First Look: Comcast Xfinity Flips The Switch On iPad Streaming

Comcast Xfinity's TV service.

Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) cable subs with iPads or iPhones and the Xfinity TV app are now part of the (some) TV Everywhere club. The TV show and movie library is limited to some offerings from 10 cable networks for now but will increase with deals like the one announced Tuesday with Turner Broadcasting.

Comcast plans to offer nearly 3,000 hours of video on demand via iOS and eventually Android-based tablets.

The update released Tuesday works as promised on the iPad, adding on-demand streaming over Wi-Fi to the channel guide-DVR management app Comcast released in November. It can be a little confusing at first since the instinct is to pick “on demand” when the option the user needs is “play now” but it’s fairly straightforward after that.

The featured TV choices are all from HBO, Showtime and TNT, including the Jan. 29 episode of Big Love . The number of episodes varies — five episodes of The Closer, two of Leverage, 12 from Boardwalk Empire. Featured movies are from Encore, MoviePlex, and HBO — some with gold keys signaling a premium network.Other networks at launch: Turner’s TBS and Cartoon Network, BBC America, Starz, and Cinemax. No NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) networks.

Authentication lives up to promises. I set this up several months ago in a Comcast household, anticipating this moment, and once it checked the account, repeat uses were seamless. (To be clear, I’m hundreds of miles away from that household now, testing the out-of-home access in a non-Comcast area.) Viewing isn’t instant on, taking 30-45 seconds to load on a home Wi-Fi connection. The quality for the few minutes I could spend on The Closer and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (I couldn’t resist) was good with no buffering issues, although the opening scenes of the movie were almost too dark to see at times. Fast forwarding worked fine, as did the 30-second back button — again, not instant, but quick.

It’s no Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) when it comes to movie depth — or Hulu for next-day access to current TV — but it extends the value of a cable subscription, which is what Comcast set out to do.

It’s also an achievement in another area: speed to market. No, it’s not as fast as a startup might move but it’s a heck of a lot more nimble than the usual cable company pace.

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