Another Operator Shuns Tru2way
Evolution Broadband LLC , a Colorado-based company that's developed a digital platform for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable operators, recently disclosed that it had abandoned a tru2way product strategy, holding that the headend costs are too much to bear for smaller MSOs. R.L. Drake LLC , a company that targets the same market with a system called Digital Freedom, has admitted that its MSO customers aren't even asking for them to sprinkle in tru2way support. (See Evolution Passes on Tru2way .)
Since then, Cable Digital News has asked several small and mid-sized operators about their tru2way plans, and the silence has been deafening: Only Buckeye, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, has come back with any definitive answers. Officials at some operators outside the top six that are involved in the Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) tru2way memorandum of understanding admitted privately, however, that tru2way has not entered their planning discussions for several months. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)
Cost is one obstacle. The idea of implementing the Docsis Set-Top Gateway (DSG) and putting in the entire tru2way ecosystem without a big penetration of tru2way-capable set-tops "causes a little angst," says Buckeye CTO Joseph Jensen.
His bigger issue, though, is with tru2way being single-threaded: It can only run one thing at a time. For example, if a TV-based caller ID application pops up on the screen, the viewer must exit that app if she wants to pause the DVR before answering the call.
CableLabs responds: CableLabs, the organization that heads the tru2way specs and tests tru2way devices, counters that tru2way can indeed support multi-process and multi-threaded run-time environments.
"As a Java-based technology, multiple tru2way applications can run simultaneously; furthermore, tru2way allows multiple simultaneous threads within each application," the organization asserts in a statement to Cable Digital News.
However, CableLabs allows that this is "subject to the availability of resources on the platform and to business rules implemented by operators. For example, the system will certainly support applications like caller-id and emergency alerts that can and will run simultaneously with the program guide."
But it doesn't appear that Buckeye is fully convinced.
The operator, which competes with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) U-verse and serves about 150,000 subscribers in parts of Ohio and Michigan, "is interested in supporting next-generation interactivity," Jensen says, noting that he'd like to offer social networking on the TV, or let viewers pick which channels make up a mosaic (AT&T just introduced such an offering). "My concern is that tru2way might not be able to fulfill it."
So, Buckeye is considering a twofold strategy that would include going all-digital and moving more and more video to IP. Buckeye, by the way, is already doing switched digital video (SDV) with BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), which has developed a cable IPTV product strategy (just sayin'). (See BigBand Pushes IP Video Convergence, BigBand Lays Cable IPTV Groundwork, Koreans Take Cable IPTV for a Spin , and Buckeye Picks BigBand for SDV .)
Jensen knows vendors won't build an IPTV platform tailored just for Buckeye. But he's keeping a close eye on how cable suppliers are trying to address his concerns. For instance, he acknowledges that the engineering brains behind tru2way are developing a workaround for the single-threaded issue.
In the meantime, Buckeye is testing some limited interactivity using Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), a CableLabs -specified platform that addresses cable's entire universe of set-tops, including millions of thin-client boxes. Buckeye is one of a several MSOs on board to beta test a hosted EBIF service headed up by the Comcast Media Center (CMC) . (See CMC Plays Host to iTV and Four More Join 'HITS AxIS'.)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News
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