Big (Cable) Tech Trends for 2012

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And here we are again at the last issue of the year. This week, we’ll go more “things in motion stay in motion” than “history is a great teacher,” with a forecast of five big tech trends for ‘12. Here goes:

1. HTML5. This one skips into the shop-talk scene every day, it seems. Remember the big fight between Apple and Adobe about which was better, HTML5 or Flash? Steve Jobs won. What HTML5 means for cable: A way to render subscription video on all those Internet-protocol-connected screens, without the need for customers to do anything (like download a player). It’ll focus the 2012 scene around efforts like remote user interfaces (RUIs), companion-screen viewing, and putting clickable, MSO-branded icons on screens served by IP.

2. ACR. Automatic Content Recognition, Audio Content Recognition, po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe. If the hype about this one gets any more breathless than at the recent TV of Tomorrow conference in New York, we’re in for a doozy of a year. Why: ACR, in essence, is an out-of-band bypass technique. An app on a handheld (or built into the TV) listens to the stream, as it plays out, and correlates interactive stuff with it. That portends a dance of angst between program networks and service providers, in the familiar tune of “We Don’t Need You to Do This.”

3. IPv6. Short version: Everything connected to the Internet needs an address; the pool of addresses (IPv4) is running out. As in right now. There’s a remedy - IPv6 - but issues will abound, likely in a “death by 1,000 cuts” pattern. No huge calamities; lots of little aggravations. IPv6 isn’t backward-compatible with IPv4, for starters. This one affects all of us: consumers, retailers, manufacturers and service providers.

4. CDNs and “Federated” CDNs. Content delivery networks, or CDNs, exist to store and process video hierarchically for delivery to all of those IPconnected, video-capable screens we keep buying. They’re a mixture of national and fiber backbones, storage servers, and ways to slice and dice video files into right-sized chunks for the end screens that want them. Bigger operators, like Comcast, started years ago on their CDNs; smaller operators are talking about “federated” CDNs, useful to rent capabilities rather than having to buy glass and servers.

5. Clouds and Gateways. Gateways are in-home devices that work as both set-top boxes and cable modems. Lots of tuners for bonded IP channels (read: shelf space for IP traffic). Lots of ways to transcode incoming video into other formats. Bigger processors, more memory, more ways to interconnect all the stuff in your house.

But wait: Isn’t the cloud for handling transcoding and processing? Sit tight. Transitions, like the one we’re living in right now, usually can’t accommodate a flash-cut (to cloud, or to gateway). Both will exist, here in the fervor of the transition.

That’s the short list. Next time, what to expect at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. Until then, merry merry and Happy New Year to you!

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Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at translationplease.com or multichannel.com/blog.

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