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Hands on with AnyPlay: Live Comcast video on your iPad

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Haven't heard of AnyPlay? That's not surprising. It's a small initiative slowly being introduced by Comcast into select cable markets. With it, you can watch live television over your home network on your iPad. So if your spouse is hogging the HDTV during your CW night, you can watch Supernatural using your local Wi-Fi. (Cablevision and Time Warner have similar apps on the App Store now.)

AnyPlay consists of two parts: there's the standalone box ($10 one-time charge) and the iPad software, which is built into Comcast's existing XFINITY TV app. To get them to work together, you must sign into the app with your Comcast credentials and enable AnyPlay using the app's settings.

On the hardware side of things, Comcast provides a media streamer box -- a Motorola unit in my case. Its job is to manage devices and convert cable signals into viewable video streams. Those streams currently must be on the same Wi-Fi network, although I think with a little hacking and AirVideo Server, it might be possible to eventually get those streams to travel out to mobile devices away from the home. With the standard package, AnyPlay is in-home only.

Setting up the box was simple. You hook it to power, to cable, and to your network using an Ethernet cable. You then visit the activation page http://comcast.com/activate and enter your account information and phone number. Theoretically this information ships with your starter kit. It was missing for me, so I ended up having to track down a cable bill to find my account number.

You can actually connect to the box using its built-in web interface. Just do a DHCP scan of your network, figure out which unit it is, and connect on port 8080. Built-in features include general alerts, device management, and tuner diagnostics.

It took several hours and long support phone calls to get everything working. In the end, it turns out that I needed to power-cycle the standalone box after activation because it wasn't broadcasting properly to the iPad app.

The Comcast support personnel were friendly, courteous, and professional, but the material they used to guide their support calls were flawed. At one point, the tech asked me to uninstall and reinstall the XFINITY TV app on my iPad, for example.

Once it got going, the app and the service worked great. Video quality has been excellent, and best of all, you can use AirPlay to stream the show out to Apple TV. That means you can use AnyPlay to watch live Comcast video on any Apple TV-augmented HDTV, and you can do this without renting an extra tuner box. You can watch this video to see the AnyPlay/AirPlay connection in action on my home network.

For ten bucks, and no recurring fees, AnyPlay is a great add-on for any Comcast TriplePlay customer who has a good home network and an iPad. It's currently deployed only in Denver and Nashville, with national roll-out expected over the next year.

Thanks, Paul Donaldson.

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