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The Cable Show 2011: The Hot List

CHICAGO -- The Cable Show -- Cable folks from around the globe are blowing into Chicago for the big show, and this year's cable-licous confab is sizing up to be a memorable one because it's becoming clear that the industry's migration to IP video is finally looking less and less like a pipe dream and more like a tangible reality. Instead of talking about doing it, MSOs are actually doing it.

With that as our setting, it's abundantly clear heading in that two big themes will be IP video and TV Everywhere, since those two tend to go hand-in-hand. MSOs are eager to deliver video services to tablets and every other conceivable screen, but they'll need IP to get them there.

Cable's move beyond the set-top has been slowed due to its reliance on the sturdy-but-inflexible QAM video platform, but it appears that the early weaning is over and the industry at large is close to making its brave jump into the IP world.

The Cable Show always offers something for everyone connected to the industry, but below we've attempted to pare it down to the key issues and topics that we'll be keeping tabs on and covering. To help you keep up to speed, be sure to check our Cable Show micro-site often, as we'll have a consistent stream of stories, blogs, video interviews and slide shows from the big to-do in the Windy City.

Wielding Xcalibur
Show organizers may be saving the best for last since we'll all have to wait until Thursday morning for Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts to demo the MSO's "next-generation video product." So, if you were hoping to blow out of town early, you may have to stick around a bit longer if you want to get a glimpse at Comcast's latest Next Big Thing (and Oprah ... she's making an appearance to chat up her new cable net, OWN). Last year, Roberts used the show to springboard the MSO's efforts with the iPad, which started off by turning the tablet into a fancy guide and remote. Comcast's video streaming "Play Now" feature came later. (See Xcalibur's Coming-Out Party? and Press 'Play Now' on the iPad.)

IP video in the home
Cable's keen on TV Everywhere, and everywhere also includes everywhere in the home. And we're not just talking about on-demand stuff -- piping live TV to home-bound tablets via IP won't just be the domain of Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). Expect to see a raft of news about gateways that can transcode QAM video on the fly for tablets, PCs and other connected devices, and even some specialized in-home streaming devices that have a lot of a set-top-like traits but ship video wirelessly in the home to IP-connected devices.

IP video outside the home
The MSO's TVE Holy Grail is the ability to replicate all of their TV services outside the home. Get ready for lots of partnerships and announcements on new specialized services that enable this, along with an array of news about adaptive streaming and content delivery networks -- all of the technology pieces that will help cable complete the TV Everywhere picture. But that will also be coupled with hand-wringing on panels regarding distribution rights and how much should be paid for them. No one will be surprised when programmers stress that they should be paid much more for that kind of access, and the MSO execs liken those demands to highway robbery.

IP on the access network
During our checks, it appears that it still may be too early for vendors to start showing off prototypes of gear designed to comply with Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP) or Converged Edge Services Access Router (CESAR) product specs -- the service convergence projects headed up by Comcast and TW Cable, respectively, that aim to help MSOs bridge the gap to an all-IP world.

But we'll still get a better sense on when all this will become a bit more real (i.e., trials and deployments) when key players from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Cox Communications Inc. , Motorola Mobility LLC and CableLabs hold court Tuesday afternoon about the topic at this session. Perhaps by the time next year's show rolls around it will be time to have a panel about whether vendors survive on CMAP/CESAR product margins. (See AlcaLu Undecided on Cable Gear Opportunity.)

Killing AllVid
Comcast and TW Cable tried to bury AllVid, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's hopeful successor to the CableCARD, at January's Consumer Electronic Show by teaming up with Samsung (both) and Sony (just TWC) on the delivery of subscription services to connected TVs. It's been pretty quiet ever since, so now's as good a time as any for cable to show some other evidence that it's making progress at retail, if it truly wants the FCC to believe that the market is moving ahead without more government interference. Besides, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will be on hand for the Wednesday general session so the industry will presumably want to show off some tangible evidence of its progress as he and the Commission consider whether to turn AllVid into a full-fledged -- and potentially troublesome -- rule-making effort. (See AllVid Starting to Look App-Tastic .)

UI forecast: Cloudy with a chance of usefulness
Cable's embracing the concept of cloud rapidly, so that probably means the cloud's coolness factor is going to quickly wane. But it will be a key item of discussion this week as we learn more about Comcast Xcalibur (we think) and learn much more about how cable's going to wean itself off of crummy native set-top-locked navigation systems to more Web services-focused platforms that not only make the experience nicer-looking and much more usable, but will help cable extend that experience beyond the TV to tablets, PCs and other TVE devices. Plus the show and all the interest in this area might make it a good time for CableLabs to come clean on its secretive remote user interface (RUI) project. (See Comcast Courts the Cloud and SeaChange Navigates TV Everywhere.)

IPv6
If you're not sick of hearing about the world's transition to IPv6 by now, brace yourself another heavy dose of it his week. Show organizers have teed up the IPv6 Summit for Tuesday, featuring three sessions and a keynote with National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Chief of Staff Thomas Power that cover everything including what IPv6 is (you should know by now), how to migrate there (get going!), and some observations and takeaways from MSOs and vendors from last week's World IPv6 Day. The Intertubes didn't break and the Earth didn't explode during the big test run, so expect to see a bunch of engineers giving high-fives. (See Now the Real IPv6 Days Begin.)

Swimming upstream with D3
Upstream Docsis 3.0 channel bonding may finally be ready for its close-up. Recent demonstrations that showed upstream cable speeds in excess of 100 Mbit/s in Germany are to jump the pond and land in Chicago this week. But some word on system deployments indicating that that the technology actually works outside of the tidy demo world -- and that cable MSOs and customers really want this capability before the turn of the next century -- would sure be nice. (See Cox, Moto Test 400Mbit/s Docsis 3.0 Upstream.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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