Charter Thinks Outside the 'Worldbox'
LAS VEGAS -- Charter's rollout of its new hybrid IP/QAM set-top, the "Worldbox," in 2015 will feature plenty of Cisco hardware, but the operator's new cloud-based Spectrum Guide will run on virtually any device.
The two companies announced their Worldbox deal at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s annual CES press reception here Tuesday evening. It was an odd event, however, in that it highlighted Cisco's win as a key supplier of Charter Communications Inc. 's new TV boxes, while also depicting the near-future cable reality where set-top manufacturers might just as well come from outside the traditional vendor pool.
For example, one of the demos in the room showed Charter's Spectrum Guide operating on a Roku device. Charter does not currently have a business relationship with Roku Inc. , but the MSO clearly implied that it could in the future. (See Roku Plans More Pay-TV Apps .)
On the Cisco side, the most interesting part of the Worldbox partnership is that -- in addition to set-tops -- it will include the use of both its downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) and digital rights management (DRM) solution.
This security suite will enable two critical things. First, it will allow Charter to start deploying a new solution that doesn't rely on CableCARDs, a technology that should fade out slowly now that the government has announced an end to the mandate for separable security. (See Obama Signs CableCARD Death Warrant.)
Second, it will make it possible for retail consumer electronics makers to create new set-tops that work in multiple cable systems. Cisco, in other words, will be providing the technology that opens the door to other hardware competitors.
As for the actual Cisco box, it will come in two versions -- one with a DVR and one without. It will offer hybrid IP/QAM video capabilities, configuration options for up to 16 tuners, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, 1 Gbyte of RAM, 1 Tbyte of storage in the DVR model and a "high-powered USB to enable future applications." It's expected to ship in the first half of this year and will be branded as a Spectrum set-top, in line with the brand name for Charter's next-gen video platform.
Regarding the Spectrum Guide, Charter announced that it will deploy the new advanced user interface on both Worldboxes and legacy digital cable set-tops already in subscriber households. The ability to port the cloud-based guide to older set-tops comes from the use of ActiveVideo 's technology, which makes it possible to deliver the UI as an MPEG video stream. Charter CEO Tom Rutledge disclosed in December that he expects to have the Spectrum Guide rolled out to more than half of the company's subscribers by the end of 2015. (See Charter Completes Digital Transition.)
Together, Rutledge and Cisco CEO John Chambers made a show at the CES event of their strong partnership. One has to wonder, however, what the future of their set-top relationship holds.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading