Major consumer electronics vendor plans splashy Cable Show debut with set-tops galore

Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video

June 10, 2013

5 Min Read
LG Shows Off Its Cable Credentials

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Cable Show -- Consumer electronics giant LG Electronics plans to use its maiden appearance on the Cable Show exhibition floor to unveil a slew of new set-top boxes and smart TV applications and establish itself as a serious cable industry player. LG will launch a range of products here Monday, including IP set-tops, an MPEG-4 QAM set-top, TV dongles and an Ultra HD gateway server. In addition, the company will run several demonstrations that highlight the integration of LG smart TVs with cable-specific applications.LG's massive presence at this year's show -- including its designation as the show's "official smart TV partner" -- suggests just how much potential the hardware manufacturer sees in the cable industry. As pay-TV services and OTT video continue to converge, LG is looking at new opportunities to establish itself in the center of the consumer's connected home. Set-top boxes galore
LG has two new IP set-tops to talk about. One is designed for the cable industry's dreaded Google TV, but will provide MSOs the option to offer access to linear and VOD content alongside Google's Android applications. The thinking behind this is that cable operators can not only combine their services with OTT applications, but can also offer subscribers the ability to shuttle content between their smartphones and flat-screen TVs. The other IP set-top works with LG's own NetCast television operating system (which is likely to get a WebOS update next year), is DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compliant, and again can support OTT video along with operator-delivered linear and VOD content. The NetCast box and the Google TV set-top both support whole-home DVR, gaming, and "other cloud services."Kurt Hoppe, LG director of Smart TV Innovation and Business Development, points out that LG's approach in the MSO market -- particularly when it comes to the user interface (UI) -- is notably different from its strategy in the retail channel. Unlike LG's retail boxes, both new cable IP set-tops will let MSOs overlay their own UIs for a branded operator experience. "On the retail side, we're a service aggregator," says Hoppe. "Because … when a consumer buys a TV at Best Buy or Amazon, we don't know what the preferred services will be … [But] the service provider would want their user experience, for example, to be the default app, the default experience that comes on when you turn on your set-top box. And so we can configure the device to offer … the pay-TV operator's experience when you turn on from the beginning. We can manage that in software, and we can actually update it in the field."Beyond its new IP set-tops, LG is also announcing here a new Ultra HD box, two set-top dongles, and a "low-cost" MPEG4 cable set-top with downloadable conditional access. The Ultra HD gateway server promises sharp, shiny pictures in 4K-resolution. But with virtually no 4K TV programming available, its usefulness seems minimal right now. The dongles, on the other hand, provide a practical way to make dumb TVs smart, or at least smarter. The first dongle, also referred to as an Android Mini Box, is the more interesting of the two. It runs Android version 4.2.2. (aka Jelly Bean), and supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi for streaming OTT video to the TV screen. The second dongle is specifically designed for users of Miracast devices. At the show, LG will run a demo that streams HBO Go from a Miracast handset to a dongle-connected television set. Finally, on the set-top front, there's LG's MPEG-4 QAM box. This box seems like an outlier, given U.S. cable's limited MPEG-4 deployments, but perhaps it's meant for the more advanced Canadian market. Or maybe LG knows something that we don't. Software and services too
LG's new set-tops share marquee billing this week with software and services integrated into LG hardware. New at the show is a demonstration of Time Warner Cable Inc.'s Intelligent Home application for home monitoring and control on an LG smart TV. LG is also highlighting the catch-up TV service from Rogers Cable (without a set-top) that it first announced back in April. In January 2012, LG also started supporting a Verizon FiOS TV app that also does not require a set-top box. (See FiOS: Look, Ma, No Set-Top!)From a service perspective, LG may be opening itself up to new customer support headaches as it evolves its TVs into portals for advanced applications. But the company is aware of the potential pitfalls and is working with MSOs to smooth the path forward."That's a very big point of discussion we have with the operators," says Hoppe. "They do expect they will probably get the lion's share of phone calls … [But] we are able to support them if they receive a call. All of our devices on the set-top box side, and even on the smart TV side, the retail side, do have remote support capabilities … We can offer that full portfolio, that remote management service to the operator. And then on the set-top box side we also support their common WAN management protocol called TR-069."At the Cable Show, LG is also showing how it can play nice with middleware vendors. Nagra will demonstrate how its OpenTV 5 platform can be embedded on an LG set-top. And LG tells Light Reading Cable that Cisco Systems Inc. will be showing a reference design of its Unity platform running on an LG smart TV. For LG's finale, Hoppe says the company is planning to demo its smart TVs running full cable services -- including DVR and VoD features -- without a set-top attached. That will require a home video gateway, and Hoppe says LG will perform the feat using two different brands of gateways, at least one of which will come from a Tier 1 provider. It's a balancing act for LG. While the company is selling boxes to make TVs smarter, it's also aiming to prove that set-tops aren't always needed for cable TV viewing. — Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable

About the Author(s)

Mari Silbey

Senior Editor, Cable/Video

Mari Silbey is a senior editor covering broadband infrastructure, video delivery, smart cities and all things cable. Previously, she worked independently for nearly a decade, contributing to trade publications, authoring custom research reports and consulting for a variety of corporate and association clients. Among her storied (and sometimes dubious) achievements, Mari launched the corporate blog for Motorola's Home division way back in 2007, ran a content development program for Limelight Networks and did her best to entertain the video nerd masses as a long-time columnist for the media blog Zatz Not Funny. She is based in Washington, D.C.

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