The vision of entertainment Nirvana creeps closer to reality, day by day.

The latest baby step comes from Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA). The cable giant has released a beta version of its premium on-demand video service to the public. Or rather, to its paying customers.

The Fancast Xfinity TV site is a renamed and more public version of the n Demand Online service that Comcast launched over the summer. Xfinity has a lot more content than the early version, and is open to anyone with a current Comcast TV service account. Log in and watch streaming TV to your heart's content, as long as you're sticking to the shows you're already paying for through the cable bill.

The larger Fancast site is still available for free to all us non-Comcast customers and contains much of the television content you'd find on Hulu and elsewhere. Xfinity simply adds about 2,000 hours of premium content, including pay-channel shows and movies from partners like HBO and Cinemax. Again, just make sure that you're a paying HBO subscriber and those golden video nuggets will show up in your Xfinity experience.

In the long run, we’ll all be able to watch any TV show or film we like on devices like the next-next-generation Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone or Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android phone, no longer tethered to a clumsy old cable hookup. Comcast can see the steamroller coming, and is doing its best to keep its customers paying cable fees.

Ten years from now, the current cable and satellite TV business models will look like outdated dinosaurs, and they'll be just as dead. Instead, we'll have the run of any content we like from a multitude of sources, and we'll watch just as much TV on our phones as in the living room. The gatekeepers will be whoever does the best job of organizing a universe of current and archived content, and it could be TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO), or Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), or Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), or some upstart we don't even know about yet.

Or it could be Comcast and Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC). Xfinity and Fancast are clumsy but important attempts to gain a toehold in the digital market before the gold rush begins.

Is it compelling to today's consumer? Not so much. But the lessons learned here could help Comcast survive the coming decade, even as cable boxes and TV schedules hurtle toward extinction at breakneck speeds.

Do you prefer the eye candy of big-screen TVs or the convenience of watching your favorite shows anywhere, anytime? Put me down in the second camp and discuss in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google and Netflix, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple, Amazon.com, and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.