Video software

Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness

Espial Group Inc. will soon bring to market a full-blown IPTV middleware product to compete with Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) TV's market-dominating platform. The Canadian company says carriers may embrace its product as a more flexible alternative to Microsoft's "we-do-it-all" approach.

Espial, a vendor of set-top software, is now going to launch a network server -- called Evo Server -- which manages back-end functions such as integration with billing, content security, and advertising injection systems.

With this new element in place, Espial will compete for service provider business with Microsoft TV, Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE)/Myrio Corp. , Orca Interactive Ltd. , Minerva Networks Inc. , and others.

But the company focuses squarely on what it sees as Microsoft's weaknesses for the design and promotion of its product. (See Espial Supports HD.) Espial says its middleware system is different because of its "open" nature and its responsiveness to commands from the remote control. (See Inside Microsoft TV's Usability Lab.)

Espial VP of marketing Brian Mahony says Microsoft's middleware does not easily integrate with other "best of breed" video processing software made by other vendors. He points out that Microsoft uses its own digital rights management (DRM) system and its own video on demand (VOD) system.

Espial's system, he says, is flexible enough to integrate with whatever software the carrier chooses for its network. For instance, the carrier can use either Widevine Technologies Inc. or Verimatrix Inc. for DRM; Espial integrates with either one, Mahony says.

"Service providers are testing alternatives in their labs, and there's definitely room for new middleware players," says Heavy Reading IPTV analyst Rick Thompson. "All of them seem to be coming back to the market with next-generation products that are opening up the interfaces a little more so that more applications can be developed more quickly and more easily on top of the middleware platform."

Espial believes it has another major advantage over Microsoft. The system, Espial says, borrows some tricks from the cable and broadcast worlds to make its user interface respond more quickly to user commands.

Espial director of product management Rob Nadon says many IPTV programming guides use HTML pages to display data. Espial designs the pages of its programming guide to look and feel like HTML pages, but they're actually embedded C-code, which allows for changes and screen refreshes at a faster rate, Nadon says.

Mahony says the Espial system also manages programming data differently than other systems. "The indexing, or the lists of available content, are also pre-compiled on the set-top box so that when a search command is entered, it needn't be sent all the way out to a network server to grab the data."

Microsoft says that despite the claims of Espial and others, "one-throat-to-choke" is what service providers still want. "We have a healthy respect for competitors, but the fact is that Microsoft offers the only open, end-to-end software platform for IPTV services, allowing service providers to rely on one solution to manage, protect, and deliver digital TV services from the point of acquisition through delivery to consumers’ TV sets," says Microsoft TV spokesman Jim Brady.

Heavy Reading's Thompson says battling Microsoft for preeminence in the IPTV middleware space won't be easy, but he says Espial has a few important things going for it.

"They're not a brand new player; they’ve been in the industry and they really have understood the client-side middleware pretty well," Thompson says. "They seem to have a pretty good partner list, and they've worked with a number of the set-top box vendors, so it's good for them to now expand their product portfolio." (See Amino, Espial Team Up.)

Espial counts among its current set-top software customers several Tier 1 carriers including NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT), NTT East Corp. , Belgacom SA (Euronext: BELG), and KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN). The company also has more than 30 Tier 2 and 3 telco customers.

Espial will debut its new EVO Server product at the Telco TV show in Dallas on November 8.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

Page 1 / 2   >   >>
LightWarrior 12/5/2012 | 3:36:08 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness Good for Espial. I had a feeling they were going to launch a server-side middleware product. I heard there server was in several successful trials with Tier 1 carriers (like UPC), specifically because of performance, scalability, or openness issues with Microsoft IPTV.

Does anyone really want Microsoft to dominate and monopolize another industry like they did with the PC?

Let's all tip our hats, and perhaps a pint, to Espial and wish them God-speed.
litedope 12/5/2012 | 3:36:05 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness Competition is always good thing especially against Microsoft. Espial is one of very few competitors (and Widewine too) in this IPTV arena GǪ good report.
wendel_clark 12/5/2012 | 3:36:02 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness I am not sure of the merits of taking on a giant like Microsoft, but the tail of the tape will come in the software. If Espial can provide solid performance and reduce the cost and oversight required with any Microsoft solution, then power to the peeps.............
pixel_impulse 12/5/2012 | 3:36:02 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness I would take anything thats Non-Microsoft.....in a New York minute.

Not to mention that the claims by Microsoft Usability labs are as always "Just Claims" with no proof.

Espial on the other hand, I heard has middleware that really rocks. And now the server system...way to go Espial. Follow the Mozilla path and let world know that there's much better future without Microsoft products.
JuiceeTV 12/5/2012 | 3:36:01 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness Hmmm...Microsoft stuff might not be getting rave reviews right now but they are $o huge, aren't they bound to get it right?...espial good luck! (who's using espial's stuff right now?)
IPeverywhere 12/5/2012 | 3:36:01 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness I've seen and used some of their client-side software and I have to honestly say that Espial just gets it! It's well architected and provides so much flexibility for customization ...what really stood out was how fast their apps were, especially EPG.

If there server is as well architected as what they've been doing on client, then they will undoubtedly be very successful in this space.
LightWarrior 12/5/2012 | 3:36:00 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness I heard despite the huge PR effort, MS still only has like 200 engineers on their IPTV middleware. Is that true? If so, why won't Gates put some of his billions into making their buggy middleware work?
LightWarrior 12/5/2012 | 3:36:00 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness Does anyone have any scalability numbers on Espial vs. Microsoft. I have only heard very low numbers coming out of Project LightSpeed and DT (something like 300 STB per server). For those of you familiar with Espial, any idea what their ratio is?
Mark Sullivan 12/5/2012 | 3:36:00 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness 200 engineers. That's true. Microsoft executives told Light Reading that a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Verizon has more than 1,000 engineers working on their FiOS middleware issues.
Mark Sullivan 12/5/2012 | 3:36:00 AM
re: Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness Espial's system doesn't deal with some of the tough problems that Microsoft's platform takes on -- like packet loss and DRM issues. Still Espial may allow operators to use less servers and cheaper, less-powerful set-top boxes.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Sign In