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Video QAM's Long Swan Song

10/07/2011 4:34 PM

Cable video is going all IP.

Does that foretell the death of the venerable (and also hated) set-top box? Don’t write that obit yet.

You only have to look at what Comcast is doing with the Xbox, TV Everywhere, IPTV trials and the Slingbox-like “AnyPlay” device to get a sense of where the industry is headed (see Comcast To Test IPTV Service For PCs And Macs, Coming Soon To Xbox: Comcast VOD And A Few Live FiOS TV Channels and Comcast Is Not Going ‘Over the Top’ With IPTV Test).

And Time Warner Cable and Cablevision live TV services for iPads are also important signposts on the road to all-IP video, while Verizon FiOS TV is forging ahead on the IP front, too (see Time Warner Cable Tops 100 Channels On iPad App, Without Viacom, Cablevision, Viacom Resolve iPad App Spat and CES: Verizon Demos Full HD 3D To Panasonic Blu-ray Player).

But Ye Olde Set-Top Box and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) delivery of video are not going away anytime soon.

Comcast SVP of advanced business and technology development Mark Hess, who emceed the “iTV Idol” session at CTAM in New York Wednesday, said the operator will complete its conversion to all-digital (using those low-cost DTAs) by the end of 2012.

At that point, Comcast expects to have peaked in its deployment of QAM-based video devices, with north of 80 million in the field by the end of next year. That’s going to decline steadily, Hess indicated, but there will still be a huge number: 30 million QAM-based boxes by 2025.

Hess’s point? That there’s plenty of life ahead for cable’s interactive platform, EBIF (a.k.a. ExpandTV, the more consumer-friendly name cooked up by operators, Canoe, CTAM, CableLabs and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau) before cable TV goes fully IP.

“Launch more EBIF,” he told the session attendees. “It’s like the [Chick-fil-A ad campaign] with the cows, ‘Eat more chicken’… You have a decade or more to take advantage of this platform.”

Also note that before cable goes totally IPTV, they’ll deploy interim gateways in the home that have QAM tuners and transcoding capabilities to spray IP video throughout the home (see Leslie Ellis’s Translation Please column on gateways, plus Motorola Builds Video Gateway For Time Warner Cable, Charter Eyes ‘Hybrid’ Gateways and BendBroadband Takes Arris’s Gateway For Whole-Home IP Video).

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Programming Note! Don’t miss the Multichannel News breakfast panel discussion at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2011 in Atlanta, Video’s Next Act: Setting the Multiscreen Stage, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, right before the opening general session. Speakers include Time Warner Cable’s Matt Zelesko, Cox’s Steve Necessary and Suddenlink’s Gregg Grigaitis (more to be named). Click here for more info: www.multichannel.com/SCTE2011.

September