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Video software

Cable Cuts Path to Interactivity

WASHINGTON -- The Cable Show -- Cable’s interactive television (ITV) ambitions are moving closer to the finish line as MSOs continue to rapidly deploy standards-based technologies and open up the development environment for new applications.

“It’s no longer a science project,” remarked Mark Hess, SVP of engineering at Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), a participant here Wednesday on a panel focused primarily on cable's deployment of Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) and the more advanced tru2way platform.

Hess said there's a growing commitment by cable operators to build interactive applications using the CableLabs specs, while a growing number of consumer electronics companies continue to develop tru2way-enabled TVs and other devices.

Deployment update
After more than a decade of talking about interactivity, there is now increasing evidence that tru2way and enhanced TV (ETV) are moving beyond exhibit floors and test labs, and into real cable operator networks.

Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) reported that it reached a major milestone of more than 2 million set-tops with the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) -- the middleware component of tru2way -- on board. Bright House Networks , meanwhile, has deployed more than 200,000 such units. Hess didn’t reveal exact numbers for Comcast, but pointed out that the MSO is focused on getting core applications in place and making sure most of its markets are able to support deployment of tru2way retail products.

Challenges and lessons learned
Operators shared their insights on some of the lessons learned from early implementation of tru2way and ETV. Time Warner Cable VP of software engineering Sherisse Hawkins said TWC started on a “system-by-system” basis before deployment was extended to whole divisions, and then went footprint-wide.

Time Warner Cable is finally reaping the fruits of its labors, according to Hawkins, as all of its sites are now tru2way-compliant after turning the corner on the task of integrating set-top software and hardware systems, video-on-demand, and billing systems.

Jeff Chen, SVP advanced technology at Bright House Networks, said that he’d "be lying to say it was a cakewalk,” noting that tru2way implementations require more rigorous release controls and new tools to manage a number of processes simultaneously. Chen also stressed the importance of proper testing of applications and the need for cable operators to invest time and patience to experiment to see what apps stick with users.

Cox Communications Inc. VP of video development Steve Necessary welcomed innovation in both the hardware and applications environments. "We know how challenging it has been with multiple proprietary hardware environments” he said, noting that Java, a key piece of tru2way, is “a great platform to try new things.”

Comcast’s Hess said challenges to implementing both interactive platforms include the need for attention to back-office integration. He also thinks the present difficult economic market environment has the potential to put a damper on tru2way device sales, especially for TVs that are likely to carry higher initial price tags if volumes are low.

— Patti Reali, Special to Cable Digital News

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