TV Goes to PC in San Diego

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Time Warner Cable’s San Diego division quietly launched its version of Internet-protocol TV last week, offering a segment of its video and high-speed Internet subscribers the ability to view their 75-channel Extended Cable basic-video package on their home computers.

In essence, Time Warner Cable is shipping the linear TV feed of those 75 channels to its Road Runner subscribers, using its high-speed Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification plant. The six-month project was made available to a 9,000-customer cluster in Mira Mesa and Tierrasanta, beginning July 8.

TRYING IT OUT

There are two chief reasons behind the test. “Subscriber research suggested there is a significant group of consumers interested in watching TV on broadband-connected devices,” said Peter Stern, executive vice president of product management at Time Warner. “Second, we believe the best way to learn about new technology is by doing, rather than by studying.

“There are two ways to approach IPTV: as a threat or as an opportunity. We decided it is an opportunity” to see who uses the product, what they want to watch and how often they watch it, he said.

The service requires a broadband subscriber to download RealNetworks Inc.’s RealPlayer; 70% of San Diego Road Runner subscribers already have the player on their PCs, Stern said.

Users can find the 75 TV channels on the San Diego home page, through their local Road Runner site or via the Time Warner Broadband site (www.twcbbtv.com).

Users read a short disclaimer and enter their billing information for verification purposes and are taken to the service.

On the technology side, Time Warner takes the 75 channels and encodes them into Real’s format. The video is then sent to the cable-modem termination system at the MSO’s regional data center, then onto to the cable modem in the home.

In addition to RealVideo and RealPlayer, Real is supplying its Helix server and server delivery suite, and Helix digital rights-management system.

Broadband users see the Real Player window on the left of their PC screen, then a tab listing of TV channels on the right. Time Warner fits about 20 channels per page. Consumers scroll down the list and then choose the network they want to watch.

There is about a five-second delay for the first channel accessed, Stern said, but no buffering for succeeding channel switches. He noted that Real is working on software to get that initial channel selection to buffer in less than one second.

Time Warner also has created an online version of its TV guide for consumers to use.

Programming rights are not an issue, as the content is being sent out over a private network and not the public Internet, according to Time Warner executives. As such, the service does not run afoul of its existing programming contracts.

The MSO’s version of IPTV differs somewhat from the vision SBC Communications Inc. is pursuing, although they share the basic technical definition of TV services delivered over an Internet-protocol infrastructure.

Time Warner is delivering TV signals over the DOCSIS portion of its hybrid fiber coaxial architecture, while SBC also plans to deliver TV via Internet protocol over a mix of fiber and copper plant.

SBC plans to offer other interactive and converged services, such as multiple feeds of sporting events, games and content via both a TV and PC portal. The telco also talks about giving consumers the ability to use their cell phones to “program” their DVRs.

Most of those applications also could be delivered by cable operators.

NO GATEWAY SEEN

Stern said Time Warner had no plans at this time to conduct a reverse experiment by opening up the DOCSIS gateway inside advanced set-top boxes.

“We can’t rule anything out,” he said, pending customer demand. The TV-to-PC content filled a hole in the product lineup, he said.

“We did not offer a complete video service to the PC,” he said.

The test could help Road Runner be perceived as an even more valuable service, he said.

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