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Comcast touts HD, faster Net

PHILADELPHIA -- Cable companies aren't known as nimble innovators, but Comcast Corp. is out to change that perception this year with ultra-high-speed Internet service, more high-definition content and gadgets that link video, phone and broadband services.

"We're about innovation and having the best network," Chief Executive Of-ficer Brian Roberts said in a preview of his speech to be delivered Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics show.

Roberts is expected to demonstrate a technology that delivers up to 160 megabits of data per second: It will allow him to download a high- definition copy of "Batman Begins" in four minutes. The technology, DOCSIS 3.0, will start rolling out this year.

"If it's as successful as we hope, in 2009 and beyond we will have it available in millions of homes," he said.

Roberts hopes the speed-up will boost growth of Comcast's broadband service, which has been slowing.

Cable systems generally enable download speeds up to 10 Mbps -- compared with up to 50 Mbps from Verizon's fiber-optic service FiOS.

"Cable looks like it will be able to keep up with the Joneses, thank you very much," Craig Moffett, senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein in New York, said of the new technology.

Roberts said Comcast plans to offer more than 1,000 high- definition videos this year, including as many as 300 movies on demand that may be free or included in a subscription or pay-per-view service.

That's a salvo aimed at DirecTV Group Inc. in their race to amass high-definition content. Philadelphia-based Comcast and El Segundo-based DirecTV settled a lawsuit last month over which has better-quality HD.

Roberts said Comcast will create "superservers" to store the extra video-on-demand content and supplement those that move shows and movies to customers' cable boxes.

When a customer wants to watch a show that's not stored in the regional server, the com- puter will dial into the national server to access the content and bring it to the home, Roberts said.

These national servers will enable Comcast to offer 6,000 movies on demand -- 3,000 of them in high-definition -- without requiring customers to get a new cable box.

Moreover, Roberts said the cable system is a "secure, licensed world" that should reassure movie studios that their content won't be easily pilfered.

To supplement its horde of movies and TV shows, Comcast plans today to officially launch its Fancast.com Web site, which has full TV episodes for old and new shows as well as some movies.

The site also incorporates Fandango, the movie ticket purchase portal, which Comcast bought last year.

Within months, Comcast subscribers will be able to check TV listings on the Fancast site and have the digital video recorder attached to their TV record a show.

Roberts also said Comcast's TiVo service has been launched in New England and he expects wider deployment soon. TiVo will be available as an add-on service for a fee that Comcast will share with TiVo Inc.

In voice, Comcast is rolling out a caller ID service that pops up on TVs and computers of customers who buy its video, Internet and phone package.

And, with VTech, Comcast is developing a cordless phone with a mini-screen where users can access e-mail.

The phone, now in testing, also will offer viewable voice mail like Apple Inc.'s iPhone does, where users can see a list of messages and choose which to hear first. And it will offer weather forecasts, sports data and a phone directory.

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