DTAs Learn A New Language: IP

New Breed Of Hybrid DTAs Offers Future-Proofing, Conduit For IP Video 2/19/2014 8:49 AM Eastern

Tampa – NCTC Winter Educational Conference – An initial batch of IP-capable Digital Transport Adapters emerged here this week as the cable industry begins to pursue a new class of hybrid devices that provide some important future-proofing alongside a conduit to the broadband world.

These are early days, but hybrid DTAs are poised to follow traditional QAM-only standard-definition and HD DTAs that have played a critical role in cable’s all-digital upgrades. Comcast alone has deployed more than 25 million of them. That has sped up cable’s ability to reclaim valuable analog spectrum, but the reliance on DTAs saturate the market with gobs of QAM devices, threatening to prolong IP video transitions.

Here at the show at least two suppliers – Evolution Digital and U.K.-based supplier Pace -- showed or demonstrated hybrid DTAs, which use QAM for traditional broadcast video services, including basic, expanded basic and even premium services, alongside an IP component that supports an HTML5 browser and a pipe for online content and apps.

Evolution had a live demo running TiVo’s user interface and cloud-based recommendation and search capabilities (see image at left). Even without a CableCARD, the box “offers the full TiVo experience,” including a “universal search” function that’s technically capable of cross-indexing broadband content as well as apps like Netflix,  Amazon Instant Video and even the Comcast-owned Streampix service, Brent Smith, Evolution’s president, explained.

Evolution’s demo featured the TiVo platform running as a native app on middleware from partner Cubiware. That means it doesn’t require TiVo’s full-on Hardware Porting Kit and can instead run on DTAs and other devices that rely on less horsepower.

Smith said Evolution expects its IP-DTA platform, which uses Broadcom chips, to be ready for U.S. trials later this year, noting that any operator that has upgraded systems to support DTA security are in position to support the new hybrid device. Evolution has sold DTAs to more than 50 U.S. cable operators. Some international MSOs have already begun to deploy Evolution's hybrid DTAs, Smith said.

On the topic of U.S. cable distribution, a lingering question is whether hybrid DTAs will require a special waiver from the FCC. The Commission has already granted a blanket waiver that allows MSOs to deploy QAM-only SD and HD DTAs with integrated security.

Smith said Evolution and operator partners are currently seeking clarification from the FCC on whether hybrid DTAs would also be covered by the existing waiver.

And Smith acknowledged that integrating apps like Netflix on MSO-leased DTAs are subject to separate business agreements between the operators and the content owners. “We’re the enabling tool. But our hardware can support it,” he said.

Pace didn’t have a live demo, but did show an early hybrid DTA that is “in development,” a Pace official said.

Integrated IP is just one of the ways suppliers and operators are looking to add mileage to the DTA platform. Denver-based aioTV also demonstrated an Android-powered “PassBox” that, when tethered via an HDMI cable, can offer a mix of OTT content alongside the operator’s linear TV feeds.


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