Can Flash & Tru2way Coexist?
"There's very little being delivered through the Flash environment that tru2way can't deliver," says Bill Sheppard, chief digital media officer for Sun Microsystems Inc. , whose Java language is intricately linked to tru2way as well as Blu-ray.
Sheppard clearly isn't sold on cable's budding interest in bolting Flash onto tru2way.
From a hardware standpoint, Flash "adds a lot of complexity to the box," he says. Not only is Flash external to the tru2way specifications, but a different graphics plane is needed to render Flash in a tru2way environment. That means more integration work, tougher hardware requirements, and likely a loftier bill of materials that only chipmakers such as Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) could consider.
Flash may boast a treasure trove of developers, but adding Flash to the cable box mix "absolutely fragments the [application] market," believes Sheppard, because those developers would end up creating apps for only a sub-set of a U.S. cable sector that will be adopting tru2way, Java, and even Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) on a much broader basis.
Although cable doesn't provide massive tru2way coverage today, it likely will a year from now, in terms of both headend and leased box support, thanks to a binding tru2way memorandum of understanding negotiated among Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and the six largest "incumbent" U.S. cable MSOs. Five of those operators are set to have their headends outfitted for tru2way by this July. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)
Sheppard acknowledges that tru2way has not yet reached anything resembling critical mass yet, but says Sun intends to adapt the significant development work it's completed with Blu-ray toward the tru2way effort. He says Sun aims to have a complete tru2way software developer kit (SDK) and tools for those with Flash and widget skills ready to go by the CableLabs summer conference, which is set to run August 9-12 in Keystone, Colo.
Comcast, meanwhile, has said it could be another 24 months before Flash makes it to its set-tops, so Sun and others involved in the tru2way app ecosystem do indeed have some time to shore up their collective value to the cable industry. If tru2way suppliers and advocates can't execute on that in the next six to 12 months, "then shame on us," Sheppard says.
And in the Flash corner…
Although companies such as Sun have obvious business incentives to see Java and tru2way rule the day, the opposite can be said for those in the Flash game.
Count Montreal-based Bluestreak Technology Inc. in that latter group. Its Flash technology is already running apps inside set-tops from Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Canada's Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. , and with undisclosed cable MSOs in France, Portugal, and other parts of Europe.
"We've had Flash running in the set-top since 2002. That's nothing new for us," says BlueStreak president and CEO Dominique Jodoin. Bluestreak expanded its horizons in 2005 and went after the mobile space, and ended up signing a big deal with Orange France . It's also trying to score deals with TV makers with broadband-driven Web TV strategies.
Back on the cable front, Bluestreak is still advocating the use of Flash in the set-top, and just this week participated in meetings in the Denver area with CableLabs.
Will CableLabs add a Flash provision to tru2way? "I would love to see it happen," Jodoin says, but he likewise believes such a technical mandate is highly unlikely.
Instead, he expects CableLabs will ensure that nothing in the specs would at least prevent MSOs and their partners from using languages such as Flash and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Silverlight.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News