Video

Sating Subscribers’ Need to Store Video

9/02/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

As consumers build media libraries of video, music and photos on their home PCs and digital video recorders, there’s an increased demand to move that content to different devices.

Cable’s primary set-top manufacturers have been working on both hardware and software solutions that will allow consumers to network video throughout their house and eventually to portable devices of their choosing.

Multiroom digital video recording is just the first step of a mobile revolution that’s now underway, set-top vendors said.

“The multiroom DVR is too narrow a definition,” says Chris Dinall, chief technology officer at Pace Micro Technology Americas. “We call it a media server-client approach.”

SERVING AND CONNECTING

“It’s about serving all different types of media with full connectivity to other STBs and devices,” he said.

With 525,000 units in the most recent quarter, Scientific-Atlanta Inc. has now shipped more than 3.4 million DVRs.

“The consumer reaction continues to be very strong,” said Dave Davies, vice president, strategy and product marketing for subscriber networks. “Some systems are now over 30% penetrated of their digital base. Between 70% and 80% of S-A DVRs are in the main room.”

“We also continue to see a shift towards [HDTV] DVR,” Davies said. “As HD continues to grow in popularity, more and more people choose to purchase the HD DVR over the SD DVR.”

S-A has just begun to ship its connected multiroom-capable DVR, the Explorer 8300. “It allows the consumer to watch programs in up to three other rooms in the house,” by playing back video stored on the main drive in the home.

Davies said current Explorer 3200s and 2200s can become a home’s second box, initialized via a software download.

“We just do a software download to that second set-top and consumers can watch what’s recorded on the main box using the existing wiring in home,” said Davies. “You can turn the home into a home network and get multiroom DVR capability.

“The standard hard-drive space is 160 Gigabits,” he added. “Consumers like the pause feature and recording two or more shows at the same time. Generally, 40% of TV viewing is time-shifted.”

One stat S-A that has not thoroughly researched — but that’s of much interest to advertisers — is how much fast-forwarding goes on.

Davies said S-A has looked at both MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) and HPNA (Home Phoneline Networking Alliance) as home-networking technologies.

“We’re really agnostic to the technology,” he said. “We’re evaluating options of what makes the most sense for subscribers.

“Subscribers will connect content to their TV and connect to other services over VoIP and deliver content outside the home or send content wirelessly in home,” he said.

At the National Show earlier this year, S-A demonstrated universal plug-and-play, swapping music files and digital photos between the PC and the TV. S-A and Sprint Corp. also demonstrated a caller ID-on-the-TV feature.

“The key challenges are [that] you want to make it very easy for the consumer,” Davies said. “It has to be easy and simple. You want solutions that are very reliable. You don’t want customer service calls.”

Storage costs continue to fall, which is good, since DVRs in family households often fill up quickly, Davies said. More HD content will only exacerbate the trend toward more storage.

S-A is developing a DVR with a built-in DVD player which will be available later this fall, said Davies.

“Like multiroom, a DVD recorder in a DVR ranks as the top one or two enhancements consumers want,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about that product because it produces new kind of capability.

“Consumers can take their favorite programming with them. There are interesting possibilities for future content downloads.”

MOXI MATE SHIPS

Last week, the first Charter Communications Inc. systems began receiving Digeo’s Moxi Mate, the second-room set-top that interacts with the main Moxi box in Digeo’s multiroom roadmap.

Digeo said it has shipped 170,000 Moxi boxes to Charter, Adelphia Communications Corp. and several independent operators.

Its two independent clients, Bend Broadband and Sunflower Cablevision, deployed the first Moxi Mates several months ago.

About 1,000 Moxi Mates have been shipped, mostly to Bend, said Digeo senior vice president of sales and marketing Bert Kolde.

The Digeo/Moxi Mate platform kicks standard multiroom DVR service up a notch. It includes a built-in DVD/CD player, music jukebox, photo and gaming software, plus VoIP and PC-to-TV integration.

The average subscriber records and watches about 20 programs a week, Kolde said. About 20% of Moxi users play games each week and 30% to 40% use the Moxi ticker.

The advanced guide, with its colorful carousel, has been credited with Moxi’s one-buy-per-month VOD purchase rate — about double the national average. And churn is 44% lower than with other DVRs in the market, Digeo said.

Unlike other solutions, Kolde said that Moxi Mate allows for the pausing of live TV, full trick mode capability, the ability to initiate and manage recordings and view HD and DVDs from that second box.

Pace’s multiroom efforts build on its dual-tuner, HD DVR Tahoe platform, Dinall said. The set-top, which is part of Pace’s new Comcast deal is in lab trials and is slated to be available by year-end.

“The platform has the capability to do media serving,” Dinall said.

DELIVERY MECHANISM

The box has two 1394 ports, two Universal Serial Bus 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, a DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) 2.0 cable modem and digital-signaling gateway (DSG) functionality, and “will be a great delivery mechanism for IP video.”

“The DSG signaling mechanism replaces the legacy out-of-band signaling,” he said. “DSG also allows data pipes or tunnels. You can pump down different types of data,” he said, including the delivery of video content to a set-top’s hard drive.

The different ports on Tahoe give cable operators options for connecting other devices, using MoCA, HPNA or wireless specifications, for example. Pace’s client for secondary set-tops is its Chicago box.

Set-top prices continue to fall. Operators can buy set-tops with tuners, a DOCSIS modem and a decoder for under $125, making such second boxes economical, he said.

The media server-based set-top can handle three standard-definition devices, two HDTV devices and one SD device, or a 1-HD, 2-SD setup, he said.

Motorola Inc.’s current multiroom DVR solution involves a software download that allows master DCT6412 set-tops to send content to lower level set-tops elsewhere in the home.

DVR SHARE GROWING

While Motorola has shipped 2.15 million DCT 6208s, DCT6412s and BMC series set-tops, it’s shipped 35 million DCT 700 to DCT 2500 units.

More than one-third of the set-tops shipped in the second quarter were at the DCT6208 level or above.

“The software platform runs on existing set-tops,” starting with the base DCT6412 on down to the DCT 2500, according to Patrick Donovan, director of product management at Motorola Connected Home Solutions.

TWO DCT 2500s

Motorola has two DCT 2500 models in the field, Donovan said. The enhanced unit has a USB 1.1 connector port and more memory.

“Subscribers could use their existing DCT 6412 and network up three DCT 2500 enhanced STBs as clients through use of an external network interface module (NIM),” Donovan said. The NIM contains MoCA technology, connecting the 2500s to the main DCT6412 set-top via Ethernet.

“The MSO would get the software, put the NIMs behind the set-tops and use the coax in the house,” Donovan said. Motorola is looking to embed MoCA in new set-tops so the external NIM isn’t needed. The NIMs are now being tested by MSOs, but deployments aren’t expected until 2006.

The DCT6412 HD/DVR box is shipping with hard drive capacities of 120, 160 and 250 Gb, Donovan said. “All the operators have witnessed the incredible benefits DVR brings, including churn reduction and customers satisfaction,” he said. Surveys show 60% to 70% of DVR users want that capability on all their TVs.

MoCA embedded within the set-top is one of several features on the product road map. The external network interface modules can only handle 7 Mbps (about two HD streams) out of the 1.1 USB port. “With MoCA, we can use the full 100 Megabits of bandwidth,” he said.

Also on the road map: shared tuners and a whole-home implementation of HDTV, plus additional OpenCable Applications Platform (OCAP) software.

“The vision is you start with a dual-tuner 6412,” Donovan said. “You have an STB with a tuner in another room with MoCA. You can share that tuner and now the home has three tuners, which can be shared across the house. You can do three simultaneous recordings.

“People get frustrated. They can record in one place, but can’t watch it somewhere else.”

The Motorola road map will also allow consumers to take advantage of the extra ports on the 6412 by adding external devices, he said.

DVR JOINING DATA NET

There’s also the addition of the DVR to the home data network, which makes photos and music accessible via TV and puts set-top content in reach of other devices, he said. That’s where Motorola’s purchase of Ucentric Systems Inc. fits in.

Work is underway on a home-networking subsegment of OCAP, Donovan said. Application program interfaces for media sharing and device interconnection are under developement.

“With Ucentric, we can virtualize the user interface and aggregate resources under UI. We take the Ucentric technology and put it into the OCAP stack.”

That will allow MSOs to leverage OCAP and make the DCT 2500 set-tops smarter. Using OCAP allows MSO to customize their whole-home solutions, extending DVR functionality to non-DVR set-tops.

September