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DigiForge Teaches DTAs New Tricks

Jeff Baumgartner
11/23/2010
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DigiForge LLC has developed a specialized Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) user agent that will let simple, one-way Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) boxes support program guides and, possibly, pave the way for other cable video apps, including video-on-demand (VoD).

The addition of an EBIF user agent, the software player that resides in set-top boxes, could add legs to millions of DTAs that are being used today as simple digital-to-analog channel zappers in support of analog reclamation projects underway at MSOs such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Mediacom Communications Corp. , and Insight Communications Co. Inc. (See Insight Joins the DTA Dance , Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan , and Huawei DTAs Break In at Suddenlink .)

DTAs aren't considered interactive because they lack an upstream return path, but using EBIF as a quasi-middleware layer would let MSOs develop EBIF-based apps (such as an on-screen guide) for the boxes. All data, including the app itself, would simply have to be pushed to the box.

The idea is expected to gain traction as MSOs look to squeeze more out of their standard-def DTAs and get ready to introduce HD-capable models in the wake of an important Federal Communications Commission (FCC) exemption. (See FCC Opens the Way for More HD-DTAs.)

Evolution Digital LLC, for example, has already started to show off how navigation apps can be used in DTAs with DigiForge's EBIF software. Other apps the company is envisioning include caller ID to the TV, or polls associated with a live program. (See EBIF Coming to DTAs .)

DigiForge's EBIF work also tees up the potential for DTAs to support cable VoD. A customer could use a PC- or iPad-based app to send a VoD request upstream via the Internet to the cable operator's headend, which, in turn, could tune the DTA to the requested VoD stream. (See Comcast: DTAs Can Be 'Force-Tuned' .)

But that's considered a long-term play. For now, the EBIF client for DTAs can help MSOs add a navigation component while offering them a uniform software stack that allows for easy code revisions across a range of DTA models and vendors, says DigiForge president and CEO Ed Knudson.

Bringing EBIF to DTAs is just one new opportunity for DigiForge, a two-year-old Wheat Ridge, Colo.-based provider of large-scale digital TV integration, design, and testing services.

DigiForge's anchor tenants include Comcast (DigiForge played a key role in developing the MSO's DTA initiative) and Canoe Ventures LLC , the cross-MSO advanced advertising venture. It's also doing some work for Charter Communications Inc. , CableLabs , and Rovi Corp.

Knudson, a digital TV veteran late of OpenTV Corp. (Nasdaq: OPTV) and TV Guide Inc. and a founder of Intellocity Inc. (now part of OpenTV), says DigiForge is already profitable. It employs 39 people today, and is set to grow to 45 or so by the first quarter of 2011.

As for future projects, Knudson says DigiForge is positioned to lend a hand as cable looks to augment its QAM-based video delivery systems with IP-based platforms. "That area has longevity for us," he says.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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