Monday, June 27, 2011

5 Technology Innovations Challenging Cable TV

From Multichannel News:

Industry’s Future Was on Full Display at 2011 Cable Show

By Todd Spangler -- Multichannel News, 6/27/2011 12:01:00 AM

Chicago -- When it comes to technical innovation, cable has had a reputation — not altogether unwarranted — of being slow off the mark. But the industry appears to be finally breaking free from the chains that have tied it down.

The future of cable technology was in full view at the Cable Show here earlier this month. Concepts crystallized into compelling demos and, in some cases, actual products. 

On-screen guides will be delivered from “the cloud”— and to any device. After being locked into digital cable TV technology, MSOs have a clear road for how they’ll deliver Internet protocol video to their customers.

At the same time, the network of connections is getting faster and smarter to be able to accommodate the coming multiscreen, all- IP-video future. Broadband and digital-cable equipment vendors demonstrated that MSOs will be able to fully tap into the 1 Gigahertz spectrum available over hybrid fiber coaxial networks, yielding multiple Gigabits per second of bandwidth.

“There was little that was truly new,” Sanford Bernstein senior analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a post-show research note. “But shows like this year’s may have the more lasting import, as they often tell us more about where we are going over the next five years.”

Here’s a recap of what was on display in the Windy City, grouped into five areas of innovation:


Cable’s move to cloud-based user guides will allow new features to be introduced much faster than with traditional interactive program guides that are tightly bound to set-top hardware.

The most high-profile advance: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ demo of the “Xcalibur” guide, which provides personalized features, integration with Internet services like Facebook and Twitter and advanced searching.

It’s all delivered over the network, dynamically, by the mpx video publishing system from Comcast’s ThePlatform subsidiary. Pace developed a hybrid digital video recorder set-top box with Tru2way, DOCSIS 3.0 and IP-video capability, running a media processor from Intel.

“TV services have historically been defined by infrastructure equipment, but that’s changing,” ThePlatform CEO Ian Blaine said. “Moving forward, cloud computing will play a defi ning role in enabling TV-service providers to innovate and differentiate.”

The Xcalibur demo exemplified ThePlatform’s strategy of trying to nab a seat in front of the living-room TV. It has hooked up with networking systems vendor Alcatel-Lucent to pitch pay TV providers on a jointly developed solution for distributing video over Internet protocol to a range of devices, including TVs, PCs, tablets and mobile phones.

Other developments on the “cloud” front: EchoStar Technologies debuted “Aria,” an offering comprising over-the-top VOD and HD user interfaces delivered to hybrid cable set-top boxes. The proposition with Aria: to let smaller cable operators deliver 12,000-plus VOD titles, an HD guide and Slingbox features to customers, without requiring a large capital outlay for infrastructure.

Interactive video-application vendor ActiveVideo Networks demonstrated how HTML5 applications could be delivered to set-top boxes or any video-streaming decoder. The company’s CloudTV platform takes content stored, processed and rendered in the network cloud and delivers it as an adaptable-bandwidth video stream to a device, which then passes back user key clicks from standard remote controls, smartphones or tablets.

Rovi debuted an advanced guide application that rides on top of its i-Guide IPG and provides HD graphics, advanced search, recommendations and poster art, delivered over IP. The TotalGuide Application for Set-Top Boxes application shows users what’s on their favorite channels, and lets them search and browse by programs, celebrities, cast and credits across linear TV, VOD and DVR.

Rovi executive vice president of products Corey Ferengul said: “Our customers said, ‘Make this work with i-Guide — give us a richer experience, but don’t make us make a massive investment in new hardware.’ ”


The push behind technologies for enabling “TV Everywhere” is in full swing.

Motorola Mobility showed off the Medios Xperience platform, which is supposed to let service providers deliver video content, social networking, games and Web-based content on “companion” devices. The software is designed to tie into operators’ existing video- on-demand and linear-TV services. The Medios Xperience platform includes three pre-built services: TV and VOD remote; TV and VOD streaming; and an enhanced user interface.

The TV and VOD remote lets a tablet, smartphone or laptop function as a remote control to browse an enhanced programming guide, choose a VOD or linear title, and launch that title on their device or on any TV in the home. In tandem with that, the streaming feature lets subscribers watch live TV or VOD on a device and provides menubased social-networking options.

The user interface — which can be part of a service provider’s branded site — provides search, navigation and discovery of content such as movies and TV shows on second-screen companion devices. The UI features personalized recommendations and a Netflix-like watch-list queue.

Avail-TVN expects to kick off trials starting in July of a service designed to let programmers and their pay TV affiliates deliver live TV and VOD across a galaxy of different devices.

The company’s AnyView managed multiscreen-video service will deliver video in MPEG-4 format. AnyView uses the Apple-developed HTTP Live Streaming adaptive bit-rate protocol that detects a user’s bandwidth and device capacity in real time to deliver encoded files at the appropriate data rate. “It’s really taking that TV experience from video-on-demand and linear and bringing it to connected devices,” Avail-TVN chief strategy officer Doug Sylvester said.

There are other roads that lead to IP video, too: Separately, Motorola touted “Televation,” a Slingbox-like device developed with Comcast that includes a CableCard and real-time transcoding capability to spray live TV over Wi-Fi to IP devices anywhere around the home. (Comcast said it currently did not have specific plans to launch Televation.) Unlike Slingbox, the Televation device for now is designed for only in-home use.


Who needs fiber to the home? Cable’s ability to deliver mega-high-speed broadband was highlighted in the Comcast demo of a souped-up cable modem rig blasting more than 1 Gigabit per second downstream.

Comcast used Cisco Systems’ DOCSIS 3.0 cablemodem termination system with the 3G60 line card and two prototype 16-downstream- channel modems to deliver a peak speed of 1.084 Gigabits per second, running over a dedicated coax network segment in its Chicago system.

According to John Chapman, chief technology officer for Cisco’s cableaccess business unit, the demonstrations show that DOCSIS still has many years of life left. “In short, it means that yes, DOCSIS does continue to scale — in a big way, and for a long time,” Chapman wrote in a blog post.

Arris showed its C4 CMTS delivering real file-transfer throughput of 4.5 Gbps of DOCSIS 3.0 downstream traffic, as well as 575 Megabits per second upstream to a single fiber node. The demo used 16 DOCSIS 3.0 modems with 8x4 capability — that is, eight downstream by four upstream — bonding an aggregate of 128 channels down and 24 up.

No operator would necessarily want to deliver that kind of bandwidth to an individual sub, Arris senior director of solution architecture and strategy Mike Emmendorfer said. “Peak speeds are cool,” he said. “But what we’re seeing is the need to maintain capacity to keep up with overall growth.”

According to Cisco’s recently updated VNI Forecast, average broadband speeds worldwide will jump from 7 Mbps in 2010 to 28 Mbps in 2015.

Focusing on the upstream, Aurora Networks touted its digital return-path solution that promises to double DOCSIS 3.0 upstream capacity, although an MSO would first have to reclaim analog TV channels to take advantage of it. The vendor’s Universal Digital Return module uses the 54 MHz to 88 MHz spectrum, which historically has been used for analog broadcast television, essentially doubling today’s standard North American use of the 5-42 MHz return path.

CommScope launched what it claimed is the cable industry’s fi rst universal edge quadrature amplitude modulation solution that can span the full RF spectrum — up to 1 GHz — with the ability to deliver 160 QAM channels on a single port.

Why this is a big deal: It will give an MSO the flexibility to put any service anywhere in the spectrum, as opposed to being locked into specific frequencies on dedicated QAMs.

“Getting to 160 QAMs per port is kind of a magical number because you have all 158 QAMs available in the 5-MHz to 1-GHz band,” CommScope vice president of advanced broadband solutions Shane Eleniak said.

The LxS-16016 QAM system, to be available this summer, was developed by LiquidxStream, which CommScope recently acquired. The system provides up to 160 QAM channels on each of 16 RF ports, delivering a maximum of 2,560 QAMs in a four-rack-unit-high chassis, which easily beats other solutions currently on the market on scale and density.

CommScope is positioning the product, which supports any combination of video and data services across all QAMs, as aligning with CableLabs’ Converged Cable Access Platform, which consolidates the core interface requirements of Comcast and Time Warner Cable for an integrated headend device.

In a similar vein, Broadcom privately showed what it claimed is the industry’s first fully digital “full-band capture” tuner chip — able to tune anywhere in the 50-MHz to 1-GHz downstream spectrum. That promises to provide a lot more flexibility in how cable operators deploy the next generation of set-tops, gateways and DOCSIS modems that include the Full-Band Capture tuner. Here’s why: With the “FBC,” any demodulator can tune to any frequency — using just one chip instead of nine individual tuners.


Operators are turning their attention to hybrid vehicles to provide a way to bridge the gap between the current quadrature amplitude modulation-delivered cable TV world and full IPTV.

Motorola Mobility cooked up a six-tuner IP video gateway — with 1 Terabyte of disk storage — for Time Warner Cable. The DCX3600M Video Gateway includes built-in transcoding capabilities allowing it to take a single QAM MPEG-2 channel and transcode it to MPEG-4 for delivery to mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, over a home network. It also includes a DOCSIS 3.0 modem with eight downstream and four upstream channels.

“It’s truly the anchor tenant in the IP-connected home,” Motorola Mobility senior director of marketing Buddy Snow said. “I think this box embodies the kinds of features we spent the last two years talking to the cable guys about.”

Motorola did not disclose pricing. Snow said gateways are cost-effective options because they reduce the cost of delivering video throughout the home, “especially when you talk about fourth, fifth and sixth outlets. You could use a PlayStation 3 as a client.”

The DCX3600M can be configured as a “headless” gateway — meaning it doesn’t have a front control panel or TV-video outputs — or as a “headed” gateway that functions as a traditional set-top.

Six tuners is the magic number for gateways: Arris also was showing its sixtuner gateway with 500 Gigabytes of disk storage and a DOCSIS 3.0 modem with eight downstream and four upstream channels. The IP-enabled gateway uses the Moxi guide developed by Diego, which Arris acquired two years ago.

Not wanting to be left out, Cisco provided select customers a closed-door demo of a hybrid cable video gateway, dubbed “Generation 8,” designed to give operators a pathway to a full IP-based video infrastructure.

The G8 gateway likewise includes six QAM tuners. It has the ability to stream up to 10 live or recorded video streams inside the home over IP and includes a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem with the ability to bond up to eight downstream and four upstream channels.

To deliver video to tablets and other non-set-top platforms, the G8 includes a transcoding engine to convert MPEG-2 into MPEG-4 H.264 format, with the ability to handle one HD stream or up to four standard-definition channels concurrently.

“You’re not going all-IP overnight,” Ken Morse, chief technical officer of Cisco’s Service Provider Video Technology Group, said. “This can extend your linear channels to IP devices and then provide the full lineup down the road. It’s a no-regrets investment.”


After years of talks and trials, advanced advertising is poking its head above ground.

Cablevision Systems touted the launch of Optimum Select RFI with e-mail fulfillment, which lets viewers click on an interactive 30-second spot and request more information via e-mail. Recent customers that ran ITV spots in the MSO’s New York metro service area included travel-promotions firm International Cruise & Excursions. The operator said Lincoln, Benjamin Moore and Adirondack Regional Tourism plan to begin RFI-toe- mail campaigns shortly.

On the VOD advertising front, SeaChange International and This Technology hooked up to combine SeaChange’s Infusion Advanced Advertising Platform with This Technology’s SpotLink software. The joint solution promises to let operators to use existing Internet ad servers for placement decisions for dynamic VOD ads.

Buzz at the Cable Show was that SeaChange has been in discussions about acquiring New York-based This Technology, according to two sources. (The companies declined to comment.) Meanwhile, SeaChange itself is an acquisition target, with Arris exploring a takeover of the VOD and advertising systems firm.

Meanwhile, Harris Broadcast Communications made its official entry into the VOD advertising space with its Targeted Advertising platform. An extension of its linear ad-management system, the software includes an integrated Campaign Manager module to handle the purchase and management of multiple advertising product types.

Among other developments on the advanced ad front: Black- Arrow, BigBand Networks and Nagra (in conjunction with This Technology) showed the ability to deliver targeted spots to handheld devices.

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