A number of applications for the iPad have recently appeared for cable subscribers, providing new options when it comes to viewing content.
The first on the scene was Comcastâs Xfinity app , which launched last year. This enables subscribers to not only coordinate their iPad with their cable box to change channels and set up digital video recordings, but also watch Comcast Video On Demand programs, including content from pay channels like Showtime and HBO. A Comcast subscription and Wi-Fi connection is required.
Over the past couple of months, two additional services have emerged. On March 15, Time Warner launched a TV-viewing app, allowing subscribers to view one of 30 channels through live streaming, including Discovery Channel (perfect for Shark Week), American Movie Classics, and A&E. A previous subscription plan to Time Warner Cable is required, along with a solid Wi-Fi connection, since it isn’t compatible with the 3G service (yet, anyway). Through the channel selection is pretty limited at the moment, Time Warner is promising to expand it in the near future. Other features are being considered as well, including DVR compatibility and being able to use the iPad as a remote.
Not to be outdone, Cablevision launched its iPad app earlier this month, with an even bigger variety of channels to choose from (300, compared to Time Warner’s 30), along with a library of over 2,000 Video On Demand titles. It also has a unique search engine, enabling subscribers to search for their favorite shows and TV programs. DVR schedule and program deleting are also available.
These services are promising, as all three present strong video quality and a variety of channels to choose from. However, there are a couple of things that could keep them from being a complete success.
The first is cost. Monthly cable subscriptions go for an arm and a leg, especially with premium channels like Cinemax or Starz. Cheaper alternatives are available when it comes to streaming programming, such as rentals/purchases through Apple’s App Store, or subscribing to a monthly streaming service like Hulu Plus . One of the big favorites for iPad owners right now is Netflix, and for good reason. It’s currently pushing for more exclusive content through its service, including all four seasons of the hit series Mad Men (which premiere in July) and an exclusive David Fincher-produced miniseries (set to debut next year).
The second is much more serious – legal issues. Both Cablevision and Time Warner Cable’s apps have been under scrutiny since their release, with many service providers, such as Viacom, insisting that the streaming of live channels is a violation of retransmission agreements. In fact, a court case involving both Time Warner and Viacom is set to kick off this week, though the former believes it’s doing what’s right for its customers.
Despite cheaper choices and possible court controversy, the idea of streaming cable channels through the iPad is an innovative one, and certainly less expensive than purchasing a TV-streaming Slingbox device ($249) and its coordinating Slingpad app ($30). Hopefully, Cablevision, Time Warner and Xfinity will be able to expand their services and give their loyal subscribers something to do when they’re away from their beloved “boob tube”.