Translation Please

A New Path to Moving Faster: Comcast’s ‘RDK’

3/26/2012 8:07 AM

On the scale of winces, the query that redlines to instant grimace for cable engineers is this: Why does it take so long to get new TV services to market?

Lots of reasons, but this week’s translation will hone in on the silicon part of the equation. Right now, after an MSO asks for new features at the silicon level, they wait for samples. After that, they wait, for those chips to be built into boxes. Then, they wait as those boxes get loaded with developmental code.

Then, the waiting ensues for middleware stacks, followed by more waiting for the new service - whatever it is - to be written or modified to run.

It’s a lot of waiting. From start to finish, the process can take as long as two years. And that’s if everything goes well. “Too long, too long,” everyone mutters - technologists included.

That’s why Comcast is taking a different approach, quietly launching what it calls “RDK” - for “Reference Development Kit” - so that systemon- a-chip (SOC) providers (think Broadcom, Intel, and their ilk) can spin “cable-ready” silicon.

The intent is to shave as much as a year off the time it takes to launch a new set-top or gateway. How? By starting the work of porting before the chip samples even come back from the factory, then quickly preparing a reference platform box, then moving to development. Weeks, not months.

Broadcom described its plans to support the RDK in a January announcement: “The Comcast RDK is a pre-integrated software bundle that powers Tru2way, IP or hybrid set-top boxes … developers using Comcast’s RDK can create rich, multiscreen TV home experiences.”

It’s happening now. The RDK will be aboard Broadcom’s BCM7425 chip; it is already on board the Intel “Groveland” chips being used in the MSO’s “Parker” boxes, rolling out in Augusta, Ga.

What’s in the RDK? Lots of stuff. The short list: A CableLabs “Reference Implementation” (RI) for OCAP and Tru2way, Java Virtual Machine (JVM), video proxy, Gstreamer (a video pipeline framework), QT/webkit (a windowing and browser framework), and support for optional items like Adobe Flash, Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming HD and DTCP (Digital Transmission Content Protection).

In software-speak, the RDK is not unlike a Linux “distro” (distribution) - a bundle of source code, drivers, and objects piled into an SOC to help manufacturers (and operators) get to market more quickly.

The RDK follows a “community source” model, which means anyone who licenses the RDK is obligated to feed any improvements or bug fixes to all other licensees. (Yes, this is a cable first.)

How much? It’s royalty-free to chip and hardware manufacturers, as well as other service providers that may want to use it.

Watch for RDK and its lingo - SOC, distro, all of the tech-talk components - to become a much bigger deal later this year.
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Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at translationplease.com or multichannel.com/blog.