‘Headless Gateway' Joins Conversation

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Surprise! The “gateway” wheelhouse continues to plow odd, new jargon into the video scene. Case in point, and the subject of this week’s translation: The “headless” gateway.

First, the obvious: This one has no horseman, and electronics don’t bleed.

So, marketers, not to worry: This is engine-room banter. It won’t need messaging; it has no Ichabod Crane. But, like everything else, it’s good to be hip to the lingo.

“Gateway,” in a general sense, is any device in a network that lets data in and out. That’s why the term has such a dense root structure: Gateways exist in just about every industry that involves networks. Data gateways, application gateways, home gateways, demarcation gateways - each with a different purpose.

Gateway, in this specific sense, is what we recognize now as the set-top box. It’s the thing in the house that’s connected to the cable that hauls in the video.

A “gateway,” in the developing world of IP video, flip-flops the cable modem to the center of the action. It’s a cable modem tricked out to do what set-tops do. (Kind of.)

To confuse matters further, there exists such a thing as a “headed gateway,” too.

What does a headed gateway have, then, that a headless gateway doesn’t?

Answer: Middleware, and, in some cases, a video output connector. “Middleware,” in this sense, meaning the OpenCable Applications Platform, or OCAP, layer.

Picture a multi-room DVR box for linear and on-demand video. Inside is a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem, set up for eight bonded channels — plenty enough to simulcast the entire video lineup, in IP.

It has Wi-Fi, to spray a nice fat broadband connection around the house.

It has “MoCA,” for putting bits onto the coaxial wires connecting the rooms of the house, and it has “DLNA,” so that video displays can attach and state their needs (”I’m a laptop,” “I’m a smartphone,” etc.)

It doesn’t have OCAP, and perhaps not even a video output plug — which means it needn’t be anywhere near the TV, really, to do its job. Plunk it next to the wireless router (ours is in the garage, for instance), call it good. That’s the headless gateway.

What, you say? Where does one point the remote control, to change channels, or access the navigational screens? Hello, Wi-Fi.

You can’t really blame the engineers for this one. “Headless,” as a technical term, dates back to Unix workstations, and is used regularly in Java circles. Consider this definition, from the European DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) group: “Headless device: One which cannot support a display and some kind of input device.”

Also from a definition of a current Microsoft Home Server: “Headless operation (means) no monitor or keyboard is required to manage the device.”

Headless gateways, although (thankfully) not marketed as such, were a big deal at last month’s Cable Show. If schedules track, they’ll be in homes within the next year or so.

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