With cable operators committed to sending a fleet of new services down the cable pipeline, many of the industry’s leading technology vendors have responded with new solutions and services designed to make the big broadband pipe either do more or work better.
Many of these tools are in the warm-up stage, with actual U.S. deployments a ways off. Still, some of the cable industry’s forward-thinking tech firms are shoring up their offerings to help operators more efficiently manage the panoply of high-definition, video-on-demand and voice-over Internet protocol goods delivered via the cable infrastructure. That includes digital video recorder capability in the video server itself from Kasenna; bandwidth expansion technology from PulseLINK; tools from N2 and Terayon that enable better management of converged services; and new VOD measurement capabilities from Rentrak that furnish more detailed data on who’s watching what.
For starters, VOD equipment provider Kasenna is testing abroad its new TimelessTV service, which builds DVR functionality in the video server rather than relying on a DVR box or DVR capability in the set-top box. The advantage in architecting DVR service in this fashion is it can allow everything to be offered on-demand, said Tripp Rea, Kasenna’s chief strategy officer and executive VP. Ultimately, that means if a viewer forgets to record a show on Monday night, he could retrieve it on Tuesday, even if it’s not offered on-demand.
“This is really a stepping stone from broadcast to everything-on-demand,” Mr. Rea said. The storage occurs in the headend rather than in the set-top box or a storage device. “It’s more economic to put the hard drive in the headend,” he said.
Mr. Rea said regulatory issues exist in the United States now that prevent cable operators from recording a show unless the subscriber has requested it, but over time he expects service providers and content owners will work to change that. He expects several commercial deployments in the United States by the end of next year.
Leading VOD services and software company N2 Broadband last month introduced an addition to its flagship product, OpenStream. The new entrant is a software solution called Enterprise Session Resource Manager, designed to ensure that all components of a VOD system are operating most efficiently. If the system is working at peak performance, operators are less likely to need new hardware as they expand VOD programming hours, said Reggie Bradford, N2 president and CEO.
“Operators want to take advantage of the hardware already purchased and deployed for VOD,” he said. Such a service is going to be increasingly necessary as cable operators move from the largest deployments of close to 2,000 hours of VOD content today to upward of 10,000 hours in a few years, he said.
Terayon last week introduced a similar software solution to maximize network capacity. FLEXable Plant Solution ferrets out sections of the cable plant that aren’t running efficiently and boosts the power in those areas so the whole plant runs better, said Kanaiya Vasani, senior director, product marketing, at Terayon. With more power, more services and subscribers can be added without additional hardware.
Another new technology increases the capacity of the existing cable pipe without adding equipment by sending pulses of energy that create a sort of secondary network. Known as ultra wideband, the technology from PulseLINK creates additional capacity that would allow an operator to add 30 to 40 new channels in HD, said Bruce Watkins, president and CEO of the company.
PulseLINK is currently marketing the solution to set-top box makers and to cable operators. Mr. Watkins said he expects to demonstrate the capability in the field early next year with commercial availability by the end of next year.
Rentrak, which is making a name for itself in the increasingly critical area of VOD measurement, has added new features to its On Demand Essentials service, based on its trials with Comcast in Philadelphia, said Cathy Hetzel, senior VP for the reporting and analysis division. That includes a new report detailing what consumers watched before and after requesting a specific title, thus allowing an operator or a programmer to build behavior patterns for better targeting, she said.
On the high-definition front, expect to see even greater resolution down the road. Japanese broadcaster NHK is working on a new format called Ultra High Definition Video, which is reportedly 16 times greater than current HD resolution. That technology is probably several years off, but sooner to come could be HD delivery in 1080p, considered by some to be a step up from today’s stalwarts of 1080i and 720p.