Cable operators big and small are gradually migrating their video services to an all-Internet protocol world, but Petrichor Networks, a startup run by a group of industry engineering veterans, believes it has developed a platform that can accelerate this shift significantly without requiring MSOs to toss out millions of older set-tops.
Petrichor, a company run by executives hailing from companies such as Time Warner Cable and Arris (see sidebar), is taking aim at a major operational issue that all cable operators are grappling with: how to tend to and feed legacy digital video platforms while also pushing ahead with a separate, parallel IP video network that ships video to tablets, PCs, smartphones and a new class of TV-connected devices like Roku players, Apple TV boxes and integrated smart TVs.
Boulder, Colo.-based Petrichor aims to converge those silos with a hardware-agnostic, scalable software platform that enables a cable operator to unify its video platform so it can use a single source of video to serve all devices: IP-connected ones and older set-tops reliant on QAM/MPEG video.
ACCELERATING IP MOVE
“By bringing our software solution, we knock down those silos,” John Carlucci, Petrichor’s president and chief strategist, said. “Without having that artificial barrier there for the consumer, [video services] can more easily go between the big screen and the IP devices that they have available to them.”
That platform presents “an opportunity to accelerate the movement from where the operators are today into the IP space,” Petrichor CEO John Boland said.
Boland, who joined Petrichor full time last month, acknowledged that there are other vendors that are tackling this problem, but said Petrichor’s approach is more graceful, in part, because it requires no changes in CPE (consumer premises equipment).
The idea is to bridge the gap between the old and the new in a way that lets cable operators concentrate the bulk of their spending and other resources on the IP transition.
The core of Petrichor’s platform is called DROP (Dynamic Rate Optimization Processor), a real-time media processing software engine that can run on nonproprietary, off-the-shelf hardware. DROP is not a new codec, but uses a combination of algorithms that “enhance” existing codecs.
That system comprises the DROP Media Server and the DROP Set-Top Box.
The DROP Set-Top Box is designed to create a remote IP port that resides on the network. That, the company said, enables IP video delivery to legacy video devices by housing some key functions of the set-top box in the cloud. That works in tandem with the DROP Media Server, which is designed to support standard interfaces like HTTP Live Streaming and multiple codecs (MPEG-2, HEVC, etc.), and interoperate with traditional QAM and edge QAM technologies.
Carlucci said the platform requires no changes to the set-top client software or the device’s navigation system, because certain virtualized set-top box functions operate in the cloud “transparent to the existing software.”
The idea of virtualizing the set-top box might sound familiar, as it’s one of the tenets of ActiveVideo, the cloud video company that is now jointly owned by Arris and Charter Communications and supplying much of the technology that is underpinning Charter’s new Spectrum Guide.
While ActiveVideo and Petrichor appear to share some similar philosophies, ActiveVideo has been focused on bringing next-generation interfaces to non-IP set-tops. Petrichor, by comparison, appears to be more focused on unifying the operator’s overarching video architecture, enabling the provider to connect to any source of IP video and deliver it to any device on MSO’s network.
NEW REVENUE STREAMS?
While accelerating the move to IP video is job No. 1 for Petrichor, the company’s proposed architecture also “lends itself to some very attractive new revenue streams,” Boland said, citing such examples as targeted advertising and new forms of VOD products.
Boland said DROP’s architecture also provides bandwidth-efficiency improvements and can carve out 15% to 20% of additional capacity that can be redeployed for other services.
Petrichor, founded in 2016, is currently focused on lab trials with a couple of unnamed cable operators, and hopes to launch its platform commercially sometime this year. It has eight employees but is in hiring mode. It is currently self-funded but it is in discussions with potential “angel” investors as it moves ahead with a software release, the aforementioned trials and the ongoing development of its intellectual property.
What about the name? Petrichor is defined as the “pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.” Bill Helms, the company’s chief technologist, came up with it after “contemplating the nature of the cloud,” Carlucci said.
Petrichor’s leadership team is composed of a group of cable industry engineering veterans:
John Boland, CEO: Boland most recently was vice president of the media and communications solutions group at Arris, and is formerly of C-COR (acquired by Arris in 2007), and nCUBE Corp. (acquired by C-COR in 2004). He also hails from SkyConnect, an ad-insertion company acquired by nCUBE in 1999.
John Carlucci, President and Chief Strategist: Carlucci, previously president and CTO of Alticast U.S., is also late of Clearleap (now part of IBM), and was the chief network architect at Time Warner Cable, where he helped to pioneer the MSO’s MystroTV network DVR service. Carlucci was also involved in PolyCipher, a downloadable video security venture originally run by Comcast, Cox, and TWC.
Bill Helms, Chief Technologist: Helms most recently was vice president of subscriber networks at Time Warner Cable, and has held executive engineering roles at suppliers such as Scientific-Atlanta (now part of Cisco Systems) and DiviCom/Harmonic.
Mike Hayashi, Chairman: Hayashi is the long-time Time Warner Cable engineering executive and cable industry pioneer who most recently served as TWC’s executive vice president, architecture, development and engineering. He announced his retirement in the fall of 2014.