Cable Operators

More Magic in the Boxes

3/27/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

On-screen telephony, OpenCable Application Protocol, multiroom digital video recorders, Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification signaling, home networking and all-digital configurations highlight the list of advanced set-top box applications cable operators will see in the booth’s of Motorola Inc., Scientific-Atlanta Inc., Pace Micro Technologies Americas and Digeo at this year’s National Show.

Set-top makers say operators are interested in further refinements to current product lines — with home networking, larger hard drives, and, of course, cost reductions wherever possible — as satellite and potential telco competition heats up.

Among the new developments:

  • Digeo will show a session initiation protocol-based application where voice-over-Internet protocol call information is displayed on the TV set.

  • S-A will showcase several new product concepts, including a set-top with a DVD player and an 80 Gb hard drive digital video recorder designed as a second set STB.

  • Motorola will feature its Ucentric home-networking capabilities and phone tie-ins as part of its corporate seamless-mobility campaign.

  • Pace will highlight its S-A family of compatible products, plus set-tops that are all-digital or DSG-capable.

Connectivity is an underlying theme for cable’s set-top makers. In addition to the new “concept” products, S-A will showcase its Explorer 8300 multiroom DVR set-top, according to Dave Davies, vice president of strategic planning and product marketing. “We’ve made some enhancements,” he says. “We have new advanced navigation, and we’re also extending the media center concept with enhanced capabilities with a product that begins to connect the home and lives of consumers with music and photos.

“On top of that, we’ll be showing some enhanced versions of our multiroom product, with distributed storage in the home and multiple DVRs,” Davies says. Nearly all the current S-A deployed set-tops — from the Explorer 2000, 2100, 3100, 32000 and 3250 on up — can serve as a second box and retrieve DVR content from an Explorer 8300, he says.

S-A also will show a set-top with DSG certification, built for cable’s next generation architecture. The DSG signaling means return path signaling goes back to the headend through the DOCSIS pipe.

Seamless mobility highlights Motorola’s pitches at the show, as consumer look to move PC content — like music or photos — to other devices around the house, including the TV through the set-top.

Bill Taylor, Motorola senior director of marketing, notes that the purchase of Ucentric is at the heart of the company’s cable home-networking demonstrations. “Consumers want to move a lot of things around the home-media architecture, distributing video from one set to another,” he says.

Motorola also will showcase its “triple play” products, he says, including a new system phone that has VoIP module and connects through a cordless handset in the house to VoIP network. Motorola will also show other SIP and PacketCable voice terminal products, including the Ojo VoIP video phone, which displays video at 30 frames per second. “What’s new is how we’re beginning to connect these things together,” he says.

On the set-top side, Taylor says business is growing for Motorola’s low-end DCT700 in Latin America and Canada. The set-top could figure in cable’s long-term all-digital plans, he says.

On the higher end, Taylor says he expects operators will continue to want larger hard drives in DVRs as the year progresses. And Motorola also will be showing its IP set-tops, the IP1000 and IP1200 (HD).

Meanwhile, Digeo says it’s shipping 5,000 units a week of its flagship 9012 single TV, two-tuner HDTV/DVR set-top, and expects to deploy close to 100,000 by the National Show, according to Greg Kleiman, senior director of product marketing.

The box has been shipped to 20 markets across four MSOs — Adelphia Communications Corp., Charter Communications Inc., BendBroadband and Sunflower Broadband. The latter two companies have also launched the 9022, the two-TV, multiroom Moxi Mate, Kleiman says. And Comcast Corp. is expected to launch the 9012 this spring.

Kleiman says Moxi will showcase new applications, such as music jukebox and photos, as well as the PowerKey-SA version of the box.

The telephony application is in its first release and will feature caller ID, call waiting ID, message waiting and call logging.

Digeo has added a SIP software application on the set-top that connects to the VoIP media gateway, so when a call comes in, it not only rings on the phone, it technically “rings” on the TV. But with no audio output on the TV, the “ring” is turned into characters that display caller information on the TV.

“We take the SIP software and register with their SIP server,” Kleiman says. “The server links up address with the account.”

Ensuing software releases will feature call direction, he says, allowing subscribers to send calls to voicemail, forward calls to another number, or review voicemails on the TV.

Operators will have to pay a fee for the SIP application, he says, but the feature will likely be packaged-in for the consumer. “It’s a feature the telcos and satellite guys can’t really do,” he says.

The application will be available for technical trials in the third quarter, he says, with rollouts scheduled for the fourth quarter.

Moxi’s MediaLink home-networking application allows subscribers to bring up the set-top on a home network as just another client, he says, either through a wireless or wireline connection.

Pace is coming to the National show with a full portfolio of products for the S-A platform, according to Bruce Gureck, Pace vice president of marketing and product management. “It’s the first time we’re really coming in with a full portfolio,” he says.

The company offers its 510 and 511 model set-tops plus its HD standalone box 550. Pace is working on the next generation 551 set-top, Gureck says, adding: “It’s got faster processing, more memory and 1395 firewire.”

To date, Pace has shipped more than 500,000 510s and 550s to its primary customers: Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Comcast and Videotron.

The S-A product line sits along side Pace’s 755 and 775 Motorola-based boxes. “It’s a common platform,” Gureck says, with Pace basically switching out chips and software stacks on a core set-top design.

The company’s “Chicago product” is a standard definition all digital box with a 300 MIPS processor. “We are seeing migration to all digital networks out there,” he says. “It has the same functionality as the 511 box,” he says, and is capable handling ITV apps, guides, VOD and a DOCSIS return path without an analog tuner. Gureck says the 775 and 501 set-tops will have DSG signaling.

March