As usual, it's no easy task selecting a winner in the "Most Innovative New Cable/Video Product or Service" area because there are so many worthy candidates, especially now that we've combined the cable and video sectors into one category. In fact, this year's crop of entries for the Leading Lights award has made it tougher than ever for our judges, as you shall see below.
The six award finalists are tackling major issues facing the cable and video industries today, particularly the virtualization of network functions, equipment and services. Besides network virtualization, the lineup of new entries addresses the compression of video signals, the virtualization of TV channels, the delivery of 4K video streams and cloud management of video signals from multiple sources.
The grand prize winner will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards gala dinner on Monday, May 14, at Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas. Then, on the following day, Light Reading's fifth annual Big Communications Event will open its doors for two days of learning, schmoozing, discussion and debate at the Austin Convention Center.
Readers can find out more about the companies that were shortlisted across all of the two dozen regular Leading Lights award categories, as well as the three Women in Comms categories, by clicking here.
But first let's look at our shortlisted candidates for this year's cable/video award. Here are the six finalists for Most Innovative Cable/Video Product or Service, presented in alphabetical order:
Cisco Systems – Smart Rate Control-enabled Virtual DCM
This entry from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) tackles adaptive bit-rate streaming (ABR), which enables video players to switch between smaller or bigger chunks of encoded video from a given scene, depending on the bandwidth, resolution, screen size and device capability. For ABR to work properly, multiple stream renditions must be created at different bitrates. And for high definition (HD) video on large screens, higher encoding bitrates are needed to deliver quality pictures.
The big issue is how to define and measure video quality. Over the past two years, leading video-on-demand streaming services have shown how to use advanced quality metrics in encoding workflows – also known as ‘perceptual video quality metrics’ – to slash bandwidth costs without hurting perceived quality. Now Cisco is bringing this same ability to live streaming video workflows, where such metrics must also have low latency, low computational complexity and no reference requirement.
Cisco's smart rate control functionality uses patented technology around such a video quality metric to steer encoded profiles towards a constant quality target. In its technical tests and customer trials, the company says that the bit savings across sports, movies and news have averaged an impressive 36%. It will be interesting to see how this technology fares now that Cisco plans to shed its Service Provider Video Software Solutions (SPVSS) business by selling it to private equity firm Permira.
Comcast Corporation – X1's Winter Olympics Viewing Experience
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) just can't get enough of the Olympics. So, for the PyeongChang Games in February, the big US cable operator rolled out what it called "the most live, mobile and technologically advanced Olympics experience ever" for its Xfinity TV customers across TV and other video platforms. Comcast's X1 customers enjoyed access to all 2,400+ hours of NBC's live, on-demand and streaming video coverage across devices with the Xfinity Stream app and web portal.
With the debut of 50 Virtual Channels on X1, customers never had to miss a moment of the Winter Games and could view a playlist of videos or browse videos highlighting the best moments of each day in PyeongChang. An on-screen companion experience with the X1 Sports App provided viewers with the latest scores, schedules, stats and highlights for every sport and event.
Thanks to these new features, Comcast boasts that NBC and NBC Sports Network’s primetime shows in X1 households enjoyed 26% higher ratings than the national average. Some 76% of X1 households watched some type of Olympics programming, compared to 65% of households nationally, with the average household consuming nearly 10% more than the national average. Plus, on-demand viewing among Xfinity TV households was more than three times higher than for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Evolution Digital – eSTREAM 4K
Seeking to stand out from other set-top makers, Evolution Digital LLC is embracing Android TV. Its new eSTREAM 4K set-top is billed as "revolutionary," designed to deliver all video content – including live linear channels, video-on-demand, DVR recordings and third-party content from popular OTT providers like Netflix and Hulu -- on one platform to pay-TV subscribers. The box achieves this by combining traditional broadcast and cable content with streaming apps from the Google Play Store.
Certified with the latest version of Android TV Operating Software (Oreo, 8.0), the all-IP streaming box also offers 4K/UHD resolution. It comes with a sleek remote control with voice command, while its user interface features a graphic-rich interactive display to facilitate search, discovery and navigation across all content.
Evolution Digital, which competes against Arris and primarily serves operators in Tier 2 and 3 markets, crafted the eSTREAM 4K set-top for an operator-branded, leased-box business model. So the operator’s content launches first when a customer turns on the box. Evolution Digital is positioning the new streaming box as a way for pay-TV operators to recapture cord-cutters and "cord-nevers" by turning into "unparalleled content aggregators."