San Antonio, Texas -- Tele-Communications Inc. and Cox
Communications Inc. learned a few important technical lessons during their digital video
launches last year.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the recent Conference
on Emerging Technologies, hosted by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers,
Tony Werner, senior vice president of engineering for TCI, said that the MSO's
aggressive launch of digital TV last year required a well-coordinated engineering approach
before the process even started.
Even now, the analog-to-digital evolution continues, Werner
said, 'which means there will be a minimum of 180 different services that we'll
be able to offer via digital.'
But the road to digital must be well orchestrated, he said.
For TCI, that meant sending an engineering team to 380 sites, in 31 markets, and
eliminating more than 200 previously scheduled satellite-receive sites in favor of
less-expensive signal transport methods.
Those alternatives included 'terrestrial
interconnects,' where TCI used fiber optic links to save upwards of $15 million in
costs, he said.
Cox, which launched digital television service in its
Orange County, Calif., system last year, also underwent a steep learning curve, said
Richard White, a corporate engineer for the MSO.
Cox started the project early in the year by assembling a
'digital team' at its Atlanta headquarters, he said, consisting of
representatives from marketing, engineering, management information systems and training,
'to hopefully cover all bases and understand how an issue in one area may affect the
operations in another.'
In the Orange County project, White found that the digital
controller was one of the bigger challenges. Manufactured by General Instrument Corp. as
part of its overall digital video system, the controller handles decryption and service
authorization as well as program guide information, retrieval of pay-per-view buy
information and operational status data, while linking to the billing system.
'The controller was not all that stable and caused
many problems with both headend and set-top operation,' White said in the paper he
prepared for the conference, adding that several software and firmware revisions were made
to the device during the early phases of the project.
'I think it is safe to say that any time you're
dealing with new, unproven software, you can expect to keep a can of Raid around for a
while,' he said.