Cable Tech

2013 Leading Lights Finalists: Best New Product (Cable)

With product development cycles getting shorter and shorter, equipment and software suppliers are churning out new products for their customers faster than ever these days. The cable industry is definitely no exception to this trend, as cable vendors keep stepping up the pace of their product releases to meet the surging customer demand for something fresh, new, and innovative.

Not surprisingly, then, there have been scores, if not hundreds, of new cable products introduced since last fall. This tidal wave of releases resulted in a very long, and strong, list of entries for the 2013 Leading Lights Best New Product (Cable) category. These entries cover virtually all aspects of the cable technology market, from next-gen cable architectures to IP and multi-screen video, and from ad insertion to WiFi access points.

In choosing the 10 finalists, we looked for new products that have made strong early headway in the market, earned favorable reviews from cable operators or other third parties or their peers, and/or created industry buzz with an innovative approach. We also looked for products from young startups that are bucking the industry's pecking order, although many familiar names also made the list because they quite simply introduced particularly exciting offerings.

You can take a look at the entire roster of Leading Lights finalists (12 categories) here.

Here are the 10 new cable products that made it as finalists (presented in alphabetical order).

Arris Group Inc. - Arris E6000 Converged Edge Router (CER)
With great fanfare, Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) introduced its new, super-dense cable network access chassis at last fall's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo show in Orlando. And with good reason. While the initial release of the E6000 Converged Edge Router performed more like a cable modem termination system (CMTS) on steroids, it's designed to become a fully integrated Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) device in the near future.

CCAP is a next-generation architecture that combines the edge QAM (legacy video) and CMTS (DOCSIS IP) features in the cable headend, saving potentially significant amounts of space and power for cable operators. CCAP also puts cable on the path toward an all-IP future by converging data and video signals on one IP-enabled platform. The launch gave Arris an initial edge over its four main rivals -- Casa Systems Inc. , CommScope Inc. , and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) -- in the emerging CCAP market. That market is expected to generate $1 billion in revenues for equipment vendors by 2017.

Building on its launch, Arris began live customer system trials with the E6000 CER in late 2012. The multi-phase trial program included 11 Tier 1 MSOs worldwide and "tens of thousands" of cable broadband subscribers. At the Cable Show in June, Arris announced Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) as its first deployed customer. Then, in July, the vendor said its CCAP chassis was now ready for widespread cable deployment.

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Azuki Systems - MSO Solution – Release 4.0 Azuki Media Platform
Azuki Systems unveiled its new cable solution for the transition from QAM video signals to IP video signals at the Cable Show in June. Designed to reclaim QAM bandwidth and accelerate the deployment of TV Everywhere services over existing cable infrastructure, the platform offers delivery of linear TV and other programming by edge-based adaptive bitrate (ABR) unicasting for both standard digital and HD content. The programming is distributed over the network only when requested, allowing operators to expand their linear lineups from 80 channels to more than 500 HD channels.

The Azuki platform also hooks into existing back-office systems to enable cable operators and other pay-TV providers to tie over-the-top (OTT), multi-screen, and on-demand video delivery with billing and rights management solutions they already have in place. With the product, the Boston-area firm is attempting to make the leap to the first screen (i.e. the TV set), after having focused primarily on mobile devices in its early days.

Since launching the product, Azuki has signed up several cable operators as customers, including Buckeye CableSystem and Bermuda CableVision . It has also teamed up with LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) on an innovative streaming stick solution for pay-TV providers that want to stream live and on-demand video straight to subscriber TV sets.

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Casa Systems - C100G I-CCAP Platform
Casa Systems Inc. is clearly on a roll.

Since demonstrating the cable industry's first truly integrated CCAP chassis at the Cable Show in June, Casa Systems has struck a series of CCAP-related deployments and trials with several large MSOs around the world, including Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico LLC. (Liberty Puerto Rico) . It has also paved the way for future upgrades to the C100G by expanding the global footprint for its more traditional cable modem termination systems (CMTSs).

In its latest coup, Casa announced a pact with Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group , a large Chinese cable provider with 3.8 million digital TV subscribers and nearly 5 million "registered users." Under the deal, the Boston-area firm will supply cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) to Beijing Gehua for DOCSIS 3.0-level service. In turn, the deal will pave the way for a potential future upgrade to the higher-density, next-gen CCAP chasses, which combine the functions and features of CMTS devices and edge QAM modulators.

Thanks to such deals, Casa has gotten off to an early lead in the still-emerging CCAP market. Even though it's the smallest of the five hardware vendors vying for the CCAP market, Casa has arguably made the most visible progress so far. "Casa has shipped a few thousand CCAP ports," says Jeff Heynen, principal analyst for broadband access and pay TV at Infonetics Research, who tracks the closely related CCAP, edge QAM, and CCAP markets. He credits Casa's early successes to "its head start on density and price-per-channel."

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Cisco Systems Inc. - Cisco Videoscape Unity
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) unveiled Videoscape Unity at CES last January. It marks the latest version of the vendor's Videoscape multi-screen video platform, which taps deeply into the cloud to synchronize the video experience, including search and navigation, from the primary TV set down to tablets, smartphones, and PCs. The new release also supports a multi-screen cloud DVR.

This latest version of Videoscape knits together several key elements that came by way of Cisco's $5 billion acquisition of NDS last year, including Snowflake, a customizable user interface that can provide a similar look and feel across multiple screen types. The software-based solution also supports a new hybrid QAM/IP video gateway that can transcode content so it can be shared with tablets and other IP-enabled devices on the home network.

A number of major cable operators and other pay-TV providers have bought into the overall Videoscape concept since the original version was introduced at the 2011 CES, including Cox Communications Inc. , Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), and Sky . Get , the largest MSO in Norway, joined the club in March when it signed up for the latest Videoscape Unity release.

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Deluxe Digital Distribution - Deluxe OnDemand Multiscreen-Ready Video Catalog Service
Deluxe Entertainment Services Group Inc. introduced its video catalog service of popular titles for over-the-top (OTT) distribution in March. Known more commonly as Deluxe OnDemand, it provides access to the catalog as a cloud-based standalone service and with titles that are UltraViolet-enabled. The service is designed to integrate with most user experiences so that consumers can access movies and other content wherever they choose, on whichever device they choose.

The Burbank, Calif.-based firm also provides the critical processing, protection, and encoding systems necessary for multi-screen video access and delivery of the entire video library.

Since launching the service, Deluxe boasts that it has landed three of the top 10 US MSOs and the biggest cable operator in Canada for deployment deals. In addition, Deluxe has recruited Starz Entertainment LLC as a prime content customer, powering the Play suite of authenticated online services offered by Starz, Starz Play, Encore Play, and Movieplex Play.

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Elemental Technologies Inc. - Elemental Release 2.0
Elemental Technologies Inc. (ETI) has quickly made a name for itself with its powerful, programmable processing platform for multi-screen video delivery. Unlike many of its rivals, the Portland, Ore.-based company relies on flexible, software-based video processing solutions that support next-generation GPU and CPU architectures to deliver the content without taxing existing resources or bandwidth.

The latest release of its platform, which came out in February, has helped Elemental sign up a continuing stream of service and content provider customers. In 2012, its customer base more than doubled to 250 leading media companies in nearly 40 countries, prompting its revenue to more than triple. Its recent customer wins include such major cable and IPTV operators as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) in the US, Columbus Communications Inc. in the Caribbean, and Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF).

Elemental has also teamed up with other leading vendors to deliver multi-screen video to cable subscribers, including Avail-TVN (which is now known as Vubiquity). In the process, Elemental has beaten out such more established rivals as Cisco, Envivio Inc. (NASDAQ: ENVI), and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT).

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Envivio Inc. - Envivio Muse On-Demand
Envivio Inc. (NASDAQ: ENVI) introduced Muse On-Demand, its software-based offline video transcoding and processing solution, in early June. Featuring partial content processing, input format detection, HEVC support for such higher resolutions as 4K video, mezzanine formats for multi-screen delivery, and integration with major security vendors, Muse is designed to be a flexible, fast, and high-quality transcoding solution.

In fact, Envivio says its on-demand solution uses high-efficiency compression techniques to generate 20 percent bandwidth savings over GPU-based encoders such as Elemental's. Muse On-Demand can also support 4K resolutions as ingest and output using the latest HEVC codec, which creates and delivers content in low bitrates.

Envivio, which has been showing off its new transcoding solution at the IBC show in Amsterdam for the past week, has picked up several major new customers since unveiling Muse On-Demand. The group includes France's Numericable-SFR , the Ukraine's Volia, and Portugal's ZON Multimédia .

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Harmonic Inc. - Harmonic NSG Pro Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP)
Unlike Arris and Casa Systems, Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), a leading edgeQAM vendor, is tackling the budding CCAP market from the edge QAM side, not the CMTS side. In accordance with this strategy, Harmonic rolled out the NSG Pro, a high-density universal edge QAM device, at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo show in Orlando last October.

While the NSG Pro debuted as a downstream-only product that looks more like a super-sized edge QAM device than anything else, Harmonic aims to turn it into a full-fledged, integrated CCAP chassis that will compete against similar entries from Arris, Casa, Cisco, and CommScope. Product development plans include the addition of the required routing, upstream, and CMTS elements in the near future.

In the meantime, though, the NSG Pro is making waves in the market. Before the SCTE show even started last fall, Harmonic said the product was already in one US MSO lab trial, with commitments for seven more trials by the end of 2012. Then, in July, Harmonic announced that it had started shipping the NSG Pro commercially in the spring and expected cable operator demand to grow in each subsequent quarter.

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TiVo Inc. – TiVo Roamio
In one of the highlights of a very busy year, TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) introduced its new lineup of Roamio set-top boxes last month and immediately put cable's TV Everywhere efforts to shame. In particular, the DVR pioneer rolled out two higher-end Roamio Plus and Roamio Pro boxes that enable streaming of live and recorded programming to multiple video screens both inside or outside the home. Users can also download shows to an iOS device for offline viewing, with Android support on the way.

Cable companies have pushed hard with TV Everywhere services that allow subscribers to watch select programming over the Internet or to stream live linear content to multiple screens within a home WiFi network. But MSOs have not done that much to extend those multi-screen services beyond the home and give consumers access to their entire cable lineup on the go, due mainly to content rights issues.

Not surprisingly, the new TiVo line of DVRs is gaining rave reviews from critics and consumers so far. But cable operators may not get left in the lurch. A number of major MSOs may pick up their own supply of Roamio DVRs in the future, thanks to their existing deals with TiVo. That group includes Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED), Charter Communications Inc. , Suddenlink Communications , complink 3326|Mediacom Communications Corp.}, and General Communication Inc. (GCI) (Nasdaq: GNCMA).

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YOUi Labs Inc. – uSwish Natural User Interface (NUI) Framework
YOUi Labs Inc. is a Canadian startup that turned heads at the CableLabs Summer Conference last month with its "natural user interface (NUI)" for navigating content on multiple video screens. After showing off its new gesture-based uSwish user interface, the firm took home "Best New Ideas" honors from the confab, beating out seven other firms in CableLabs' semi-annual "Innovation Showcase" competition for new cable players. (See this announcement.)

The uSwish framework uses a cross-platform technology designed for navigating content on TV sets, set-top boxes, tablets, smartphones, and other video=enabled devices. In this eight-minute presentation, YOUi Labs CEO and Co-Founder Jason Flick explained the company's gesture-based control of a TV interface, showed off content navigation from both iOS and Android mobile devices, and demonstrated profile-driven experiences that moved between the TV set and the second screen. With the help of a camera placed on top of the TV set, Flick also highlighted how the system could recognize a viewer and tailor the viewing experience accordingly.

Flick assured conference attendees that the uSwish technology is more than mere demo-ware. In fact, he said, YOUi has already won a contract with a Tier 1 MSO and is building out its system for field deployments. So don't be surprised to hear more about this young firm in the upcoming months.

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Let me know what you think of these best cable product finalists. Feel free to weigh in on the message boards below, suggest alternatives, and make your case for your personal favorites. We welcome your comments (as long as they're not overly profane).

The Leading Lights winners and latest Hall of Fame inductees will be revealed at the Leading Lights awards dinner, which will be held during the evening of Tuesday, October 1 at the tragically hip The Out hotel in New York City. (For more details, see Leading Lights 2013.)

After the late night out, we'll stagger over the next morning to the Ethernet & SDN Expo, which takes place at the nearby Jacob Javits Center on October 2–3. (Details, including the conference agenda, can be found at Ethernet & SDN Expo.)

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

albreznick 9/19/2013 | 6:08:42 PM
Re: whaddaya think? The silence is deafening, folks. Are you really that satisfied with all these choices?
albreznick 9/18/2013 | 6:03:45 PM
whaddaya think? So this is a pretty long list of finalists. Which ones do you think belong or don't belong? Who would you add instead? Or did we hit the bullseye? :) 
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