nCube makes VOD more affordable

Apr 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Promising more affordable solutions for video-on-demand, streaming media and digital ad insertion, nCube Corp. provided a sneak preview of the hardware and software products it will offer at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association show next month.
In a demonstration at nCube’s facility in Louisville, Colo., President and CEO Michael Pohl said the company would be supporting a variety of configurations for cable, including VOD deployments for systems under 10,000 subscribers, new ways to interconnect digital program insertion in markets with more than one system operator and options for server-based personal video recorder services.
“We’re looking at a marketplace where already household members are fighting over whose program will be deleted from a full PVR disk,” said Jay Schiller, nCube senior VP of broadband strategy and product management. He said a server-based “network PVR” or “nPVR” approach can solve the problem.
“The issue is developing a viable business model for how to manage complex digital assets,” Mr. Pohl said. “We’re proposing a way to deliver advanced digital services with the existing staff, without having to go out and hire more [electrical engineers] to get the job done. Our goal is to be the most cost-effective option available on rebuilt digital cable plants.”
nCube in March unveiled a deal with AOL Time Warner Cable to provide VOD services using its new n4x on-demand video server in seven Time Warner Cable markets. While TWC has not named the seven new markets, they reportedly include New York; Green Bay, Wis.; Minneapolis; and Memphis, Tenn. Another American nCube VOD customer is cable overbuilder Seren Innovations and its Astound Broadband brand.
For the preview demonstration in Louisville, nCube showed the Starz!-Encore subscription VOD service over a Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 2000 set-top box running PowerTV. Mr. Schiller said the system works for any PowerTV box, including the Pioneer Voyager and Pace 510 boxes. He said the servers also would support Motorola systems, which chiefly use set-top middleware from Liberate.
The nCube VOD system for Time Warner Cable in the Los Angeles area can deliver 4,200 digital video streams simultaneously from a single file stored on a disk, making it the largest VOD deployment in the United States so far.
nCube’s n4x on-demand video server is designed with 12 disks in each “media hub” and each file still supporting 4,200 simultaneous MPEG-2 streams at 3.75 megabits per second. Intended for five hubs per rack, the system scales up to 256 hubs, allowing more than 53,000 households to access VOD streams from one headend or node at any given moment. To avoid the “spaghetti” of tangled coaxial cables behind the rack, Mr. Schiller added, each n4 media hub never has more than eight outgoing lines.
Mr. Pohl pointed out the importance of integrating the nCube VOD system into the interactive program guide and affirmed his company’s cooperation with Gemstar-TV Guide toward that end. The integration features parental controls with a personal identification number for conditional access to the headend data carousel.
Another key element in the n4 VOD system is digital rights management with back-end tracking for revenue splits between cable operators and the production studios. This system supports a full interconnect function for uniform digital program and advertising insertion across cable systems in markets such as New York, where several operators control territory within a metropolitan market.
John Boland, VP and general manager of nCube’s Advertising Systems Group, said, “Where before an operator might count on $70 of unregulated revenue per subscriber every month from advertising sales, with DPI [digital program insertion] splicing carefully targeted ads into the bitstream in real time, the potential for higher ad revenues is increased significantly.”