Video hardware

Sun Still Has an IPTV 'DreaM'

Sun Microsystems Inc. says its whipping up an IPTV distribution system that will provide carriers with an open standards alternative to the market-leading Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Microsoft TV Edition platform. (See Sun Shines on IPTV.) Sun will leverage its popular Java application language to build many of the components in its IPTV system. Because the end-to-end system is built on Java-based open standards, Sun says, it will play nicely with video applications made by other companies.

Microsoft TV, by contrast, is a tightly integrated, all-Microsoft platform. All aspects of the video delivery process -- from encoding to content management to the digital rights management (DRM) -- are managed by one continuous software system. (See IPTV: Microsoft's Window to Carriers.)

The director of Sun's telecom and media business unit, Andy Sheldon, contends some carriers are already feeling a bit hemmed-in by Microsoft's approach. “Let's say going forward that you didn’t like the Microsoft PVR, that you wanted the Tivo PVR instead, you couldn’t go and build that into the Microsoft stack, because they’ve integrated it totally,” Sheldon says.

Microsoft says its tightly integrated, "one-throat-to-choke" approach is simply a reflection of market demand.

"It’s exactly this end-to-end integration and superior consumer experience that sets IPTV Edition above the rest and why the world’s leading telecom providers have chosen Microsoft TV as their IPTV software platform of choice,” says Microsoft TV spokesman Jim Brady in an email to Light Reading.

"IPTV Edition is more open than many competitive digital TV solutions in the market today, which is a key reason Microsoft TV has IPTV agreements with 13 of the leading telecommunications service providers around the world," Brady writes.

Several industry sources say replacing one part of the Microsoft TV software platform with a non-Microsoft application is a difficult and costly affair.

By contrast, Sun is relying on several partner companies to complete the end-to-end functionality of its video distribution system. “We’ve got multiple irons in the fire here,” Sheldon says.

To start with, Sun’s middleware platform comes from the small Swiss company Osmosys SA . Osmosys, which is a subsidiary of Advanced Digital Broadcast Holdings SA (Swiss: ADBN), built its middleware product using the Multimedia Home Protocol (MHP) standard, which is Java-based.

Sun is partnering with Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) for encoders; with Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) for set-top boxes; with Imake Software & Services Inc. for content management and conditional access; and with Digisoft.tv for Java-based, consumer-facing video applications.

For DRM, Sun is building its own open source product called "DReaM," Sheldon says. Sheldon says DReaM will allow content owners to set their own usage rules for their content.

Sun’s IPTV distribution system centers around a video server called Streamstar. (See Cisco Big Bolts for Startup and Sun Deals for Handy Andy.) Sun says the new server is powerful enough to stream video to thousands of subscribers at once, a feat that it says is proving challenging for some telcos now deploying mass market video networks. (See SBC, Microsoft Defend Lightspeed.)

Sun would provide no details of the Asian, European, and U.S. carrier trials in which Streamstar is now being tested. Sheldon says the Streamstar server will be generally available by the end of 2006.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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