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Video hardware

RGB Takes Aim at Imagine

RGB Networks Inc. has introduced a variable bit rate (VBR) system for video-on-demand services that promises similar bandwidth efficiency gains as a platform developed and marketed by another upstart technology company, Imagine Communications .

Making claims similar to Imagine's, RGB says its 1-rack unit-high Dynamic Bandwidth Manager (DBM) will enable cable operators to push 15 standard-definition (SD) MPEG-2 streams into a 6 MHz 256 QAM channel, an efficiency rate that's about 50 percent better than systems that use constant bit rate (CBR) techniques. RGB says the efficiency gain is similar with high-definition streams -- the DBM can scrunch three-to-four HD programs per channel using VBR, versus a typically two per channel using CBR. The company claims it can squeeze more programming into that space while maintaining the video's quality.

Improving efficiency for HD-VOD "is definitely a huge strength for cable," says Ramin Farassat, RGB's vice president of product marketing, referencing a product category being pushed to the hilt by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK).

Despite offering similar bandwidth efficiency gains to Imagine's, RGB claims to be different in a variety of respects.

One area of difference is in the architecture itself. The DBM handles the video processing and reassembling of the video all in one device, transrating up to 1,000 streams of video in "real-time." Imagine uses a more distributed approach, whereby a Quality On Demand (QOD) Gateway takes care of the heavy lifting by pre-processing the video before handing it off to a network edge device, called the QOD Gateway, where the video is reassembled and multiplexed before being sent to customer homes.

Imagine uses that approach to keep latency to an absolute minimum while also encrypting streams as they weave their way through the device. Farassat says the real-time capabilities of the DBM enables all of the work to be done in one box, and with only "milliseconds of latency." A standard statistical multiplexer can take two to three seconds just to get the streams out of the device. Such a delay will also slow down VOD "trick-play" (fast-forward, rewind, pause, etc.) functions, he adds.

Although Imagine has yet to announce any specific trials or deployments, it appears to be ahead of RGB in at least one respect -- integrations with VOD vendors. To date, Imagine has announced hook ups with SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) and Tandberg Television . (See Imagine Connects With SeaChange and Imagine, Tandberg Hook Up.)

RGB is already conducting tests with a range of VOD server, resource manager, and set-top box vendors, but it isn't ready to reveal them yet. As far as the on-demand end of the spectrum, that work is being done "with the top VOD vendors in the market," Farassat says.

He says RGB will release the new product commercially by the third quarter of 2007. So far, the company has three trial, including at least one in the field, with three "large" MSOs.

Aside from its competitive positioning with Imagine, RGB's new variable bit rate product offering could have some legal ramifications, as well. Just last week, BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) filed a suit alleging that Imagine, a company that employs several ex-BigBand execs, is infringing on three patents linked to advanced video processing and bandwidth efficiency. (See BigBand Throws the Book at Imagine.)

Farassat downplayed whether that will have any effect on RGB, noting that he has not reviewed the details of the BigBand lawsuit. The DBM "is an extension of the technology we've been selling," he says.

Considering the processing-related patents it already secured, RGB might be well insulated, anyway. Among them are U.S. Patent No. 7,046,677 (Method and apparatus for time-multiplexed processing of multiple digital video programs), and 6,996,129 (Advanced, adaptive video multiplexer system).

Other products in the RGB lineup include the Simulcast Edge Processor (SEP), a digital video grooming product dubbed the Broadcast Network Processor (BMP), and the Modular Media Converter (MMC), a box that handles ASI-to-Gigabit Ethernet conversions. All of RGB's products use the same 1-RU chassis design.

Thanks to the early success of the SEP and its broadening portfolio of "next-gen" video processing gear, RGB is viewed as a possible acquisition target.

In late April, RGB Chairman & CEO Jef Graham told Cable Digital News that the company is not for sale, and it could seek an initial public offering in spring 2008. (See RGB: Ripe for Aquisition? )

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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