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Comcast agrees to license and trial a cloud-based platform that can jazz up the user interfaces of older, QAM-based set-top boxes
June 12, 2012
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) could end up teaching some old set-tops some new tricks after securing a license for ActiveVideo 's CloudTV H5, a platform that's capable of bringing advanced video navigation features and applications to QAM-based set-top boxes. (See Comcast Licences ActiveVideo.)
In the early going, Comcast will use ActiveVideo's technology to run an enhanced video-on-demand (VoD) user interface in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the operator uses Motorola Mobility LLC 's digital video platform. A Comcast spokeswoman said the trial got underway earlier this year and involves an undisclosed number of Comcast employees and "friendlies."
ActiveVideo CEO Jeff Miller says the interface being tested shares some similarities with the cloud-based UI that Comcast is using for Xcalibur/X1, the MSO's next-generation video product that relies on a new hybrid QAM/IP gateway from Pace plc . (See The Cable Show 2012: Comcast Flies the X1.)
The latest incarnation of CloudTV H5 is an HTML5 Webkit browser that runs in the cloud (or the cable headend, in this instance), and is capable of delivering apps to both QAM- and IP-based set-top boxes. In the QAM example, the ActiveVideo platform converts the native HTML5 content into an MPEG transport stream that the set-top box can read using a relatively small (about 100 kilobytes) client application. (See ActiveVideo Connects With HTML5.)
"An operator could write the user experience in HTML5 and still render it on any set-top box," Miller says. "It's literally pixel-accurate." He adds that the latency between a button press on the remote control and something changing on the TV screen is "minimal" (less than 200 milliseconds), meaning the "user of the device has no idea that the UI is running remotely."
Why this matters
Comcast has 20.7 million digital video customers, and the vast majority of them still use QAM-based boxes that can't take advantage of the company's new, fancier X1 platform, which it's deploying first in Boston, followed by a handful of additional markets, including Chattanooga, in the second half of 2012 and into early 2013. If Comcast decides to deploy ActiveVideo more broadly, it could use the platform to bring an X1-like experience to older boxes that don't speak IP.
For ActiveVideo, the deal finally gets the 22-year-old company in the door at the world's largest cable operator, offering it some significant potential for growth. For now, it claims to have its CloudTV technology available on about 10 million screens, and currently counts Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) as its largest customer.
And ActiveVideo is facing some competition as operators try to spruce up the navigation systems that run on legacy, non-IP boxes. Among recent examples, SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) introduced Nitro Now, a graphically rich UI that runs on QAM-based boxes and serves as a bridge to the company's new HTML5-based Nitro platform for IP-connected set-tops, tablets and smartphones.
Where Will Comcast's X1 Land Next?
Comcast's X1 Video Platform Lands First in Boston
SeaChange Navigates TV Everywhere
Cablevision Tunes Up With ActiveVideo
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable
Senior Editor, Light Reading
Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.
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