Set-top boxes

Comcast Opens Up Set-Top Testing

Don't call it industry domination. Call it the beneficence of a successful cable company sharing its technology for the betterment of an entire industry.

In its latest bid to share the secrets of its success, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has opened up access to its cable set-top and software testing framework. The Open Cable Automated Test Solution (OCATS or Open CATS) gives engineers a way to simulate real-world environments, putting set-tops and new set-top features through their paces without risking instability in an actual field deployment.

Open CATS is based on the CATS framework that Comcast first developed in 2008. While the solution was built specifically for Comcast equipment, the company says it can be easily adapted to work with devices and software from other pay-TV providers, programmers and set-top manufacturers. OCATS also includes service APIs, making it interoperable with existing testing tools and programming languages. Sample test scenarios include stress testing applications, manipulating set-top configurations and testing the impact of different network protocols.

Comcast said in a blog post that the newly-available OCATS framework will "evolve to keep pace with industry changes because we made the code open. The licensing agreement allows users to modify and use OCATS without any restrictions. Users can also write applications and tests for OCATS and distribute them freely."

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The nation's largest cable operator has made good use of open source technologies in recent years, running its X1 video service on a private OpenStack cloud as far back as early 2013. (See Comcast Opens Up on OpenStack.)

The company has also been aggressive about both promoting its own set-top technology throughout the cable industry and sharing code where appropriate to create a broad ecosystem for ongoing set-top development. Most recently, Comcast got a boost for its X1 licensing program, signing Shaw Communications Inc. as its second large MSO customer for the set-top operating system in June. Cox Communications Inc. has also licensed the X1 platform despite developing its own Contour TV multiscreen video solution. (See Shaw Licenses X1, Proves Comcast's Influence.)

Beyond the expansion of X1, Comcast has created a major role for itself in the set-top sector by furthering development of the Reference Design Kit (RDK). The RDK integrated stack offers a standard software foundation for set-tops that developers can use to build new IP video video products and services quickly. Comcast was the source of the original RDK stack, but it formed a joint venture in 2013 with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) to open up the software to the entire industry. Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) joined the RDK Management LLC executive team in 2014, and today, the RDK community boasts more than 220 licensees, including more than two dozen service providers. (See RDK Spreads Its Wings.)

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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