Coming off the gadget ride that is CES, it's tempting to look at the future of TV through rose-colored virtual reality glasses. VR makes video (even more) fun and will revolutionize everything from gaming to travel, to healthcare.
In the short term, however, there is far more to consider in the changing video industry than just applications like VR and even Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range (HDR) technologies. While consumers see the headlines about Oculus Rift and 4K TV, other radical transformations are taking place behind the scenes in video delivery and distribution.
In 2015, at least three major developments began unfolding that suggest where the industry is headed through the rest of this year and beyond. Several major infrastructure providers consolidated their capabilities around video processing and IP video streaming. Optimization of the home network became a priority thanks to increased streaming demand. And virtualization efforts accelerated in the form of cloud DVR deployments and growing interest in virtual CPE.
On the infrastructure front, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) unveiled a Live Linear Streaming service to complement the mpx video management system it offers through subsidiary thePlatform Inc. and its newly launched wholesale content delivery network product. Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), which dominates the public cloud computing market and is a go-to networking option for startups and big companies alike, acquired Elemental in an effort to "achieve its long-term vision for software-defined video delivery." (See IP Video Services Explode at IBC.)
Meanwhile, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) continued to build revenue through its Verizon Digital Media Services (VDMS) business that includes both adaptive streaming and CDN technologies. And a handful of other major players including Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) bulked up both their video delivery product portfolios and customer deployments.
With regard to home networking, Bulent Celebi, executive chairman and co-founder of AirTies , may have explained the attitude shift in 2015 best when he said, "Literally a year ago, I was trying to convince operators that there's a problem… and today everybody's saying yeah, it's a serious problem." (See Battle for the Home Network? It's On.)
Now that speeds to the home are increasing, in-home WiFi is the bottleneck slowing down many consumer video applications. Different companies are addressing the problem in different ways. Some like AirTies are promoting a combination multi-access-point-and-software solution to improve in-home reception and routing intelligence. Chip companies like Celeno Communications are adding their own optimization software to chipset solutions to support dynamic bandwidth provisioning. And even Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has entered the game with a high-powered retail router that includes a ring of 13 wireless antennas and bandwidth customization options. (See Google Debuts Smart WiFi Router OnHub.)
In 2016, consumers are the ones who will start benefiting from these WiFi upgrades.
Finally, there's the trend of virtualization. These are still early days for New IP activity in the cable world, but there are signs that operators are getting serious with their efforts. Comcast has virtualized many of its video services through the X1 platform and is now sharing that service architecture through licensing agreements with Cox Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. Cloud DVR adoption continues to grow, and the acquisition of set-top virtualization company ActiveVideo by Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Charter Communications Inc. shows growing interest in shifting the traditional functions of a TV set-top away from dedicated hardware in the home. (See Speed, Agility, Virtualization – Is This Cable?)
The R&D consortium CableLabs has also begun testing SDN and NFV. Both SDN and NFV are being explored primarily for cable business services today, but that work will filter down to residential video services in the future.
Behind the glitz of big TVs and VR gadgets that show up at events like CES, the video industry is hiding a much broader transformation in the way the networks that process and deliver video work. Innovation is everywhere, and even where it's harder to see, the pace of development continues to accelerate.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading