The Cable Show '09: 5 Takeaways

Cable's road to IPTV
Cable is looking at ways to take advantage of a rapidly growing ecosystem of IP set-tops and other IP-connected devices, including portable video players and smart phones.

One possible path involves the encapsulation of QAM signals, according to Christopher Albano, director of CPE and home networking at Comcast, a speaker at the Emerging Technologies sub-conference put on by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) .

Although Comcast has already served up more than 11 billion video-on-demand (VoD) sessions using QAM, that number could grow substantially if IP-enabled devices are allowed access to those same content libraries, Albano said.

He also suggested that in-home encapsulation of QAM video through a special gateway device (think of a "hybrid" box that can speak QAM and IP) could give cable a bridge to a wide range of IP devices while maintaining harmony with its legacy, QAM-based infrastructure. The approach, which could shuttle content around the house using a combination of MoCA and WiFi, would also prevent MSOs from having to create and support a separate content delivery silo for the IPTV world.

Comcast senior fellow Weidong Mao later looked at cable's IPTV opportunity from the perspective of the network. The challenge, he said, is how to migrate IP video services to a system that mostly speaks QAM.

On the access network, Comcast is considering several architecture options but has yet to pick one as it weighs the complexities and advantages of each. In addition to MPEG-to-IP encapsulation, the MSO is also taking a look at bypassing the cable modem termination system (CMTS) and feeding IP video directly through the edge QAM, a process that's being advocated by vendors such as BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT). (See BigBand Lays Cable IPTV Groundwork and Harmonic's Bright Idea .)

Another option is delivering video directly over the CMTS and leveraging the channel bonding capabilities and capacity of Docsis 3.0.

Enhancing the TV
Although tru2way was front and center at last year's cable show, it got muted attention this year as operators and programmers gear up for Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), a platform that brings some simple interactive apps to cable's entire universe of cable boxes.

Comcast officials confirmed that the MSO expects to enable 10 million boxes for EBIF by year's end, a move that should synch up with an interactive campaign that Canoe Ventures LLC expects to roll out in the second half of 2009, starting with an app that allows consumers to request more information about advertised products with the remote control. (See Canoe Rows Toward Enhanced TV .)

The floor was full of EBIF demos, indicating that the platform is maturing fairly rapidly. Among programmers, premium players such as Showtime Networks Inc. and Starz Entertainment LLC both showed off apps that call up more information about scheduled programming and allow viewers to sign up for the services via the set-top box.

Showtime's interactive marketing application has been deployed for some time but recently ported to EBIF. Starz, meanwhile, used the show to launch "Enteract Now," an EBIF app that, among its features, can shortcut the viewer to the VoD asset of a program that's airing on the linear channel.

Following a theme that emerged at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, this year's show was marked by several 3D-TV demos.

The Broadband Nation exhibit offered a spate of them, highlighted by a cinematic 3D demo operated by Dolby Laboratories Inc. (NYSE: DLB). At its booth, Motorola also showed a 3D-TV app running on its DCX set-top product line.

Although cable's kicking the tires on 3D, it's not clear as to if or when the industry might adopt the technology. For now, the industry is starting to vet the vast array of technical approaches. The SCTE, the cable industry's standards-setting body, recently launched a "3D over Cable" project. CableLabs , meanwhile, has reportedly issued a request for proposal (RFP) on the topic. (See SCTE Looks at 3DTV .)

And there's more...
Here's a roundup of our other show-related coverage:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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