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Who Makes What: IPTV Set-Top Boxes

Table 1 lists vendors of complete IPTV STBs and gives some sample products.

Table 1: IPTV Set-Top Box Vendors
Vendor IPTV STB products include
Advanced Digital Broadcast ADB-3800W, ADB-5810TWX
Amino Communications AmiNET530 Series, Mood 400 Series
Cisco IPN603MCG IPTV Series Multi-Stream DVR Gateway
Comtrend CT-7005 HD IP Set Top Box, CT-7010 IPTV Set-top Box
Dream Digital Technology IP Box
Entone Technologies Amulet IP Receiver, Amulet and Hydra IP Video Gateways
LG Electronics IP-STB
Motorola VIP 1216, VIP 1970
Netgem Netbox 7600
Ninelanes NOVE HD Series
Oki Electric Industry Next Generation Hybrid STB, High-End IP-STB
Pace Micro Technology IP850
Pirelli Broadband Solutions Hybrid IPTV/DTT Set-Top Box, Hybrid IPTV/DTT DVR Set-Top Box, DVR2xx-5N
Sagem T�l�communications IAD5116, ITAD 83-160 HD
Samsung Electronics SMT-6010E, SMT-H6100, SMT-7020S
Sentivision IPTV STB
SysMaster Tornado M50
Telsey Telecommunications Shark
Thomson DBI 2210, DBI 8500
Tranzas TRZ8300, TRZ8301H, TRX8205
UTStarcom MC1088
Wegener SMD-515
Yuxing Software PTV STB YX-6911B, Hybrid STB YX-5912U
ZyXel STB-1001
Source: Light Reading, 2009

Although no single product necessarily encompasses all, key capabilities and features of many modern IPTV STBs include:

  • Ability to offer remote configuration, monitoring, and software upgrades, which makes compliance with the TR-069 standard essential. Telcos need these capabilities if they are to ensure cost-effective quality of service and user experience of what is a complex technology, and to exploit the potential for service innovation and sophistication. Like the telco home gateway, the IPTV STB forms a crucial part of the future home network that telcos would like to access – and perhaps control. (See Who Makes What: Telco Home Gateways.)

  • Support for high-definition TV (HDTV). Even if a telco is currently offering only standard-definition TV (SDTV) – perhaps because of access-network bandwidth limitations – nobody now really wants to deploy an STB that isn’t HDTV capable. HDTV has quickly passed from being a value-added attraction that will draw in the subscribers to being a ho-hum, me-too essential. This report failed to find any vendors that don’t support HDTV in their product ranges.

  • Personal/digital video recorder (P/DVR). Many users want these capabilities, and integrating them into the STB spares non-technical users (the vast majority) from any problems with connecting separate recording CPE (customer premises equipment). Obviously, there are additional costs in providing this functionality (a hard disk and a larger box and power supply are needed, for instance), but those costs are falling and are not that large now. However, vendors continue to offer separate recorder and non-recorder products to meet tight product price bands.

  • Hybrid operation. This refers to the ability of the STB to handle TV signals delivered by other mechanisms, such as Digital Video Broadcasting–Terrestrial (DVB-T) or good old-fashioned cable analog RF. The point is to avoid reinventing the wheel and to allow the telco to offer subscribers access to existing alternative sources of TV programming without having to convert everything to IPTV, with the potentially important saving on IP bandwidths needed across the access network. This requirement tends to be very telco-specific, and hybrid operation is much more important in some markets than in others. In parts of Europe – the U.K., for example – hybrid operation with DVB-T is important because of the amount of DVB-T programming available and the lack of fiber access.

  • Trends
    IPTV STBs continue to evolve, and three particular broad trends are influencing product technology and design:

    • integration of usage monitoring
    • integration of over-the-top (OTT) Web-TV capabilities
    • integration into the home network and media system.
    Usage monitoring is essentially a matter for middleware and applications software but is becoming steadily more sophisticated as telcos and IPTV service providers become more and more interested in what users are watching, when they're watching it, and so on, in order to obtain information that can be used to drive additional revenue-generating capabilities such as targeted advertising. Similar approaches are already being mooted for 4G mobile networks as well as IPTV. (See Telco in Transition: The Move to 4G Mobility and IPTV in the USA.)

    Web TV is essentially IPTV delivered directly over the public Internet (hence over-the-top, or OTT), as Hulu LLC does, rather than over a managed IP network connection, as is standard telco IPTV. This is a slightly sticky issue for IPTV STB vendors, because it is possible to present it as a direct threat to the standard telco IPTV model, as complementary to it, as a massive opportunity, or as total doom to the very idea of an STB – IPTV or otherwise.

    Taking the last possibility first, Web HDTVs (HDTVs with integrated Web browsing) are already available – for example, Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC)’s Viera Cast PZ850 – and a slew of leading names were promoting the approach at the January 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Assuming that issues of public-Internet QoS can be addressed satisfactorily by, say, fiber access, an advanced TV capable of accessing direct vast quantities of OTT streaming Web TV and video downloads (if legally available) could be attractive to some users by its very minimalism and similarity with the familiar business of watching video clips on a PC.

    In this context it is worth pointing out that TV vendors are also looking at the possibilities of STB integration into the TV (which is itself becoming more of a multifunction media hub and display) as an obvious line of development as IPTV matures. An example is Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), which is pursuing a Set Back Box concept (for example, with its high-end P63Fn 63” HD plasma display), using plug-in modules to extend the capabilities and inputs of the display.

    And TVs might even go down the software route. Inuk Networks , for example, has developed a virtual IPTV STB called "igloo," designed to run on PCs and Macs and to provide features of a hardware STB. It offers this in conjunction with its Freewire TV service, and in September 2008 extended its middleware support to create a wholesale iTV product for other operators.

    However, the lifecycles and other dynamics of the TV, STB, and telco product markets are different. In particular, TV display technology tends to change much more slowly than STB technology and telco product requirements, so keeping them separate seems inevitable, at least for now.

    The consensus leans more to Web TV complementing standard telco IPTV and leading to a further opportunity by combining all the attractive features of the standard approach (controlled and guaranteed QoS and QoE, plus all the remote support and monitoring), coupled to all the interactive capabilities and huge content resources of the Web, and integrating everything onto a single home network and media system that would include all the home media, personal and public. This could ultimately lead to a single device that combines the roles of home gateway and network, STB, and media storage and processing.

    Although there is no consensus yet on how far such integration would, or could, go, there is a clear recognition that the networked multi-TV home is a reality, and STB vendors are increasing the networking capabilities of their products to support media distribution around the home.

    Recent STBs
    The following examples give a flavor of how the key capabilities and trends are affecting real products, all announced in 2008:

    • IPN603MCG IPTV Series Multi-Stream DVR Gateway, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)
      Features include: support for three independent channel streams to multiple televisions throughout the home; integrated DVR to record multiple video streams simultaneously with 160GB of standard storage; IP compatibility using 100BaseT Ethernet and IP-over-coax using HPNA 3.0 interfaces for IP video and data content; video codecs for standard- and high-definition content (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Part 10/H.264, and VC-1); recording of HD broadcast programming to analog VCRs, with automatic standard-definition conversion for VHS tape format; and digital interfaces with applicable copy protection standards including High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) with High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection (HDCP).

    • DVR2xx-5N High Definition IPTV Set-Top-Box, Pirelli Broadband Solutions
      This integrates 5GHz MIMO 802.11n technology into the company’s PVR-enabled DVR2xx IPTV STBs to create an in-home wireless HD video distribution network to serve multiple TVs, thereby providing a “self-install, no-new-wires solution for IPTV deployment in the home,” as the company put it at the product’s launch.

    • DBI8500 Set-Top Box, Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453)
      Described at launch by the vendor as “the most compact HD PVR on the market” (at 260x190x51mm), it offers MPEG-4 decoding and HD with an integrated hard disk recorder (fanfree for low-noise operation). There are options for a DVB-T tuner and decoder for both broadcast and IP reception.

    • STB-1001 IPTV Set-Top Box, ZyXEL Communications Corp.
      Features include: support for multiple video streams; compact design; digital rights management (DRM); MPEG-1/2/4 with H.264SD AV codec support; IGMP multicasting; SNMP; and TR-069.

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    DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:12:50 PM
    re: Who Makes What: IPTV Set-Top Boxes thanks Fierce:

    paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:12:49 PM
    re: Who Makes What: IPTV Set-Top Boxes Hi there,

    I think that under STB Software category it should be listed also Thomson's SmartVision middleware.

    [email protected] 12/5/2012 | 4:12:48 PM
    re: Who Makes What: IPTV Set-Top Boxes Paolo

    Thanks. I am collecting suggestions for additions and changes, and will process them.

    Tim Hills
    videoman 12/5/2012 | 4:12:48 PM
    re: Who Makes What: IPTV Set-Top Boxes I think you need to include Cisco's ISDP IPTV middleware solution as well.
    [email protected] 12/5/2012 | 4:12:40 PM
    re: Who Makes What: IPTV Set-Top Boxes Videoman

    Thanks. Will add to to-do list for the current Table revision.

    I wonder whether in future it might not be better to have a separate WMW on IPTV Software alone, as the focus of this one is supposed to be the box and some things specifically part of it, whereas IPTV middleware tends to be much more all-encompassing.

    Tim Hills
    Arrgghh 12/5/2012 | 4:12:27 PM
    re: Who Makes What: IPTV Set-Top Boxes Hello,

    Thank for the article, do you know a set top box that is able to subscribe to windows media server multicast streams (nsc or asx file) ?
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