Network DVR Inches Ahead


Cablevision Systems may soon be
ready to go live with network-based digital
video recorder services — but other operators
are taking a longer view.

For many industry executives, the network
digital video recorder concept belongs
squarely under the umbrella of other Internetbased
video-delivery initiatives, including
TV Everywhere.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen in the last year
with network DVR is that people are looking
at doing video-over-IP and factoring that into
their planning,” said Joe Matarese, vice president
and general manager of Arris Group’s Media
and Communications Systems division.

The focus for many operators is on building
a central infrastructure for video ingest,
processing, transcoding, storage and delivery,
said Ken Morse, chief technology officer
for Cisco Systems’ Service Provider Video
Technology Group. In that context, network
DVR is an application that can run out
of the same pool of servers, storage and content-
delivery networks.

“The next generation of video-delivery
platforms is being totally built for on-demand,
and you’re optimizing your architecture
for unicast,” Morse said.

Added Materese, “Operators are saying,
‘We need to fi gure out what we’re doing on IP
video before we go too crazy down the network
DVR front.’ ”

The network DVR idea got a major boost
last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court
declined to hear an appeal of a lower-court
ruling that Cablevision’s proposed Remote
Storage-Digital Video Recorder was legal. The
New York-area cable operator had been sued
by TV programmers, movie studios and other
content owners that claimed the proposed
system would violate their copyrights.

This month, Cablevision plans to begin
rolling out the RS-DVR and is aiming to have
it available to all of its 2.9 million digital video
subscribers by the end of 2010.

One key benefit: Cablevision now can deliver
a DVR service to any subscriber with a digital
set-top, for a much lower per-box cost.

Other MSOs, however, appear disinclined
to pull the trigger just yet.

“We don’t expect a lot of movement this
year in terms of new deployments, but we do
expect to see lab experimentation and business
studies being conducted to evaluate network
DVR versus standard DVR,” said James
Brickmeier, Concurrent’s vice president and
general manager of video solutions.

The overall cost of implementing a network
DVR has come down in the last two
years, as storage prices have fallen and
platform densities have increased, to the
point where it’s a feasible option, according
to Brickmeier. Concurrent also has developed
mechanisms that provide 10 to 20
times the ingest rate of traditional ingest
engines using an “intelligent methodology
to support higher simultaneous ingest rate
for the same programming,” he said.

On the storage front, SeaChange International
is pushing the high-density Universal
MediaLibrary for network DVR applications.
The system provides up to 144 Terabytes of
raw storage in a five-rack-unit storage array,
packing in 72 hard disk drives.

“Having a lot of storage is absolutely a
requirement for network DVR,” said Lev
Vaitzblit, SeaChange’s vice president of engineering,
servers and storage.

But not everyone is convinced network
DVR applications are as cost-effective as traditional
digital video recorders.

Network DVR would produce a tremendous
increase of unicast video on a cable
system — with as much as a 40% concurrency
rate, or four times that of traditional VOD.
That could require an operator to undertake
widespread network upgrades, such as node
splits, said Arris senior director of intellectual
property engineering Carol Ansley.

New competition in the set-top market will
put “a lot of downward pressure” on customerpremises
equipment pricing, she added.

The viability of network DVR is “a complicated
question from an economic and network
sustainability viewpoint,” she said.

Another potential gotcha: TiVo may seek licensing
deals for its core DVR patents or take
network DVR practitioners to court. TiVo has
won a series of legal victories against Dish
Network and EchoStar on its “Time Warp”
patent and has gone after AT&T and Verizon
Communications in separate suits.

“It’s an open question whether [TiVo’s]
patents — and hence their request for patent-
licensing fees — would apply to network
DVRs,” Ansley said. “That’s another cloud
hanging over that whole area.”

Noted Cisco’s Morse: “It will take a long
time for this transition. You have a lot of local
DVRs that are still in use.”