Cable Operators

5 Technology Innovations Changing Cable TV

6/27/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

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.

Multichannel News cover story image June 27, 2011On-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:

WEB-USER INTERFACES

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.’ ”

MULTISCREEN VIDEO

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.

BROADBAND SPEED

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 fi le-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.

HOME GATEWAYS

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.”

ADVANCED TV ADS

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.

September