Comcast Stream: the Internet TV service you can't get on your TV

Comcast customers who are not exactly thrilled with their big, high-priced cable TV package will soon have another option: Comcast Stream, a new Internet TV plan, that provides about a dozen networks, including major local broadcast channels and HBO, plus a cloud-based DVR, for just $15 per month.

But there are a few catches. For one, the Stream "beta test," as it's described in the Comcast blog, will only be available to those within the Xfinity Internet service footprint, and it will apparently roll out market by market, starting with Boston at the end of the summer and followed by Chicago and Seattle. The company hopes to make the service available in all other markets by early next year.

The bigger issue is that it looks like you won't be able to access the service on your TV; it appears to be designed primarily for a younger generation of users who prefer to watch programs on their laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

Details about the service are still sketchy, including the specific channels it will offer. If you click through to the Stream notification page—where you can sign up to learn when the service will arrive in your area—though, the site lists ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW, PBS, Telemundo, and Univision. It looks like HBO is part of the package, too, though the streaming HBO Now service costs $15 per month on its own through other services. It's also unclear if you can pay for additional storage beyond the 20 hours granted on the cloud-based DVR.

Like other new, slimmed-down Internet-based plans such as Sling TV, Stream is clearly targeted to cord-cutters. But Comcast is the first carrier to remove TV viewing from the options. Comcast says it tried to make the whole process, from ordering to viewing, as simple as possible. You just sign up online, download the Xfinity app, and start watching.

As we recently wrote in Consumer Reports magazine, we're happy to see the growing number of TV options for consumers. Just remember that as you offload more of your entertainment to your Internet connection, you may have to up your broadband speed, especially if several family members will be streaming at the same time. For more info, check out our recent blog on the various broadband speeds you'll need for streaming.

—James K. Willcox

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