Thursday, July 31, 2014

Smart Pipe

We hear about cord cutting a lot, but the future holds a very different picture. While cable providers have primarily been about TV content delivery in the past, the critical aspect of TV delivery is the actual pipe they own that provides the service. We like to call this the smart pipe, and the cable operators are busy stepping into delivery of the "internet of things" services adding a lot of new value to their offerings. Home security and automation can all be tied together with this pipe which might include a special gateway for data storage and management. Wireless service in the house will all originate through this pipe, whether it's delivering cable content or other content services. The infrastructure that the cable company provides becomes a key part of every household, whether they watch much TV or not. Lucky for the cable providers, the numbers say we are watching even more video these days! (Notice I said video and not TV...on any device video is provided by a 'pipe'.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Could this be the End for CableCARD?

It’s not often that cable operators have disliked an initiative as much as they have CableCARD. Fortunately, several years after the FCC banned cable companies from including integrated security in consumer set-top boxes, the unbelievably long reign of CableCARD is likely coming to an end, pending Senate approval in September.

Late Tuesday, the House passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act of 2014, which aims to give satellite operators the power to import distant network signals when local affiliate stations aren't available and, some would argue most importantly, eliminates the requirement that cable operators separate security from set-tops in the form of a CableCARD.

Without facing the limitations brought on by CableCARD, cable operators will be able to drastically cut down on hardware costs and more fully support downloadable conditional access techniques. The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act of 2014 will also level the playful field between cable operators and satellite and telecom TV providers by removing burdens that only apply to operators.

It’s no secret how many within the cable industry feel about CableCARD and the House’s recent vote demonstrates its recognition that it is time for change. Though the House’s vote is a step in the right direction, the battle to end CableCARD isn’t quite over. The bill still needs Senate consideration and approval to become law and allow CableCARD to finally be put to pasture.

Check out the full story on the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act here from Light Reading.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Responsive Web Design

In the early days of the internet and websites when there was no such thing as broadband (or at least for the many), it was really important to focus on optimizing HTML. But as the internet pipes got bigger, optimization initiatives seemed to fall down in priority.

I see a direct parallel to computer processors and software programs. When memory and processing speed was at a minimum, software developers spent a lot of their time optimizing and minimizing their code.  As memory has become cheaper and processors faster, it seems as though programmers have mostly left this practice behind. It's pretty amazing that we now expect to have Gigabytes of highspeed Ram, and Terabyte drives laying around piling up with applications, videos and more. When we run out of storage and memory, we buy more, no need to keep our code neat and compact, or compress our files.

But things are really piling up out there. Video is a one of the biggest storage hogs, with 3D video and 4K requiring even more (although H.265 is helping out), that means even more storage and bandwidth requirements. And now we have to deliver to a huge variety of devices. But I digress...

The cable industry is hedging it's bets on HTML5 as the ubiquitous solution to next generation UI solutions. At least for now, most have gotten over the 'write once run everywhere' dream of HTML5, but many still think it will be the best choice for targeting multiple devices. This brings me back to the core principle; set-top-boxes and other consumer devices do not have unlimited memory. Entertainment is relying more heavily on wifi to delivery streaming content. The Internet of Things wants every device to talk with each other. So while bandwidth is getting better and memory cheaper, there is a population explosion of 'stuff' expecting to share the highway. And to the point, I am starting to see optimization seminars popping up again. Responsive Website Design is an important practice to deliver HTML5 to multiple devices. It's easy for anyone to write HTML5, but how about code that targets TVs, STBs, Tablets, and cellphones that have to constantly update metadata from myriad sources, and meet consumer expectations for quick interactivity and perfect video playback. Embedded HTML5 UIs can be designed to ensure excellent user experiences, but the target platforms and server architecture for data and video access need to be considered up front to ensure success. So as we embark with piling on of all these new capabilities such as 4K, and smart homes with remote camera security and we have multiple screen targets, understanding available methods for faster download and view are important to the overall design goals. I recently listened in on a presentation from Akamai by Guy Podjamy:
 Making Responsive Websites Fast that discussed some good ideas for improving performance. This kind of forethought when developing UIs for television is critical for achieving a successful outcome on all your device targets.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Alticast at 2014 RDK Tech Summit

Written by Mark Johnson, RDK Product Manager, Alticast

Alticast was invited to speak at the RDK Tech Summit in Atlanta GA this week. The training was geared towards developers implementing RDK solutions and was attended by operators and set-top box providers,  as well as system of a chip (SoC) and application developers from around the world.

Amir Nathoo, Principal Software Engineer at Alticast reviewed the RDK 2.0 RMF (RDK Media Framework) foundation and RMF Application components. He identified which components need to be customized to address different operator use cases, business rules and back office systems.
Mark Johnson RDK Product Manager discussed collaborative development tools and approaches.  He discussed how these tools are being used to help operators increase visibility, reduce duplicated effort and increase speed to market, while keeping current with the latest RDK releases.
The event was well attended and it was exciting to see the level of interest in RDK from numerous operators and diverse vendor community.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Forget Unplugging the Coffeemaker; STB Power Consumption is Under Fire

According to Bloomberg, there are 224 million cable TV set-top boxes (STBs) currently deployed in the U.S. Many of these are constantly humming and over 47 million STBs are filled with outdated CableCARD technology that’s anything but “green.” In fact, a recent FierceCable story stated that cable boxes are the second biggest energy suckers in homes. Not only is this damaging to the environment, but it’s also costing consumers more in energy costs.

However, as living room staples, STBs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Experts predict that the number of cable boxes will grow 29 percent by 2040 in the U.S. alone, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and more STBs mean increased energy consumption.
So what do we do about it?

There are several ways to reduce STB power consumption. In fact, in late 2012 15 industry-leading multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and equipment manufacturers took a voluntary approach and launched a multi-step initiative that aimed to save $1.5 billion in annual residential electricity costs and reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of four power plants each year. The initiative included tactics like only producing STBs that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR 3.0 (ESv3) efficiency levels and utilizing new technology to enable STBs to run at a reduced power level when they aren’t in use.

The agreement, which is detailed in this National Cable and Telecommunications Association report, also pledges that participants will support ongoing research to solve the problem of high STB energy consumption. Participating companies developed a dedicated Energy Lab to continue research and also committed to regular industry meetings on the subject.
Another simple change we can make immediately to reduce STB energy consumption beyond the strategies already in place is to remove an outdated, but still required, piece of technology inside STBs called CableCARD.

This strategy to remove the outdated CableCARD component is guaranteed to reduce the impact STBs have on the environment as it doesn’t rely on consumer behavior whatsoever. CableCARDs, which are comprised of PCMCIA cards loaded with conditional access (CA) software, were created as a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 1996 mandate for separating security from the set-top itself. Since it was implemented almost two decades ago, CableCARD technology has remained completely unchanged despite the fact that the cable industry is virtually unrecognizable. Removing CableCARD from STBs will have numerous benefits; decreasing energy consumption is just one of them.

While it’s important to note that there isn’t a “one size fits all solution” that will completely solve the STB energy consumption issue, there are many actionable steps that can be taken throughout the industry to contribute to a more energy efficient process.
STBs are critical components in most of our TV viewing lives, so it’s important that we do what we can to reduce their “environmental footprint” as much as possible.

Check out the FierceCable article on STB energy consumption here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

John Carlucci is Spotlighted Among Fellow Expert CTOs

Alticast’s own John Carlucci joined CED Magazine’s annual CTO roundtable along with fellow vendor CTOs from Cisco, Ericsson, ActiveVideo and Imagine Communications. The detailed article covers a wealth of topics and showcases the expertise of the interviewees. Be sure to check out the full article on CED Magazine, but in the meantime we’ve highlighted some of the key takeaways below.

  1. The cloud – Cloud services are taking over, and rightly so. The cloud enables services that are incredibly scalable and increasingly virtualized, which both greatly reduce operational costs for most MSOs. Cloud services and virtualization not only allow for the elastic use of resources and lead to endless flexibility in the industry, but are also key driving forces behind two of the current hottest trends: miniaturization and mobile.
  2.      .     RDK – The Industry’s major players are all utilizing the Reference Design Kit (RDK), a pre-integrated software bundle developed and licensed to create a common framework for powering IP or hybrid set-top boxes and gateway devices.  CE manufacturers, system-on-a-chip (SoC) vendors, software developers and system integrators have joined MSOs on the RDK bandwagon. RDK brings a standard approach, rather than a proprietary one, which is crucial to increasing the speed of innovation and keeping up as consumer trends continuously evolve.
    3.     Internet of Things – As with other industries, the potential impact that the Internet of Things could have on the cable industry is huge. Also not unlike other industries, it’s not exactly clear what role it will play, or what issues might accompany it. As operator capacity issues go, most of the CTOs interviewed agreed that decreasing cell size will help to increase bandwidth, should capacity issues become a problem in the future as continually connected devices receive more content that ever before.

Check out the full CED interview, which delves deeper into these topics and much more, here.