Comcast is gearing up to launch its own smart TVs: The company has struck a partnership with Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense to sell two smart TV models under the XClass TV brand, Protocol has learned. A number of clues left online suggests that a launch is imminent.
A Comcast spokesperson declined to comment.
XClass TVs run a version of Comcast's X1 operating system, which also powers the company's set-top boxes as well as its Xfinity Flex streaming box. However, unlike those devices, XClass TVs will be available to anyone, regardless of whether they subscribe to the company's cable services.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this summer that Comcast had struck a partnership with Walmart to sell its smart TVs; Protocol was first to report about Comcast's plans to enter the smart TV platform business a year ago.
While under development for some time, Comcast's smart TV efforts have picked up steam in recent months: The company registered a trademark for "X Class TV" in February. The official XClasstv.com website remains inaccessible, but the company inadvertently left a temporary staging site accessible to the public that reveals many details about the initiative.
"XClass TV is a smart TV that brings all your favorite apps, live channels, and On Demand movies and shows together in one place," that site explains in a FAQ. " XClass TV ... gives you thousands of free movies, shows, music, and more. And to find what you love faster, XClass TV comes with a voice remote that lets you control your TV and search across apps with just your voice."
Among the tidbits leaked through this staging site: Hisense is making two 4K TV models, with screen sizes of 43 and 50 inches, respectively, for Comcast. Apps available on the platform include Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, Tubi and Pluto, as well as Comcast's own Peacock and Xumo streaming services.
New subscribers will be able to get a year's worth of free access to Peacock's premium tier after activating their XCast TV. Interestingly, the site makes no mention of Comcast's Xfinity cable TV service. Instead, it explains how people can access free, over-the-air broadcast television by attaching a terrestrial antenna to the TV set.
XClass TVs will ship with a dedicated voice remote. A regulatory filing made earlier this year shows that this remote will have branded shortcut buttons for Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Peacock. The remote is Hisense-branded, suggesting that Comcast will allow TV manufacturers to own the branding of their hardware, similar to the way they would when licensing a TV operating system from Google, Roku or Amazon.
There's no word yet on when exactly XClass TVs will launch, but offer terms for the Peacock promotion state that it is available to anyone who bought an XClass TV set after Sept. 1, suggesting that a launch may come soon. Hisense's own website doesn't contain any mention of the XClass TV brand yet, but the company already added a mention of "Hisense Comcast TVs" to its compliance boilerplate disclosures.
With XClass, Comcast is clearly trying to prepare for a future post cable TV, with cord cutters ditching cable boxes for smart TVs to access streaming services. The platform will not only allow Comcast to keep a business relationship with some of those cord cutters — and steer them toward its own streaming services — but it will also enable the company to generate advertising and app store revenues from other streaming services.
With its own smart TV platform, Comcast will also be able to cater to people outside of its own cable footprint, and eventually even outside of the United States. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts suggested as much at a Goldman Sachs conference last year, telling investors: "We're looking at smart TVs on a global basis, and we're wondering: Can we bring our tech stack, or certain capabilities in aggregation, to consumers who are relying more and more on smart TVs?"