EBIF and iPad, Sittin’ in a Tree …

11/29/2010 12:00 AM Eastern

Back in May when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts first demonstrated the use of an
iPad — which had only hit the market a
month prior — he thanked “the magic of
EBIF” for making it possible.

Huh? How on earth does something
as clunky-sounding as EBIF (Enhanced TV
Binary Interchange Format) make magic
with the rock-star gadget that is the iPad?

Perhaps the best way to translate this
is to learn from my mistake. At home last
week, I loaded the app onto Doug’s iPad.
He couldn’t remember his Xfinity login and
password, which is a critical part of the
process. No problem, we can use my work login, I offered.

Bingo. The guide was on the iPad. Changing channels
involves tapping a network’s logo icon, or tapping the
show title and “watch now.” An animated antenna appears
at the top of the iPad, implying that it’s spraying signal at
your set-top to tune the channel.

I fiddled around with it, picking networks, picking
shows, tap tap, watch now. The little antenna icon did its
signal-squirting animation.

Nothing. I made extra sure I was pointing it right at the
set-top, yet the TV stayed stubbornly parked on the channel.

It took a few minutes before I realized that I was sitting at
home, changing the channels on the set-top at the office.

OK, OK. Stop laughing.

What happened? Let’s look at the signaling of it. You
pick a channel from the iPad. That selection is not sprayed
out the front of the iPad to the set-top, but instead through
the iPad’s Internet connection to Comcast’s servers. From
your login, it knows you’re you, and that, at your billing address,
you have X number of qualified set-tops.

So, it sends back an EBIF trigger instructing your box
to change channels. Inside the box, the EBIF user agent
sees and executes the command.

Pretty snappy, really, despite my botched login workaround.

Note to Comcast: About that security feature that asks
you to enter the two squiggly words, to prove you’re a
human, not a machine? It would probably work better, and
aggravate fewer customers, if you didn’t use gibberish
words expressed in Klingon …

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at or