ICTV Crafts a Mosaic of TV, Web

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Colorado Springs, Colo.— Just days after Time Warner Cable’s Oceanic Cable system in Honolulu offered subscribers four feeds of NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage on a single screen, software vendor ICTV Inc. demonstrated how it could allow cable operators to put six tiles of programming on one screen, at the winter CableLabs conference here.

Using the company’s Mosaic software, operators can give their customers the ability to view TV programs and Web site content on the same screen at the same time, said executive officer Jeff Miller, chief executive officer of the Los Gatos, Calif., company.

<p>Tech Spec</p><p>Video Server</p>

Company:

Broadbus Technologies Inc.

Product:

B-1 video server

What it does:

Stores and plays back video programs in digital formats

Streaming capacity:

From 240 to 19,200 MPEG-2 streams per server

Ingest capacity:

Up to 3.8 gigabits, or 1,000 channels, per server

Ports capacity:

Up to 80 gigabit Ethernet ports per server

Storage capacity:

From 2 to 180 terabytes

Price:

N/A

WEB CONTENT, TOO

The software can pull video signals from several sources and display them on a single screen. Those sources could include traditional television signals from a cable headend, video-on-demand content from headend servers and Web sites from the Internet, Miller said.

ICTV’s Mosaic also includes space for cable operators to sell advertising. The operator could sell a banner ad at the bottom of the screen, below the six tiles of programming, to Ford, for instance, Miller said. Viewers could click on the ad using their remote control and be switched to the automaker’s Web site (www.ford.com) to get more information, he said.

For regular television channels, the Mosaic software pulls MPEG-2 (Motion Picture Experts Group) signals from a cable system’s headend and displays them inside windows on the television screen. For video-on-demand content, Mosaic pulls the video from the system’s on-demand server. If a subscriber chooses an Internet page, ICTV’s HeadendWare — a software application installed at the cable operator’s headend — retrieves the Internet page from the chosen Web site and reformats the content into an MPEG-2 file for display on the television screens, Miller said.

ICTV also offers operators the ability to put a news crawl at the bottom of the Mosaic TV screen. That news crawl could come from a content provider’s Web site, such as a text news feed from the Associated Press.

“There is lots of interest from operators in Mosaic,” Miller said, who hopes the visibility from Oceanic Cable’s Winter Olympics experience will spur other operators to look at the multiscreen feature.

Programmers are increasingly interested in sending Internet content to viewers’ television sets via cable systems, said Ed Forman, vice president of strategic initiatives at ICTV. “We can reformat Internet content for television resolution,” he said, and provide a jitter-free, nonbuffering experience for subscribers, a feature that’s also included in Mosaic.

For instance, Forman said, cable operators could have offered subscribers the same interactive experience high speed data subscribers received with America Online’s coverage of the Live 8 poverty-fighting concerts last summer, using ICTV’s HeadendWare software. “They could choose videos, what camera angle they wanted using cable’s on-demand network,” Forman said. “Live 8 taught us that consumers like to have control over what they want to watch.”

Also at the CableLabs conference, Broadbus Technologies Inc. unveiled new capabilities for its line of video on demand servers. The company said its B-1 on demand servers now have the capability to ingest and store the live video from hundreds of cable channels.

That’s the core technology behind Time Warner Cable’s Start Over service, launched in Columbia, S.C. Start Over allows consumers to join a live television program, in progress, and restart it from the beginning.

Tom Kennedy, senior director of marketing for Boxborough, Mass.-based Broadbus, said each blade in the B-1 can take in content from 80 cable channels and prepare it for storage. If any operator wanted to ingest 240 channels, they would need three blades, he said. The B-1 server has the capability to house 10 blades, Kennedy said.

Operators would then configure their storage needs based on the agreements they make with programmers. To store one channel for one week would require 98 hours of storage. If 100 channels were stored for one week, it would require 9,800 hours of storage.

At the moment, no programmer has given any cable operator permission to store live TV content for any period of time. Time Warner has the rights for short-term storage, but only during the period that a program is airing live.

Kennedy said, “A lot of people are watching what happens with Time Warner on the business side.” The company has agreements with some, but not all programmers, for its Start Over service. Time Warner said it plans to expand its Start Over service to more markets this year.

INEXPENSIVE ENCODING

Atlanta-based EGT Inc. also debuted a new headend encoder, which costs less than $5,000, for use in moving local cable channels from an analog format to digital delivery. A prime example, said Chris Gordon, director of product management at EGT, is an apartment or condominium complex that may have one channel on its cable system dedicated to the complex for, say, a security camera.

As operators convert the analog portions of cable systems at those apartment complexes to digital, those analog channels operated by the apartment complex also need to be converted to digital, Gordon said.

The EGT’s new encoder will provide better pictures, said Greg Nicholson, EGT’s CEO.

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