EchoStar Technologies wants to help midsize and independent operators get their mitts on some cool new video features -- without having to plunk down huge amounts of cash.
The vendor's new Aria system features an HD digital video recorder with a high-resolution interactive program guide, with a few twists including a video-on-demand service delivered over broadband (à la Netflix's streaming-to-the-TV capabilities).
The set-tops also will be "SlingLoaded," incorporating the Internet-video viewing technology developed by EchoStar's Sling Media, to provide a TV Everywhere component of the service.
The object: to let smaller cable systems better fight against DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon FiOS TV and AT&T's U-verse.
"It's a technology solution for mid-tier operators and independents that brings them all the cool features that the tier 1s are getting today that they can't get into their system for cost reasons or technology reasons," EchoStar Technologies vice president of sales and marketing Mike Hawkey said.
EchoStar plans to show off Aria at the 2011 Cable Show next week in Chicago, including the DVR set-top that is central to the service. And the name? The company is pitching Aria as "the new voice of cable operators."
According to Hawkey, Aria requires only a very small server in an operator's headend to handle data flow from the EchoStar-hosted services. That's as opposed to making an investment in an interactive TV infrastructure, VOD or program guide.
"We have a very limited impact on the headend," Hawkey said. "We're providing video through the traditional pipe, but the TV Everywhere, VOD and user interface is coming over the top."
Hawkey declined to provide pricing details, but said EchoStar will sell the set-tops in small quantities and charge a per-subscriber fee for delivering the guide and VOD services.
The Aria HD DVR will support both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, and incorporates the adaptive bit-rate video delivery technology from Move Networks, which EchoStar acquired earlier this year.
The user interface is based on the high-end ViP922 Sling-enabled DVR that EchoStar built for Dish. It's a hybrid of embedded guide and an HTML platform and can be "reskinned" to carry the brand of the cable TV operator.
"We're trying to give them the best of all worlds," EchoStar director of product management Alistair Chatwin said.
When Aria commercially launches -- set for this fall -- EchoStar hopes to provide about 12,000 transactional VOD titles through the service, including movies and TV shows. (The company declined to identify its white-label content suppliers.) EchoStar plans to add free, ad-supported VOD to Aria as well.
Because the Aria set-top includes Slingbox technology, EchoStar offers clients for Apple iOS, Google Android, BlackBerry and Windows mobile devices. The system also provides a remote DVR programming feature.
EchoStar has tried previously to hawk SlingLoaded boxes and adapters to cable operators but evidently has not had much success. The vendor said at least one "major mid-tier operator" is planning to test out Aria this summer. To date, more than 1 million retail Slingbox units have been purchased. Meanwhile, EchoStar has shipped some 85 million set-top boxes worldwide.
Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar officially split off from Dish Network in January 2008. Hawkey insisted there's no concern among small and midsize operators about its history as part of Dish. "The smaller ones just want a solution," he said. "It's not an issue for them."