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Comcast Just Launched A $350 TV — And Isn’t Stopping There

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Comcast Just Launched A $350 TV — And Isn’t Stopping There

With the launch of the XClass TV in the U.S. and Sky Glass TV in the U.K., Comcast stuck its toe in the nearly $200 billion global smart-TV market in 2021. What will the broadband and cable provider, Hollywood studio, global streamer, and emerging device maker do for an encore in 2022?

Well, more. Likely a lot more.

In October, Comcast unveiled its 50-inch ($348) and 43-inch ($298) Hisense 4K UHD XClass TVs that run a version of the same user interface that is already installed on millions of Comcast’s Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex, and Sky Glass devices. XClass TV runs all of the major streamers, does not require that you live in a Comcast market, and includes a free year Peacock’s premium tier.

In 2022, Comcast plans to sell more TVs, with more features, from more manufacturers, at more price points, in more global markets, and at more retailers. Sky Glass will expand from the U.K. to Sky’s other European markets, and XClass TV will expand its U.S. offering from two entry-level Hisense displays sold exclusively through Walmart to higher-end displays and broad retail availability.

“We intend to work with more partners on the manufacturing side and more on the distribution side with no exclusivity,” Comcast’s XClass TV chief Andrew Olson told Decider.

Comcast’s Sky Glass in the U.K., which Olson helped develop, likely offers some clues where the XClass TV is headed in the U.S. On its website and in its announcement video, Sky Glass likens itself to a smartphone — a high-end device, built for content, that you can buy for zero-interest monthly payments.

Olson sat down with Decider to talk about the XClass TV’s design and what’s in store for 2022.

DECIDER: TV platforms all have a Netflix app, they all play 4K video, they have have voice remotes, etc. What’s the major sell for XClass TV?

ANDREW OLSON: We’ve spent decades thinking about how to get tens of millions of people to like watching TV. Over the last few years in particular there has been an evolution toward apps, and apps are hard for consumers to navigate. The biggest thing we bring to the table is an ability to help customers navigate that world of apps.

I set up an XClass TV demo unit a few weeks ago, and it was the smoothest, fastest onboarding I’ve ever experienced with a TV. How did you navigate designing and testing that process?

When we talk internally about product, we try to frame those discussions in terms of “the consumer wants…,” “the consumer likes…” instead of what we want as designers. We asked customers a lot of questions about how they use their TV, and we tried to keep stuff they like and get rid of stuff they don’t like.

We do test a lot by putting consumers in rooms and watching them navigate a device, but that’s after we look at what seems to work and seems not to work and building a hypothesis of a smooth onboarding process.

I’m a big fan of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge, which is about putting the right choices in front of consumers. When you design the flow chart for how to set up an XClass TV or how to rent a movie, are you focusing mainly on how few clicks it should take?

I love Nudge. I love Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. When people sit down on the couch to watch TV, they don’t want to think that hard about it. Our job is to make it as easy as possible for them to get to the content they love so they can sit back and enjoy it.

Sometimes that’s the fewest clicks, and sometimes it’s a few more clicks with easy decisions. The important thing is to design for the 80%-90% use case for what consumers want to do and less for the 10%-20% edge cases.

I see that especially in XClass TV’s settings. If you’re defaulting me to the highest video resolution that a streamer offers, I don’t need a bunch of extra video settings.

Customers do three things on their TVs: they find things, they watch things, and they resume things. We’re trying to stay out of the way as much as possible on everything else.

Talking about resuming content, the top row of the interface shows the current episode for some streamers but it doesn’t for others. Is that a work in progress?

It is. That top bar, which we call Launchpad, shows the most recent things you’ve been watching. It’s like a browser history, and it’s one of Xfinity X1’s most popular features. Because XClass is a TV, there’s a bit more to it. We have inputs, antenna channels, etc., in that Launchpad row.

With apps we have different rules to follow depending on the app, and that will continue to evolve as we work with our content partners and as we learn more about what customers like and don’t like.

How much will the XClass TV adapt to what I watch? If I rent a lot of movies, will movie rentals become more prominent? If I watch a lot of Pluto TV, will I see those channels higher up in the live interface?

The interface will get more dynamic over time – both in terms of what we’re doing with it and how learns about what and how you watch. We want make sure we’re helping customers watch what they want to watch but without making it difficult to do new things. It’s a fine balance, and it will continue to evolve.

How much are you thinking about XClass TV as part of a smart home?

The XClass platform is open enough for device companies to write smart-home applications that will run on the TV. We’re also working with partners to expose those functions more deeply in the interface where we think that makes sense for customers. We want to balance all of that with the simplicity of a TV that you don’t have to think too hard about sitting down to watch.

I did not set up an antenna on the XClass TV demo unit that I’ve been using. How does an antenna integrate into the interface?

The antenna channels integrate nicely into the Launchpad row, and you can toggle back and forth between live channels fairly easily that way. You’ll also see the channel guide for those live broadcast channels.

What other apps are streaming in 4K?

So far, Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, Prime Video and Vudu. Hisense makes a fantastic 4K display, so we want more of the services that are available on the app to make those services available in 4K video. We’re also adding Dolby Atmos audio capability to more services as we go.

Apple TV is one of the few streamer apps that’s not available, and it’s announced. When it that coming?

We’re working on it now. That should roll out in the first quarter of 2022.

What about Starz?

That should also launch in the first quarter of 2022. You can also subscribe to Starz on Hulu, Sling TV or YouTube TV, which are all currently available on XClass TV.

Peacock is included free for a year. That does not require you to be a Comcast broadband or cable subscriber?

Right. If you purchase an XClass TV and you’re not a Comcast customer at all, you’ll get Peacock free for the first year.

XClass TV, Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex, and Sky Glass are all versions of the same platform. Has that expedited getting streamers onto XClass TV?

It definitely has. This has been the fastest product launch in Comcast’s history because we started with everything already in one place on our global technology platform. One thing that has really helped with the launch is that apps on XClass are not actually installed on the device. When you launch the Bravo app, it launches on the device without an app install.

That’s interesting. I assumed the lack of a designated app store on XClass TV was a design choice — that you were hiding some of those gears within the interface — but you don’t actually need a workflow for downloading apps.

There are still “apps,” but they load dynamically from the cloud. We did a lot of work back during the design of Xfinity X1 to run those operations from the cloud, and we’re working with our content partners now to run their apps across X1, Flex, XClass, and Sky Glass — 40 million devices — from the cloud.

When will XClass TV have apps for Comcast, Charter, Cox, etc., cable subscribers to be able to use the their cable service without a set-top box?

We’re working on several of those apps now with plans to start launching in early 2022. XClass TV is a national platform, and we want it to be an easy user experience for people who have cable subscriptions. We already have YouTube TV, Sling TV and Hulu with Live TV on the platform.

For consumers who live in Comcast markets and have Xfinity broadband or cable service, will you make a subscription package available specifically for XClass TV users?

Just like with our Flex box for Xfinity subscribers, you’ll be able to subscribe to Xfinity video service if you live in an Xfinity market. We don’t have plans to launch a separate XClass TV content package.

XClass TV launched on two Hisense’s fairly entry-level LED devices. Will you launch at some point on some higher-end OLED devices?

We don’t have anything to announce at the moment, but we started at a mass-market price point and Hisense makes a very sophisticated device at that price point. The operating system is built to operate on very high-end devices. We can go to bigger displays and different kinds of displays with more powerful audio. We’re going to work with partners to address different parts of the market.

When you say “partners,” you mean Hisense and other TV manufacturers?

Correct, correct.

Does Comcast envision XClass distribution eventually becoming something like mobile-phone distribution where you get a new XClass TV when you set up your Xfinity or Charter service?

We’re definitely looking into that, but we don’t have anything to announce other than to say that your point is well-made.

It makes sense to you for consumers to pick up an XClass TV at the same place where they sign up for broadband or cable?

Yes, that’s something that certainly makes sense.

Scott Porch writes about the TV business for Decider. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Beast and produces the Must Watch streaming podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottPorch.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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