective, is that it doesn’t try to do too much. In fact, it’s the lack of user distractions that really stands out. With a totally stripped-down user interface, the service is really just about making voice and video calls to other users. Meanwhile, even while viewers are making calls, or trying to, they’re still able to see TV that is playing in the background.

“We didn’t want to decorate the screen with elements that weren’t relevant,” Comcast Interactive Media user-experience guru Susan Oppelt said in one video.

Another key is in giving users other people to talk to. The application taps users’ existing Skype buddy lists, and it also connects with the Comcast Connect address book. So users can connect with any of Skype’s existing 660 million users, whether they are on the desktop or mobile apps. By connecting with Comcast Connect, the app also becomes presence-aware on any and every device, Michael Connelly, the VP of Product Development and Management said in another video demo.

The Skype integration goes beyond just bringing the video-chat experience to the TV, however. Connelly says in the video that Comcast is also blending Skype functionality into its Xfinity Mobile applications. By doing so, Comcast will enable its users to make and receive Skype calls on whatever device is best for them, he said.

While Comcast’s implementation of Skype video calling looks cool and seems to be pretty easy to use, its adoption will ultimately depend on the price at which it’s made available to users. So far, Comcast hasn’t mentioned how much it will cost. But the good news is that users won’t have to buy any new hardware to get up and running: Comcast plans to lease equipment to subscribers in the same way it leases DVRs and set-top boxes.

  1. A few questions, appreciate if someone could answer them.

    Consumers don’t need to buy new hardware, but they’ll need to rent new boxes, right? It’s not gonna be a software upgrade on an existing box + adding a camera ? Would this new box be wired through the existing STB – or in parallel? Will there be new remote controls? And headsets ? Can consumers have a skype call on while still watching TV (social TV) ?

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    1. Ryan Lawler Friday, July 1, 2011

      Yes, Comcast will rent out boxes and webcams that use the technology. Will update once I hear back on some of the other questions.

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