Time Warner Advances VOD Tests


Time Warner Cable will move to field tests of SeaChange
International Inc.'s equipment starting next year, marking continued interest by the
MSO in the video-on-demand segment.

The move stems from Time Warner's request for
proposals last year, when it sought to identify vendors that would work on its ongoing
"Pegasus" digital set-top project.

SeaChange is no stranger to Time Warner: It has already
provided its "MediaCluster" technology to the MSO for hotel VOD applications in
its New York and Honolulu properties. Plus, one of its lead executives, Yvette Gordon, was
a key player in Time Warner's now-inactive Full Service Network project in Orlando,

And the manufacturer has already participated in its own
tests of how to best link its servers with Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s
"Explorer" line of digital set-tops. S-A's largest MSO customer for that
product is Time Warner.

Jim Chiddix, chief technical officer for Time Warner, said
last week that the nod to SeaChange does not represent a trial -- "We've already
validated the VOD genre at the Full Service Network" -- but that it is more aptly a
test of SeaChange's server equipment.

While Chiddix said the SeaChange deal is not exclusive, he
remained "very encouraged by what we've seen [from them]; they're firmly
established in the commercial insertion end of the business, and the hotel VOD work has
gone well."

Legally, Time Warner signed a "memo of
understanding" with SeaChange for the equipment tests.

Chiddix declined to identify the specific Time Warner
system where the tests will occur, but he did not rule out Austin, Texas, where the bulk
of the work to test S-A's Explorer set-tops is occurring.

Gordon, director of interactive technologies for SeaChange,
said the vendor has been working closely with S-A to make sure that its servers run on
S-A's boxes, and that all systems were a go between the two manufacturers earlier
this year.

Now, "we get to go out there and actually make this
happen over real plant, and all of the implications of that," like running in the
face of ingress (signals that inadvertently leak into plant) and other real-life system
scenarios, such as weather-related outages or hiccups, Gordon said.

Areas that will be watched closely by Time Warner and its
vendor partners during the tests include how well the "look and feel" of the
service works in real-plant conditions and how users browse through, select and receive
titles from their couch.

Technically, this means making sure that everything in line
between the video servers, through digital modulators and plant actives, to the set-top,
is synched up and working -- in both the house-bound and headend-bound signal directions,
Gordon said. It also means ensuring that the software running on the set-top is solid, and
that it is able to decode and display digital signals, as well as properly handling the
user interface.

On the scalability front, Gordon said both SeaChange and
S-A have been testing what happens when multiple customers order the same material at the
same time, "but nothing compares to doing this in the field."

Neither SeaChange nor Time Warner was specific about when
next year the tests will occur.

Gordon said she also expects at least one other MSO to sign
up for a VOD test before year-end, but she declined to elaborate.