Comcast Debuting 4K Cable Box This Year

What's the point of owning a future-proof 4K TV when you're stuck upconverting regular HD shows and movies? Comcast is answering the call for 4K content with the announcement of an ultra HD-capable set-top box to debut later this year for its Xfinity service. Customers will get 4K/UHD (3840 X 2160-pixel) video the only way it's currently practical — as online streams.

Comcast said in a statement that the company's upcoming Xi4 box will offer "hundreds" of on-demand 4K streams from a variety of sources. K2 Communications and Havoc TV, for example, will provide sports and documentary titles like The Ultimate Wave Tahiti, Antarctica, Rocky Mountain Express and Fighter Pilot. Regular cable-TV offerings in 4K will include Defiance from the Syfy channel, Outlander from Starz and Playing House, Satisfaction and Suits from USA Network.

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In 2016, Xfinity customers will get access to the Xi5 cable box, which provides not only UHD resolution but also wide color gamut and high dynamic range (HDR) programs. (The box pictured above is today's X1 DVR.) Virtually none of this content currently exists, but TV makers and studios formed an alliance recently to push forward the technologies.

Xfinity in UHD is not brand-new. Comcast began offering the service in December 2014 as a limited app for 2014 Samsung 4K TVs. But the move to a set-top box and promise of much more content represents a big expansion and possibly the biggest 4K TV offering so far. Among broadcasters, satellite TV networks Dish and DirectTV offer some on-demand downloads. Most other offerings are from streaming services, notably Netflix.

A new Blu-ray disc standard supporting ultra HD — as well as wide color gamut and HDR — is expected to come out this summer. But it's not clear how soon you'll see movies and TV shows on the new discs — or if discs will get leapfrogged by streaming services such as Comcast's new offering.

Follow senior editor Sean Captain @seancaptain. Follow us @tomsguide and on Facebook.

Sean Captain is a freelance technology and science writer, editor and photographer. At Tom's Guide, he has reviewed cameras, including most of Sony's Alpha A6000-series mirrorless cameras, as well as other photography-related content. He has also written for Fast Company, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.