Las Vegas — Maybe this is finally the year the Open Cable Application Platform (OCAP) drives out of the garage. Comcast, for one, said it's going to hit the gas on the long-overdue interactive-TV standard.
“My biggest goal for this year is to get OCAP working,” said Mark Hess, senior vice president of video-product development.
One of the way stations on the long journey: Comcast's work with TiVo. Last week, the two demonstrated their jointly developed digital-video recorder application at the Consumer Electronics Show. While there are still bugs to work out in the DVR service — which has already been pushed back at least a year from the original plans — both companies see the work they've done as paving the way to get future OCAP-based applications to market quicker.
Comcast's TiVo service initially will run on Motorola's 3400- and 6400-series set-tops. The code is written to the Java-based middleware created by TVWorks, a company backed by Comcast and Cox Communications. Called TV Navigator, the software provides a subset of OCAP's application programming interfaces and is intended to be a precursor to set-tops that support the full CableLabs spec.
“Unlike other TiVo products, this works on industry-standard set-tops,” said Jeff Klugman, general manager of TiVo's service-provider division.
TIVO ON SA BOXES
Hess said writing set-top applications to the OCAP-like TV Navigator will make it easier to take them to other boxes. “We want to get [TiVo] on all our [set-top] platforms,” Hess said.
For example, TiVo's finished application for Motorola should, in theory, be much easier to port to Scientific Atlanta, which is also working to get TV Navigator running on its set-tops, according to Ken Morse, SA's vice president of client architecture for subscriber networks. But Hess added there are always kinks to iron out because individual vendor's implementations inevitably vary.
Comcast's TiVo-on-Motorola application, currently being tested in Denver, is slated to go into initial market trials this spring. Comcast hasn't disclosed how it will price the TiVo service. Klugman wouldn't discuss financial details the Comcast deal but said TiVo will receive recurring revenue.
On a parallel track, Comcast is gearing up to roll out the i-Guide interactive program guide from Guideworks, a venture owned by Comcast and Gemstar-TV Guide International, to both Motorola and SA boxes.
Last week, Comcast announced a renewed, multiyear pact with Motorola to buy digital set-tops. As part of that, Hess said, Comcast and Motorola will accelerate their OCAP work. “The next big thing for us is to port i-Guide and our services to their OCAP stack,” he said.
There are signs, though, that many OCAP projects remain at least a year away.
Comcast last week said it will begin testing an OCAP-based TV from Panasonic in 2007, with commercial availability of those sets in early 2008. News of the trials came exactly one year after Comcast and Panasonic initially announced a partnership.
The first version of OCAP was produced by CableLabs in 2001. Since then, cable has watched as IPTV providers come to market with new interactive services akin to what OCAP is supposed to provide.
Why the holdup?
“It's a little bit of the nature of the beast when you're dealing with multiple companies and industry standards,” Hess said.
Consumer-electronics vendors and operators continue to take little steps forward. In other OCAP news last week, Samsung Electronics and Cox Communications announced an agreement to “accelerate” their OCAP development work. They're testing Samsung OCAP-compliant HDTVs in Cox's Gainesville, Fla., division.
Also, LG Electronics said its 42-inch 42PC1DN plasma HDTV has been certified by CableLabs as an OCAP-enabled set.
Meanwhile, Comcast is launching a cobranded TiVo DVR service even as it gets ready to put i-Guide — which has its own DVR functions — into action. “TiVo has a fairly loyal following, and it makes sense for us to give customers some choice,” Hess said.
Motorola's newest set-tops include enhanced multiroom capabilities, branded Follow Me TV, such as pushing a DVR recording or photos to another set in a home. Comcast senior director of corporate communications Jenni Moyer said the operator has not committed to a rollout date for Follow Me.