Comcast Offers Glimpse of Flash Strategy

MSO has a healthy interest in adding Flash to the set-top. Just don't expect those boxes to pipe video from the Web at the get-go

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

April 21, 2009

4 Min Read
Comcast Offers Glimpse of Flash Strategy

Flash players may be coming to a tru2way cable set-top box near you someday, but just don’t expect the first implementations to carry Web TV fare from the likes of YouTube Inc. , Hulu LLC , and Fancast.

Instead, expect to see some some widgets and other simple Flash-based applications that can be embedded into an MSO's interactive program guide (IPG).

Cable's interest in running Flash in the set-top has run hot and cold in recent years, but the topic heated up again yesterday when Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) announced a spate of partners -- including Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) -- that aim to bring Flash to digital televisions, set-tops, and Blu-Ray players. (See Adobe Extends Flash.)

For cable, this opens the possibility of carrying Internet video into the home via something like a hybrid QAM-IP set-top with a Docsis 3.0 cable modem.

"There might need to be some modifications of the tru2way [specification], but all the hooks are in there to make Flash video playback possible" in Java-based tru2way set-tops, says an exec with a vendor that develops tru2way middleware.

But don't get too excited, Web TV fans. That's not what Comcast has in mind.

"We do want to see this [Flash] ship on actual set-top boxes," Comcast senior vice president and chief software architect Sree Kotay tells Cable Digital News. But he envisions Comcast starting out with more "lightweight" apps that can be embedded with the IPG, such as email readers and weather widgets.

Getting even to that point will take a while. Comcast is busy in 2009 getting base tru2way architecture deployed in the first place. The addition of Flash could be as much as 24 months away, Kotay says.

At the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas this week, Comcast is demonstrating a Flash player optimized for the TV set and integrated with a tru2way-based box running on Broadcom chips. All the demonstrated applications are embedded into the Comcast IPG. The MSO is also showing off a version for the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) platform.

The goal is to show "how tru2way enables Flash integration and how you can develop parts of your application in Flash and parts of it in Java," Kotay says. He says Flash adoption will give the MSO access to a broader development community and open up chances to deliver content and applications across platforms.

Will other MSOs join the Flash fun?
Comcast seems to have the lead among MSOs when it comes to working with Flash on set-tops. "Outside of Comcast we have not seen a lot of activity," says another source who works for a vendor in the tru2way ecosystem.

Still, adding Flash to the cable set-top environment isn't a completely new idea. Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) runs a version of its Mystro Digital Navigator (an IPG) on the Bluestreak Technology Inc. Flash engine in some pre-tru2way boxes, but the status of that activity is unclear. TWC and Bluestreak officials could not be reached for official comment, but a source familiar with the MSO's strategy says Time Warner Cable remains interested in using Flash as a set-top box presentation layer.

One source likened MSOs' Flash work to a "good science project," noting that there are big question marks about how cable can integrate and test the technology in the set-top.

"None of this was considered in the original OCAP specs," he says referring to the OpenCable Application Platform, the middleware component of tru2way.

So is CableLabs mulling a Flash extension for tru2way? At press time, the organization hadn't returned a request for comment. But the pieces evidently are there for Flash and tru2way to live together harmoniously.

Kotay says a "well behaved application" ECR (engineering change request) allows for third-party presentations to integrate with the tru2way middleware.

"I don't think we'll see Flash as part of tru2way officially" he says. "But this isn't in any way a replacement for tru2way. In fact, this [Flash strategy] is enabled by tru2way."

Others say Flash will be even more attractive to cable if it can be integrated with MSO video-on-demand, digital video recorders, and conditional access systems, rather than used as a simple extension.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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