Light Reading
Premium programmer is migrating the bulk of its HD networks to MPEG-4, with Motorola cast in the role of transcoder extraordinaire

Starz Aligns on MPEG-4

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
6/3/2008
50%
50%

Faced with a satellite bandwidth crunch amid the launch of new linear hi-def networks and an expanded menu of HD-VOD content, Starz Entertainment LLC is giving the vote to MPEG-4.

But the premium programmer won't go to MPEG-4 across the board right away. Initially it will use the advanced compression scheme, which promises to boost bandwidth efficiency by as much as 50 percent, on its HD channels -- Starz, Starz Kids and Family HD, Starz Edge HD, and Starz Comedy HD. Encore HD will also be delivered in MPEG-4 when it launches later this summer. (See Starz Lights MPEG-4 Plan and Encore HD Set for July.)

Starz expects to start the transition in mid-July and complete it about a month later. The MPEG-4 migration "is only for the affiliates that have signed on for our new HD services," notes Ray Milius, Starz's SVP of programming operations and IT. Starz will continue to offer east and west feeds of the flagship Starz service in MPEG-2. "Over time we'll migrate people over to the MPEG-4 service," he adds.

Starz delivers HD channels in MPEG-2 today at about 19 Mbit/s but anticipates delivering hi-definition networks in MPEG-4 in the range of 9 Mbit/s to 10 Mbit/s.

That's all fine, but most, if not all, deployed set-tops can decode only MPEG-2 signals. What happens to them?

To ensure that the new signals can be viewed through those boxes, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is supplying the DSR-6050, a digital satellite receiver/transcoder that supports both MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 outputs. Those receivers also support DVB-S2, a satellite modulation that boosts satellite transponder output by 50 percent. The latter upgrade will allow Starz to pitch video on demand, including HD titles, more efficiently in MPEG-2.

DSR-6050

Today, Starz serves up to 126 hours of HD-VOD content to affiliates such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which now claims to offer 500 HD choices.

Under most circumstances, it's up to the cable affiliates to purchase receivers. However, to help with this transition, Starz is picking up a portion of the costs for the new transcoders for operators that opted to launch the programmer's expanded HD package early on.

Starz is gaining carriage for its broader HD package, but "one of the reasons we want to migrate now is that the universe is not huge yet," Milius says. Starz does not break down how many subscribers take its hi-def services, but, overall, Starz has 16.8 million subscribers and Encore has 31.4 million.

Demand and necessity
Although not every Starz affiliate will be ready to roll out these new networks right away, Milius says the time was right to start the MPEG-4 transition, based on demand and necessity. Operators are requesting Starz's beefier HD package, while Starz is cramming everything into limited satellite capacity.

"We were frankly out of bandwidth on the satellite," Milius says.

Starz transmits programming via five transponders on three different Intelsat Ltd. satellites. For the moment, Starz pipes in all of its HD content via the Galaxy 13 bird.

Among premium programmers, Starz isn't the only one pitching a tent in the MPEG-4 camp. Last year, HBO announced plans to deliver all 26 of its HBO and Cinemax channels in hi-def and in MPEG-4 by the third quarter of 2008. (See HBO Bets Big on MPEG-4 .)

Starz may do the same for its 41 feeds, but it's not ready to pinpoint when that might happen.

"At some point I think we will have everything... in HD. I think the marketplace will force that," Milius says. "We're cautiously moving forward based on the demand for distribution because it doesn't do me any good to put all 41 of our feeds up in HD just to have nobody take them."

MPEG-4 usage should grow as operators deploy more set-tops with dual MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 support. Operators are likewise expected to spur demand for the new boxes by marketing MPEG-4-only HD tiers.

For its part in the consumer transition, Motorola has introduced a line of "DCX" cable boxes that support both codecs. (See Moto Plants Seeds for MPEG-4 .) Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Pace Micro Technology , two other significant cable suppliers, also have new set-tops with MPEG-4 baked in. (See Pace Adds MPEG-4.)

By July, Motorola expects the "mainstream" of box shipments to include models with larger hard drives and MPEG-4, according to Marty Stein, senior marketing director for Motorola's IP video services unit.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

(0)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Flash Poll
From The Founder
It's clear to me that the communications industry is divided into two types of people, and only one is living in the real world.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: Building the Case for NFV

12|19|14   |   02:14   |   (0) comments


At the 2020 Vision Executive Summit, James Feger, VP, Network Strategy & Development at CenturyLink, talks about how the US operator is approaching virtual network functions from an operational and business case perspective.
LRTV Interviews
Liberty Global Sees Business Goldmine

12|18|14   |     |   (0) comments


Steen Sorensen, VP of business services for Liberty Global, explains where the giant international MSO sees growth potential.
LRTV Documentaries
EE: The Road to 5G

12|16|14   |   16:02   |   (1) comment


Andy Sutton, the principal network architect at UK mobile operator EE, explains how his company is using Wembley stadium as a wireless test bed and how that's helping EE to plan the evolution to 5G.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Highlights of Huawei's NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014

12|16|14   |     |   (0) comments


Huawei hosted its inaugural NFV Open Cloud Forum during the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014 in Düsseldorf, Germany. The Forum brought together technology thought leaders, senior executives and telecom professionals from global carriers, industry associations, as well as other partner companies in the ecosystem, to exchange views on and collectively explore how ...
LRTV Custom TV
Realizing Operators' Digital Vision

12|16|14   |   5:23   |   (0) comments


Leveraging technology is fundamental to digital transformation but understanding customers and serving them really well is at the heart of digital businesses. TM Forum lists the following as the strategic pillars of the digital business: business agility and rapid innovation, operational agility and effectiveness, IT and data centricity, plus customer centricity. ...
LRTV Documentaries
US Cellular Injects Analytics Into LTE

12|16|14   |   2:57   |   (1) comment


US Cellular's Mario Vela explains how the operator uses analytics for network planning and what comes next as the carrier looks to eke more value out of its metrics.
LRTV Interviews
How Cox Biz Plans to Keep Growing

12|15|14   |     |   (2) comments


Steve Rowley, SVP of Cox Business, details how the third-biggest US MSO intends to boost its revenues to $2 billion and beyond over the rest of the decade
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With Bill Zhang, Director of SoftCOM Product Management, Huawei

12|15|14   |   2:50   |   (0) comments


Bill Zhang elaborated on Huawei's open philosophy in NFV solution development and network architecture design at the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Event Highlights: Huawei at SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014

12|15|14   |   3:43   |   (0) comments


Huawei joined the 2014 SDN & OpenFlow Congress as one of the key sponsors and contributors. At the event, Huawei reinforced the openness and flexibility of its network infrastructure strategies, and provided updates on its SDN and NVF innovations. Through participations at the exhibitions, forums and speeches, Huawei encouraged the industry to "think bigger and ...
LRTV Interviews
How Cable Biz Services Hit $10B Mark

12|12|14   |     |   (1) comment


Cable operators reached $10 billion in annual business services revenues by delving deeper into their vertical markets and expanding beyond the smallest firms.
LRTV Documentaries
Mediacom Aims to Test Connected Tractors

12|11|14   |   05:07   |   (3) comments


Cable business service provider is taking its services to the 'agribusiness' sector in partnership with farm equipment specialist John Deere and is getting involved in Gigabit Cities developments.
LRTV Interviews
TWC Business Looks Beyond $3B

12|10|14   |     |   (0) comments


TWC Business Services chief Phil Meeks explains how his unit has reached $3 billion in annual revenues and what its plans are for next year.
Upcoming Live Events
February 10, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
March 17, 2015, The Cable Center, Denver, CO
April 14, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City, NY
May 6, 2015, McCormick Convention Center, Chicago, IL
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Hot Topics
T-Mobile, BlackBerry Flirt With Reuniting
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 12/17/2014
1-Gig: Coming to a Small Town Near You
Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, 12/17/2014
Comcast Launches 4K Streaming Service
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 12/18/2014
US Carriers, You're Going to Cuba!
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 12/18/2014
T-Mobile Lights Up 27 Wideband LTE Cities
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 12/15/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive