Imedia Corp. wants to branch out to small and midsized
cable operators with a new, scaled-down version of its "CherryPicker" device for
customizing digital-channel lineups.
At next week's National Show, Imedia plans to formally
introduce the "CherryPicker 500" -- a digital-programming groomer priced at less
than one-half of the company's more sophisticated "CherryPicker 1000," which is
geared to major MSOs.
Imedia and competitor V-Bits Inc. both see the market for
their statistical-multiplexing technology potentially booming as digital video becomes
more widely deployed and as operators explore the most efficient ways to receive and
repackage digitally compressed programming.
Their devices enable operators such as those receiving
programming multiplexes from AT&T Broadband & Internet Services' Headend in the
Sky to essentially mix and match channels, instead of having to pass packages along
unchanged to digital subscribers. They also support the insertion of digital
advertisements into the video stream.
Having to receive an entire programming pod might be
problematic for some operators with bandwidth constraints, while others might want more
flexibility in creating their channel lineups, said Adam Tom, vice president of marketing
for San Francisco-based Imedia.
"We solve the issue by enabling operators to pick and
choose programming, instead of having to take an entire multiplex they may not want
because of bandwidth limitations or redundancy with analog programming they may already be
getting," he added.
While "virtually every major MSO" is testing the
CherryPicker 1000 setup, according to senior vice president of sales and marketing Stephen
King, the company created the 500 to address demand from smaller operators.
The 1000 -- which costs $38,700 in its basic configuration
-- consists of a "Stream Router 1000" that can take up to 12 digital streams and
send the chosen stream to the "VBR Remux 1000" unit.
The entry-level 500, priced at $17,250, has only four
inputs and 12 outputs, versus 24 outputs for the 1000. The new configuration also offers
only static grooming of the operator's channel lineup, with digital feeds fixed at
specific times and places in the lineup, versus the dynamic grooming of the 1000.
Tom said some MSOs, which he would not name, had the
product in trial, but no sales had been made as of last month's Cable-Tec Expo. The 500
was scheduled to begin shipping June 15, and Imedia reseller General Instrument Corp. will
distribute it and cover it with its product-support organization.
Like Imedia, V-Bits sees a potential market among smaller
MSOs for its grooming product, although for now, it is focused on trials and beta-testing
with major operators.
V-Bits offers a solution it calls "RateMux,"
based on Texas Instruments Inc.'s programmable "6000 series" chip, which the
company said makes RateMux more cost-competitive than alternatives.Harmonic Inc.
incorporates the RateMux technology into its "TRANsend" line of digital-headend
equipment via its "Digital Rate Adapter 8100."
Harmonic product marketing manager Steve Toteda said the
DRA 8100 could be scaled to serve smaller MSOs with configuration changes in the software
because of its centralized digital-signal-processor-based architecture.
Larry Grunewald, vice president of marketing and sales for
two-year-old V-Bits, said the product's basis on more recent technology gave it a smaller
footprint than Imedia's solution, taking up a single four-rack box instead of three
"That's one of the advantages of being three years
later," he said. "Ours is based on DSPs, while they're based on a custom PC
[personal computer] platform with ASICs [application-specific integrated circuits], which
gives us more flexibility in features, plus cost advantages."
Toteda said list prices for the V-Bits-based products
varied by configuration, but they averaged about $3,000 to $3,500 per channel, or around
$36,000 for a fully configured version.
V-Bits also wants to become an integrated part of the
headend solutions offered by other vendors, rather than a separate device, which it
believes will bring its costs down further.
So far, most of the interest has come from major MSOs since
V-Bits unveiled RateMux at last year's Western Show.
One top-four MSO is currently conducting a full-scale trial
of the DRA 8100, a trial was imminent with another major U.S. operator and a beta-test was
slated to begin with a Canadian operator, Toteda said. The company has also demonstrated
the DRA 8100 to operators in China, he added.
Grunewald said original-equipment manufacturers and a
domestic maker of digital-subscriber-line equipment -- users of which also have the same
bandwidth issues at the headend as cable operators -- are also testing the product.
He added that interest in the product had helped V-Bits to
move close to completion on a major new round of venture financing, totaling about $7