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Comcast to offer 4K set-top box this year

The nation's largest cable provider has confirmed plans to deliver Ultra HD content to its subscribers via a new set-top box called the Xi4 later this year.

The Comcast Xfinity UHD app on Samsung TVs. David Katzmaier

Apple and Roku might be eschewing 4K hardware for now, but Comcast is moving forward with its support for the format.

The cable and telecom giant today announced it would ship the new 4K-capable Xi4 box later this year, allowing more of its subscriber base to enjoy the company's "Xfinity in UHD" catalog of 4K titles. Currently the only way for subscribers to watch content from that catalog is via an app exclusive to Samsung 4K TVs.

The Xi4 will allow "unlimited virtual 4K linear channels by creating personalized playlists from the Xfinity in UHD library," the company said. The library will expand beyond its current meager offering -- a few episodes of "Suits," "Chicago Fire" and "Covert Affairs" -- to "hundreds of titles."

The Comcast announcement named IMAX films such as "The Ultimate Wave Tahiti," "Antarctica," and "Rocky Mountain Express"; full current seasons of TV shows like Syfy's "Defiance," USA's "Playing House," "Satisfaction" and "Suits"; and original programming from Starz including "Outlander" and "Power."

The company also announced that in 2016 it would offer the Xi5, a set-top box capable of handling HDR (High Dynamic Range) content, the first of which is due later this year from Netflix and Amazon. Where 4K is an improvement in resolution, HDR for home video -- not to be confused with HDR for photography -- addresses the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of the image, improving contrast. No HDR titles were named in the Comcast announcement.

The company first said it would launch a 4K set-top box last year.

Satellite provider DirecTV has also enabled a few 4K titles on its current set-top box, the Genie HD DVR, but only with select Samsung 4K TVs. At CES 2015, Dish Network announced the 4K Joey set-top box, but what 4K content it will offer is still a mystery.

No broadcaster in the US has yet committed to a full 4K TV channel, and streaming 4K content, even from industry leader Netflix, is still scarce.