Comcast CEO Brian Roberts praised the Promptu voice-enabled remote and navigation device on CNBC during National ’04. But it appears cutting-edge small operator Sunflower Broadband of Lawrence, Kan., will beat Comcast to a full-blown marketing launch of the product. A "pre-deployment rollout" of Promptu starts next month to customers in Sunflower’s smaller systems. While Comcast began a technical trial of Promptu in the Philadelphia area last year, it has yet to ramp up to market-wide availability. By contrast, Sunflower’s soft launch starts with a marketing (instead of tech) trial, testing price points and receiving immediate consumer feedback via market research firm Frank Magid Associates. Sunflower’s market-wide deployment (30,000 customers) is set for next summer. As part of the "Talk to Your TV" launch, Sunflower and AgileTV, Promptu’s maker, will mount demonstration kiosks at Sunflower payment centers; use handheld DVD players for door-to-door demos; and tailor different pitches to cable subs and to non-cable hopefuls Sunflower hopes to convert. Others are interested in Promptu, too; Insight Communications and USA Media (now part of Cequel III) are in tech trials. Promptu seems ready for prime time. AgileTV SVP Dave Hanson says it recognizes more than 100,000 phrases, boasts "90-95% accuracy" and "almost instantaneous" response times. The plug-and-play product also handles some 30 non-English languages, plus local accents, including South Philly and Kansas. Sunflower Broadband GM Patrick Knorr believes Promptu is "a cable-unique product [with] a huge `wow, cool’ factor that doesn’t only apply to geeks." Most important, he adds: "It solves a very critical interface problem as we add new services." —Shirley Brady

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