Not all IPTV set-tops are created equal.
Even though they have an IP connection, many older models that have been operating in the field for years don't have the internal memory and horsepower to natively support Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and other popular over-the-top video services.
Update:: Vewd clarified that Atom covers not just IPTV set-tops, but any IP-enabled box used by a range of service providers, including DSL operators, MSOs and satellite TV companies.
Vewd , the video software specialist once known as Opera TV, will try to help those legacy devices bridge that gap with Atom, an offering that pairs the company's cloud processing platform with a small software client that can fit and run inside those old boxes.
The general idea is to help pay-TV providers extend the life of those legacy devices and add value to their video services without having to undergo an expensive set-top box upgrade across the board.
Vewd is introducing Atom as it becomes clear that hardware swap-out plans are taking longer than anticipated, as a sizable subsection of subscribers simply resist device upgrade offers, even if newer boxes are being given away for free, Aneesh Rajaram, Vewd's CEO, explains.
To make OTT work on these older boxes, Vewd Atom architecture pairs the company's cloud infrastructure with a tiny software client. Vewd estimates that the Atom client, when combined with Vewd's Media Player Module, is less than one-tenth the size of the company's standard OTT stack that's already deployed on nearly 50 million devices such as smart TVs, Blu-ray players and TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO)
That combo enables those boxes to coexist with the cloud to render new, fancy user interfaces while still asking the set-top client software handle the necessary encryptions and adaptive bit rate standards required for those boxes to stream content directly from the OTT services. That separation of the UI from the actual video is akin to a "double stream approach," Rajaram said.
Vewd Atom borrows a bit from Opera Mini, a light client that was originally designed to run on feature phones. Vewd Atom uses a similar cloud/client architecture, but has a different end goal by enabling OTT to run on IPTV boxes with limited memory footprints, Rajaram said.
"The entry point is to make sure that service providers don't have to make heavy investments in devices to counter the OTT threat," he said. "That's just not sustainable."
Vewd, which introduced its new approach ahead of this year's IBC show in Amsterdam and as the company starts to focus more of its business on video service providers, has been holding talks with operators about Atom for the better part of this year, Rajaram said. (See Vewd aims to give pay-TV ops more command and control of Android TV boxes .)
Vewd's new Atom system, he added, is designed to work with a fragmented mix of legacy IPTV boxes that are powered by silicon from various suppliers, including Broadcom, STMicro and even chipsets originally made by Sigma Designs.
Rajaram said he expects Atom to gain the most traction in emerging markets, and particularly in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions.
"Within these regions, we're focused on countries and operators where there is sufficient broadband penetration as well as sufficient bandwidth" for reliable OTT streaming, he said. "There are some countries here where the characteristics just don't add up to stream OTT and we will not focus on those markets."
Vewd's interest in extending the life of older boxes might seem familiar, as the strategy appears to share some similarities to ActiveVideo, the cloud video specialist that's now jointly owned by Charter Communications Inc. and Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS). ActiveVideo's technology is key to Charter's plan to bring its new Spectrum guide to older QAM-only boxes as well as its newer IP-capable Worldbox devices. (See Arris, Charter Nab ActiveVideo for $135M.)
The angle with Atom is currently centered on IP-connected devices but not to virtualize all of the set-top box software. However, Rajaram said his company is exploring ideas and potential partnerships that could likewise extend OTT capabilities to non-IP boxes.
Vewd has not formally announced such plans, but "the technology we've built will allow us to do more than just target IP-connected legacy boxes," he said.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading