& cplSiteName &

Cable's Got Ideas for a Universal Retail Box

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
12/11/2009
50%
50%

A digital set-top platform that could spark a retail market and apply to cable, telco, and satellite TV operators hasn't made it beyond the vaporware phase, but some folks on the cable side of a possible cross-industry effort already have some ideas about how such a device could interface with disparate network environments.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , which first proposed the idea for a cross-industry "all-MVPD" (multichannel video programming distributor) device in 2007, has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open a formal notice of inquiry on that specific topic. For now, the FCC has promised to at least look into the all-MVPD issue as it gathers comments on how the Commission can help accelerate the development of a retail market for "national portable video devices" as it vets a national broadband plan it will present to Congress in February. (See Whither the CableCARD? and FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan .)

Everything's still in the formative stages, but officials with the NCTA tell Cable Digital News that a good starting point for what that product might look like is the so-called "set-back box" (SBB) Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) showed off at the recent Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo and described in a recent filing. Although Panasonic's tru2way version is intended to be married to Panasonic TVs, the all-MVPD boxes envisioned by the NCTA would be made to apply to all new, digital TVs using a common interface. (See Panasonic Appeals Over 'Set-Back' Ruling .)

That interface would require buy-in from all the industry players, of course, but one possible candidate is HDMI-CEC (High-Definition Multimedia Interface - Consumer Electronics Control), a standard that's already present in new TVs, and one that's being worked into the tru2way specs.

One key benefit of HDMI-CEC is that it turns the TV into a remote control communications hub for all devices that are connected to it via bidirectional HDMI cables. That means the primary TV remote could control not just the TV but the all-MVPD set-back device, and clean up lots of the clutter for consumers who are annoyed by having to use a traditional set-top and a bag-full of remote controls. (See Tru2way: Remote Chances .)

That might work if the cross-industry decision makers agree on HDMI-CEC, or some other interface. But once the common connection is agreed upon, manufacturers would then be called upon to develop versions that can connect to cable, telco, and satellite TV networks. Presumably, those that make the all-MVPD devices (a group that might include the TV makers themselves) would also have the ability to innovate and sprinkle in features and capabilities that would set them apart from the leased box market.

Taking things a step further, those boxes would also be able to support different middlewares and set-top operating systems, such as tru2way or Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Mediaroom, or whatever is required by the type of network the device is connecting to. That would likewise mean all the parties would have to agree on the specs for memory, processing power, and other component-level features, but all that's still to be determined.

Ideally, this would also allow some significant latitude on what types of conditional access systems, encryption methods, and digital rights management systems the boxes would support.

"If you accepted that conception, then the set-back box could accommodate multiple kinds of security without every MVPD having to follow the same security protocol," says Paul Glist, a cable industry lawyer and partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLC.

The broader implication here is that TV makers would no longer have to go through the integration headaches and expense of integrating tru2way stacks and supporting native cable applications in the sets themselves, and then hope consumers buy them. Instead, their TVs would just need to support the all-MVPD interface.

This, of course, could threaten the budding market for completely integrated "set-top-free" digital TVs that Panasonic has championed. Although Panasonic's efforts demonstrate that the approach is feasible, it's still not clear that there's big consumer demand for it. In fact, Samsung Corp. has obtained tru2way certification for four LCD TVs, but the company has yet to bring them to retail. (See Denver, Chicago First to Get Tru2way TVs, Tru2Way in Atlanta, and Tru2way's Retail Forecast: Cloudy .)

But, as the NCTA sees it, the all-MVPD set-back approach it's advocating would simplify the execution, with the box "unobtrusively" hidden behind the set. Plus, it would result in a portable retail platform for, not just cable, but for the satellite and telco guys as well.

Although using HDMI-CEC in concert with a set-back box is one idea that NCTA's putting on the table, the organization has been lean in providing other technical possibilities. And that's on purpose. "We're not trying to pre-judge the technical approach to making this work," Glist insists. "What we are saying is that the issue has to be conceived of as something that affects all MVPDs, and not just one [cable]."

And it's not yet known if the telcos and satellite TV players will even back the high-level idea of an all-MVPD, though there are signs that some of them are at least warming to the idea. However, an AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) spokeswoman says her company has no position to share on the all-MVPD concept at this time, though the company does plan to participate in the current FCC proceeding on video device innovation. Comments for that are due December 21.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

(0)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
From The Founder
Download our complete guide to de-risking NFV deployment in 2016, including:
  • An eight-step strategy to deploying NFV safely, based on input from the companies that have already started virtualizing their production networks.
  • Interviews with leading executives at Colt, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Cisco, Nokia, ZTE, Ericsson and Heavy Reading.
  • Flash Poll
    Live Streaming Video
    Prepping for the Future: Upskill U Explained
    During this short kick-off video, Doug Webster, Vice President of Service Provider Marketing, Cisco, and Light Reading’s CEO & Founder Steve Saunders give an overview of Upskill U.
    LRTV Interviews
    Testing When There's No 'There' There

    5|4|16   |     |   (0) comments


    The benefits of SDN/NFV are well known, but the transition comes with some challenges, prominent among them is: how do you test a network that has been abstracted and has the potential to be endlessly reconfigurable? Light Reading was at NFV World Congress in Santa Clara, Calif., where we bumped into Mats Nordlund, CEO and co-founder of Netrounds, a Swedish ...
    LRTV Interviews
    Ditching the Slash & the Orchestration Wars

    5|3|16   |     |   (2) comments


    SDN and NFV have been inextricably bound with each other for so long that on a conceptual level, smooshing them together into one catch-all phrase – SDNFV – is now justifiable, according to Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). Light Reading spoke to Pitt at the NFV World Congress, where he explained that the next ...
    LRTV Custom TV
    ZTE TV Connect Highlights

    5|3|16   |     |   (0) comments


    ZTE gives us a tour of its booth and new products at TV Connect in London.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Deluxe's Unified Delivery Solution

    5|3|16   |     |   (0) comments


    Join Alan Breznick of Light Reading and visit the Deluxe booth at NAB! Here you'll find Deluxe's Unified Delivery Solution, OTT video, virtual reality, HDR, 4K and much more!
    LRTV Interviews
    Verizon Puts Gray Boxes in the Shade

    5|2|16   |   04:33   |   (1) comment


    When it comes to the white box trend, "gray" boxes, which have a slight proprietary twist, don't give service providers and end users the advantages they're seeking, according to Verizon's Vice President of Product and New Business Innovation Shawn Hakl.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Dealing With a Disrupted Video Market

    5|2|16   |     |   (0) comments


    Ericsson's Simon Frost discusses how traditional pay-TV providers can cope with the big changes wrought by the rise of OTT video and IP technology.
    LRTV Custom TV
    The VNF Responsibility of Red Hat

    5|2|16   |     |   (0) comments


    At MWC, Caroline Chappell of Heavy Reading visits the Red Hat booth and sits down with Chris Wright to talk about the responsibility the VNF needs to take on in order to ensure the operators get the carrier-grade performance they expect for their network.
    LRTV Interviews
    AT&T Expert on the Key Pillars of UC

    4|29|16   |   03:58   |   (0) comments


    Vishy Gopalakrishnan, AVP of product marketing at AT&T, talks about the three developments that are making unified communications and collaboration secure and reliable for enterprise users.
    LRTV Documentaries
    LRTV Report: Mobile Core Innovation

    4|28|16   |   25:32   |   (0) comments


    Hear from multiple industry experts from Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom, Heavy Reading, Huawei, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, NEC and many more about developments in the mobile core as operators virtualize their IMS and evolved packet core systems and prepare for a 5G world.
    LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
    NFV World Congress Highlight

    4|26|16   |     |   (0) comments


    The highlight of the NFV World Congress contains exciting telecom news. Join us for an inside look at Huawei's ICT 2020 plan and its latest collaboration with industry leaders.
    LRTV Interviews
    Unified Comms Finds Its Voice

    4|25|16   |   03:44   |   (0) comments


    Peter Quinlan, VP of UCC Product Management at Tata Communications, talks about the evolution of the unified communications and collaboration services sector and how voice is now a big part of current developments.
    LRTV Documentaries
    So... What Do We Do Now?

    4|25|16   |   03:24   |   (0) comments


    After a long hiatus, Max Dingman, the CEO of a GeeGhiz, returns for a motivational board room pep talk.
    Upcoming Live Events
    May 23, 2016, Austin, TX
    May 23, 2016, Austin Convention Center
    May 24-25, 2016, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
    September 13-14, 2016, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
    December 6-8, 2016,
    June 16-18, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
    All Upcoming Live Events
    Infographics
    A new survey conducted by Heavy Reading and TM Forum shows that CSPs around the world see the move to digital operations as a necessary part of their overall virtualization strategies.
    Hot Topics
    Ultra-Broadband Summit, Hong Kong
    Iain Morris, News Editor, 4/27/2016
    Amazon AWS Reports $2.6B Quarterly Revenue, Up a Colossal 64%
    Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 4/28/2016
    WiCipedia: Woman Cards & Bitch Switches
    Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 4/29/2016
    Sprint CEO: Our Spectrum Is for 5G
    Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/3/2016
    Amazon & Other 'Big 4' Cloud Providers Crushing Competitors
    Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 4/29/2016
    Like Us on Facebook
    Twitter Feed
    BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
    In this latest installment of the CEO Chat series, Craig Labovitz, co-founder and CEO of Deepfield, sits down with Light Reading's Steve Saunders in Light Reading's New York City office to discuss how Deepfield fits in with the big data trend and more.
    Grant van Rooyen, president and CEO of Cologix, sits down with Steve Saunders, founder and CEO of Light Reading, in the vendor's New Jersey facility to offer an inside look at the company's success story and discuss the importance of security in the telecom industry.
    Animals with Phones
    Sloth Mail Click Here
    Sloth mail -- somehow even slower than snail mail.
    Live Digital Audio

    Of all the tech companies in the Valley, Intel has made the most aggressive commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workplace culture. It's doing so by taking concrete, measurable steps, making a large financial investment and through a commitment to complete transparency about its progress. In this radio show, WiC Director Sarah Thomas will be joined by Shlomit Weiss, Intel's Vice President, Data Center Group, and General Manager of Networking Engineering, who will share with us why Intel is tackling this huge challenge, how and to what effect. She will also discuss her unique experiences leading development of Client SOC development in the past and today leading development of all of the chipmaker's silicon hardware for networking IPs and discrete devices and managing a team of 600 engineers across Israel, Europe and the US.