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post #61 of 869 Old 06-05-2006, 05:15 AM - Thread Starter
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Cable operators find it tough to swallow HDTV
Updated 6/5/2006 6:48 AM ET
By David Lieberman, USA TODAY
NEW YORK After years of dithering and infighting by government officials and corporate executives, the high-definition TV revolution is finally here.

This year, for the first time, consumers will buy more HDTV sets than traditional ones. Morgan Stanley estimates that nearly 26% of households will enjoy HD's gee-whiz video and theater sound by year's end and that 67.6% will in 2010, thanks to prices falling from today's $1,000 and up.

That's good news for the TV industry, right?

Maybe not for cable operators.

Their wires are so packed with TV channels and new services including video on demand (VOD), broadband Internet and phone that many are scrambling to find bandwidth for the coming wave of HD channels. "Cable operators need massive capacity for HDTV, and have to move quickly," says Sanford C. Bernstein's Craig Moffett. "HDTV is hot."

Executives say they're on the case. But their favorite plans to fix their bandwidth problem will, at least in the short-term, create hassles for millions of subscribers especially those who hate the idea of hooking their TVs to a set-top box.

For example, one solution could strip dozens of channels from customers with cable-ready TVs forcing them to pay an extra $10 or more a month for a digital box and service just to keep the channels they get now without them.

The other leading remedy would hobble new HDTV sets designed with a slot to work with a slick, credit card-size CableCard instead of a box.

In addition to being an inconvenience and expense, either change would represent yet another setback for the decade-old federal effort to force the industry to free consumers from cable boxes.

But operators seem willing to take the heat. They fear that if they fail to heed warnings such as Moffett's, they'll lose many of their 65 million subscribers who are hot for HD to satellite and phone company rivals that already are able to offer lots of HDTV channels and plan many more.

"We think it is a good differentiator for us," says Carl Vogel, vice chairman of satellite provider EchoStar and former CEO of cable operator Charter Communications. "Our vision is to be the best video provider that we can be."

To build on that advantage, DirecTV and EchoStar are preparing to launch additional satellites and use other means to offer at least 150 national HD channels, as well as each market's local stations.

"Satellite's going to be constrained not so much by how many channels they can carry than by how many they can get," says Bob Scherman, Satellite Business News editor and publisher.

Meanwhile, phone company Verizon is building state-of-the-art, fiber-optic networks that it says can handle 210 HD services plus all the conventional TV channels.

No analog baggage

These newer rivals for cable have always been digital, transmitting all their programming in bits and bytes, so neither of them has to worry about serving "satellite-ready" or "phone-ready" TV sets. Their customers are used to needing a box or receiver to convert the signals into the images of, say, Katie Couric or Taylor Hicks on the analog sets that still dominate living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.

More important, being all-digital makes more efficient use of their capacity: About 10 standard digital channels fit into the bandwidth required for one analog channel.

By contrast, cable's roots are analog, and they typically still offer analog transmissions of 70 or more of the most popular channels that the majority of their customers watch on "cable-ready" analog TV sets without a box. Providing those analog signals eats up about two-thirds of a typical system's bandwidth, even after the industry spent $100 billion over a decade to string fatter lines to handle interactive services.

Thanks to that analog legacy, most cable operators have room to add only about a dozen HD channels roughly half what DirecTV and EchoStar already offer.

It's a competitive gap likely to widen. Satellite companies "will likely have a two-to-three-year lead over cable during which they'll be able to offer a materially higher number of HD channels," Morgan Stanley's Richard Bilotti writes.

The imbalance hasn't hurt cable so far. Their local operations can more easily tailor lineups to offer HD feeds from the markets' popular ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS stations than coast-to-coast satellite broadcasters. And there isn't much national HD programming yet.

About 30 of the 500-plus national pay-TV networks offer HD, a short list dominated by premium sports, movie and porn channels.

Some cable operators, trying to come up with a solution to their bandwidth pinch, have asked other networks "to please wait on launching new (HD channels) until 2007," Pali Capital's Richard Greenfield writes.

Up to now for their own reasons programmers have been content to leave HD on "pause."

"Going HD is an expensive proposition for content companies, and a lot of programmers are waiting for enough viewers to jump in" by buying HD sets, says Bill Goodwyn, president of affiliate sales and marketing at Discovery Networks U.S.

But that wait seems to be over. In the past few months, HGTV, the Food Network, National Geographic and A&E unveiled HD plans.

"We're seeing a tipping point," says Gwynne McConkey, Lifetime's senior vice president for operations, information systems and technology. "We expect to have an (HD) announcement this year."

Whether smaller channels get in on the HD party is in doubt, however. They fear that cable's bandwidth problem could cause giants such as Comcast and Time Warner to save their precious few HD slots for networks they own.

"The haves will get richer, and the have-nots will get poorer," says Tracy Dolgin, CEO of the New York Yankees' Yes Network, which is distributed in HD. "The Sewing Channel isn't going to get an HD channel. It just isn't going to happen."

Cable's bandwidth Band-Aids

Cable operators looking to accommodate more HD channels have come up with two basic strategies:

Drop analog channels (and the idea of "cable-ready" TVs). "The first thing we'll do when we start putting on more HDTV pictures is to take one analog channel off the system," says Comcast Chief Technology Officer David Fellows. "In its place, we can put three HDTV pictures."

The beauty of that solution: It's simple and cheap, and CableCards would still work.

It's also risky.

By cutting analog service, operators force customers to buy digital service and a box to keep watching favorite shows they used to get on their cable-ready TVs. Because the customer now has to get a box anyway, they might consider switching to satellite or phone video that has more HD channels.

To try to avert that, "We may choose to ... keep 20 or 30 channels in analog," Fellows says. "That way, the TV set in your kitchen will still be cable-ready."

Keep analog service (and make current CableCards obsolete). Time Warner, Cox and other operators prefer a solution, called "switched digital," that lets them offer more HD without hassling analog customers. It would, though, create problems for folks with digital TVs and other devices designed to work with CableCards, not a box.

Operators now send all channels through their fat fiber-optic trunk lines and also through the slimmer coaxial cables running through neighborhoods and into homes. The cable-ready TV tuner, cable box or CableCard blocks everything except the channel selected.

With switched digital, operators would send all channels through their trunk lines. The system then would pass the analog channels through the neighborhood lines but send a digital channel only when a viewer selects it on a set-top box.

Instead of also pushing 300 or so digital channels through the coaxial lines, they would be handling only the 60 or so a neighborhood is likely to be watching at any one time. That would free capacity for HD transmissions.

"We're effectively making digital broadcasting the same as video on demand," says Seth Kenvin of BigBand Networks, a major service provider. "The subscriber doesn't know what's going on."

Time Warner has deployed switched digital in three cities and plans to bring it to all its systems. Cox and Cablevision also are drawing up deployment plans.

"If you're not switching, you're going to run out of spectrum," says Time Warner Cable Chief Technology Officer Mike LaJoie. "Once I have the switching fabric in place, I can add as many channels as I want and never overload."

The system also has appeal for investors who fear the cost of solutions requiring set-top boxes on every analog TV, which operators might have to offer free.

"Going all-digital would cost $100 per subscriber. Switched digital would cost about $5 per subscriber," Moffett says.

Makes CableCards obsolete

The good news for operators and investors is bad news for subscribers who bought TVs and digital video recorders that unscramble digital signals with a CableCard effectively, a set-top box on a card.

The Federal Communications Commission prodded the cable industry to support the cards as a first step to fulfill a 1996 congressional mandate to free consumers from having to get a box to watch or record TV shows. But the cards now in use in about 400 products introduced since July 2004 including lots of HDTVs only receive signals and can't send a message to a switched system telling it to pass through a particular channel to the neighborhood.

CableCard users in San Diego found out what that meant last year when Time Warner deployed a switched-digital system. They lost East Coast versions of several premium channels. A company letter also warned owners of HD sets that they might not be able to get HD channels being added. As compensation, the company said it would give them a digital set-top box free for a year.

That's a step backward, TV and DVR makers say.

"We see switched digital as another way cable is trying to undermine the CableCard and discourage its use," says Consumer Electronics Association spokesman Jeffrey Joseph. Although more than a million CableCard-ready digital TVs have been sold, he says, operators' half-hearted support has meant that only about 150,000 CableCards are in use.

An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter, citing proceedings in progress on new CableCard standards that would support interactive TV and switched digital.



Find this article at:
http://www.usatoday.com/money/indust...ble-hdtv_x.htm
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post #62 of 869 Old 06-05-2006, 10:31 AM
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Comcast and the other cable guys all talk like they want to be out of the cable box rental business, but somehow the day never comes. They were mandated in the 1990s to move toward open architectures and a free market for set top boxes. But just as CableCard 2.0 becomes a possibility, they ask FCC for a delay so they can work on DCAS. And they've asked that basic digital STBs be exempted from the security requirements that would promote an open market.

This is a world of $20 DVD players. I can't believe a basic digital STB is much more complex than a basic DVD player. I don't know what Comcast pays Motorola for these things, but I would guess that 2 years of rental fees @ $5/mo. is more than sufficient payback, especially for the little DCT700. And lots of people keep their cable boxes for 10 years or more. In other words, I think they make a lot of return on rentals, and are dedicated to preventing customers from owning their own equipment, despite their statements to the contrary.

I would like to see competition and innovative products in set top boxes sold directly to the customer. Networked boxes acting as media servers; upgradeable hard drives; all-in-one receiver/stb units; full variety of outputs including digital audio and (trouble-free) HDMI; etc. But I think we will need an FCC more interested in competition and value to the consumer than "indecency."
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post #63 of 869 Old 06-05-2006, 10:38 AM
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Great article.

Two mistakes I saw, though.

First, he says HDTVs are '$1000 and up'; I have read that one before, (and before that I used to read $1500 and up). Of course, they start at a lower price, last I heard was $600, and I looked them up at a major store, and indeed that is what it is; he should have looked that up.

Second, he says moving all Analog channels to Digital require a box and Digital service for about $10; I have never read that pertaining to any area. He sounds like he is assuming the typical base Digital service w/box for $10 (like Comcast's Digital Classic). But, you don't need the 'Digital service' per se, you can rent the box for about $5, and get the Digital versions of the Basic and/or Expanded channels one gets now.
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post #64 of 869 Old 06-05-2006, 10:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by QZ1 View Post

Great article.


Second, he says moving all Analog channels to Digital require a box and Digital service for about $10; I have never read that pertaining to any area. He sounds like he is assuming the typical base Digital service w/box for $10 (like Comcast's Digital Classic). But, you don't need the 'Digital service' per se, you can rent the box for about $5, and get the Digital versions of the Basic and/or Expanded channels one gets now.

Don't you think those little DCT700 boxes could be produced and retailed for $20 each? I think most cable customers would be OK with the following: by 2009, you have to buy one of these for each analog TV; OR rent one for $5/mo or whatever, to continue receiving Expanded cable. That would be enough time for most people. Heck, Comcast should just start giving them away - the incremental revenue from On Demand, PPV, and upgrades to Digital tiers would probably pay for all of them. I'm sure some folks without a composite input on their TV and who don't know what an RF modulator is would drop cable, but how many are there and what kind of revenue do they produce anyway?
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post #65 of 869 Old 06-05-2006, 03:05 PM - Thread Starter
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FCC to Study DTV's Analog Impact
By Ted Hearn 6/5/2006 5:31:00 PM

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to examine the obligations of cable operators to ensure that consumers with analog-TV sets can view digital signals of local TV stations, an agency source said Monday.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin is trying to round up support to launch a rulemaking that would establish federal policy well before TV stations must cease analog transmission Feb. 17, 2009, the source said.

Martin is hoping to launch the rulemaking at the FCC's June 15 public meeting and at the same the commission adopts rules that would allow digital-TV stations to demand cable carriage of every free programming services they transmit. FCC rules currently require carriage of just one signal per TV station.

Broadcasters' transition to digital could prove costly to cable operators, depending on the substance of the FCC's rules.

When TV stations transmit only in digital signals, cable consumers with analog equipment won't be able to view them. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association wants cable operators that carry local broadcasters in digital to have the right to offer the same signal in analog from the headend.

If the FCC were to outlaw headend downconversion, analog-cable subscribers would need to lease converter boxes for each analog receiver they want to use to watch television. Another option is to purchase digital cable-compatible TV sets with CableCARD interfaces.

Cable operators banned from downconverting at the headend would need to expand their capital budgets to warehouse millions of converter boxes not just for analog-only homes, but also for digital homes that have analog-TV sets not attached to digital set-tops.

According to NCTA figures, 54% of cable subscribers -- 35 million homes -- do not have any digital equipment.

Since 1992, federal law that has required that local TV signals shall be viewable via cable on all television receivers of a subscriber that are connected to a cable system by a cable operator or for which a cable operator provides a connection.

In April, Martin went public with his interest in deciding how analog-cable subscribers would be served digital-TV signals by their cable companies.

I think viewable' is the key term [in the law]. I think Congress passed a law and said cable operators have to make sure that the broadcast signals that they are carrying are viewable by everyone that they are serving, Martin said.

In the end, Martin indicated that the FCC might leave it to cable operators to decide how to comply with the law.

I think what we will say is that it has to be viewable, because that's what I think the statutes say, he added.

For a while, the National Association of Broadcasters insisted that no downconversion occur at the headend, even if cable were simultaneously transmitting a digital signal.

In recent days, the NAB has softened its position.

Congress should protect against the disenfranchisement of analog-only viewers by creating the necessary guidelines to allow downconversion for the consumer in an analog household, NAB president David Rehr said in a May 26 letter to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

In the same letter, Rehr said cable should not be allowed to downconvert HD digital signals to standard-definition because consumers have invested hard-earned dollars in digital and high-definition sets.

http://www.multichannel.com/article/...=Breaking+News
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post #66 of 869 Old 06-05-2006, 04:23 PM - Thread Starter
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The information below is from Comcast's 2005 10K which they file with the SEC:


"Tier Buy Through. The Communications Act generally requires cable operators to allow subscribers to purchase premium or pay-per-view services without the necessity of subscribing to any tier of service, other than limited basic service tier. The applicability of this rule in certain situations remains unclear, and adverse decisions by the FCC on this issue could affect our pricing and packaging of services."

Some people are denied certain digital services without expanded basic. From my interpretation of this it appears illegal ( I am not a lawyer but Comcast appears worried).

The whole report is interesting reading:

http://media.corporate-ir.net/media_...s/10k_2005.pdf
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post #67 of 869 Old 06-05-2006, 06:42 PM
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The benefit of Comcast for me, is the ability to connect to multiple sets around the house without using a STB at each location. When the day comes that analog stops coming down the pipe, I will be reevaluating our options. Satellite will be in the running.
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post #68 of 869 Old 06-06-2006, 03:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulGo View Post

The information below is from Comcast's 2005 10K which they file with the SEC:


"Tier Buy Through. The Communications Act generally requires cable operators to allow subscribers to purchase premium or pay-per-view services without the necessity of subscribing to any tier of service, other than limited basic service tier. The applicability of this rule in certain situations remains unclear, and adverse decisions by the FCC on this issue could affect our pricing and packaging of services."

Some people are denied certain digital services without expanded basic. From my interpretation of this it appears illegal ( I am not a lawyer but Comcast appears worried).

The whole report is interesting reading:

http://media.corporate-ir.net/media_...s/10k_2005.pdf

They cannot deny Digital a la carte channels (including multi-plexed) or PPV to those who only subscribe to Ltd. Basic, unless they have effective competition or get a waiver. But, they can deny Digital tiers.

http://72.14.207.104/search?q=cache:...s&ct=clnk&cd=2

Look at Page 2.
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post #69 of 869 Old 06-06-2006, 04:45 PM
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Okay, I read that info, and I've read it elsewhere before. Does that mean that Comcast can deny giving me Limited Basic and just Digital Classic? So I understand, Digital Classic is considered a "tier", but if Comcast in my area is subject to "effective competition" they don't have to offer it without Expanded Basic being purchased as well.

What are the terms for "effective competition"? Wouldn't satellite create the situation for "effective competition" everywhere Comcast is at?

Likewise, if I understand correctly, I can have just Limited Basic and add HBO since HBO would be considered a per-channel, or multiplexed service.
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post #70 of 869 Old 06-06-2006, 05:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by keenan View Post

Okay, I read that info, and I've read it elsewhere before. Does that mean that Comcast can deny giving me Limited Basic and just Digital Classic?

So I understand, Digital Classic is considered a "tier", but if Comcast in my area is subject to "effective competition" they don't have to offer it without Expanded Basic being purchased as well.

What are the terms for "effective competition"? Wouldn't satellite create the situation for "effective competition" everywhere Comcast is at?.

Likewise, if I understand correctly, I can have just Limited Basic and add HBO since HBO would be considered a per-channel, or multiplexed service.

You are misunderstanding this to some extent.

'Tier buy-through prohibition' means they can't make you buy through a 'tier' to get to 'multi-plexed a la carte' or 'PPV'.

'Effective competition' waivers alllow them to nullify the 'Tier buy through prohibition', so they can make any pre-requisites they want for 'a la carte multiplexed services' and 'PPV'.

Since Digital Classic is a 'tier', lack of 'effective competition' is irrelevant; they can make people in every area buy-through one 'tier' to get another 'tier' .

So, they don't have to offer Digital Classic with just Ltd. Basic anywhere, but they have chosen to in some areas, obviously for competitive reasons. The irony is that your area has chosen to allow this, as per their pamphlet, but won't honor it, yet.

Re: Premium movie channels; Since each is considered a 'multiplexed a la carte service', it can be bought with just Ltd. Basic, unless they get a 'tier-buy through prohibition' waiver due to 'effective competition'.
(I mentioned this the other thread where we discussed dropping Expd. service, but you must have missed it.)

'Effective competition' is determined on a per market basis. But, I don't recall what constitutes a market, maybe it is a DMA?

It is a bit complicated as to what constitutes 'effective competition'. I glanced over the rules, and there is no simple answer. Although, I have heard usually that the competition having 15% market share usually ends up being the determining factor.

http://72.14.207.104/search?q=cache:...s&ct=clnk&cd=3
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post #71 of 869 Old 06-06-2006, 05:52 PM
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So, they don't have to offer Digital Classic with just Ltd. Basic anywhere, but they have chosen to in some areas, obviously for competitive reasons. The irony is that your area has chosen to allow this, as per their pamphlet, but won't honor it, yet.







(I mentioned this the other thread where we discussed dropping Expd. service, but you must have missed it.)

No, I read it, I'm just trying get all my "facts" straight so when I go back to the Comcast office(they still have not called me like they said they would-surprise, surprise.. ) I'll at least look like I know what I'm talking about.

Regarding Limited plus Classic only, I believe they will allow that, the issue was that I also had the DVR which put the kabash on it, they say Expanded also is required for that, although it does not say as such anywhere in their handouts. I'm probably grasping as straws by trying to use that exclusion as it appears I can do what I want with just a digital STB...? IOW, it's a requirement known only to them as I have not seen any documentation in any handout or flyer.

What it boils down to for me, is that Comcast has insisted that I have Standard plus Classic to get the DVR and I'm trying to figure out if there is anyway around that, especially since I know it is allowed in other Comcast areas.
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post #72 of 869 Old 06-06-2006, 06:08 PM
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No, I read it, I'm just trying get all my "facts" straight so when I go back to the Comcast office(they still have not called me like they said they would-surprise, surprise.. ) I'll at least look like I know what I'm talking about. .

I was referring to having mentioned Ltd. Basic and a Premium being allowed, which is not an issue for you now.

Quote:


Regarding Limited plus Classic only, I believe they will allow that, the issue was that I also had the DVR which put the kabash on it, they say Expanded also is required for that, although it does not say as such anywhere in their handouts. I'm probably grasping as straws by trying to use that exclusion as it appears I can do what I want with just a digital STB...? IOW, it's a requirement known only to them as I have not seen any documentation in any handout or flyer.

What it boils down to for me, is that Comcast has insisted that I have Standard plus Classic to get the DVR and I'm trying to figure out if there is anyway around that, especially since I know it is allowed in other Comcast areas.

Yes, AFAIK, they can make any pre-requisite they want for a DVR, but maybe they have to follow 'tier buy through prohibition', anyway; but, even so, it wouldn't apply to Expanded service, and they aren't going to require a premium channel for a DVR.

The pre-requisite for a DVR should be in writing in the pamphlet. You surely had DVRs in your area before the latest pamphlet was printed. In lieu of that, the website would have to suffice, and it says just 'Digital Cable', so again, it is in your favor. I don't know how they can deny the reqs. listed on their site.
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post #73 of 869 Old 06-06-2006, 06:18 PM
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I don't know how either, but one way or the other, I'll leave the office with what I want or some sort of documentation explaining why I can't. Is a verbal, "no you can't" acceptable in this situation? Does this DVR issue need to be in a notice type form, like the price sheets? I'm guessing not...

This whole thing is just annoying as in Boston you can get the DVR with just Limited Basic, no other programming required.
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post #74 of 869 Old 06-07-2006, 01:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by keenan View Post

I don't know how either, but one way or the other, I'll leave the office with what I want or some sort of documentation explaining why I can't. Is a verbal, "no you can't" acceptable in this situation? Does this DVR issue need to be in a notice type form, like the price sheets? I'm guessing not....

No, a verbal 'no' is not acceptable. I remember reading that the FCC mandates that all channels, services, prices, and policies be put in writing, mailed to customers annually, and available to the public by request. If they make any interim changes, they apparently don't have to mail them out, but should have an updated printed paper available.

Quote:


This whole thing is just annoying as in Boston you can get the DVR with just Limited Basic, no other programming required.

I entered a Boston zip code, and again, it says 'Digital Cable'. So, either this was a mistake of the part of a CSR, or the office in general is not following the reqs., probably the former. I do know Boston, like many markets in the NE US, allow Digital Classic with Ltd. Basic, and the DVR with just those services. It is odd that they are allowing this same combo in your area, but trying to deny the same when adding a DVR.
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post #75 of 869 Old 06-08-2006, 08:58 AM - Thread Starter
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Grass Valley Spins New Silicon

While a lot of customers are gobbling up HDTV sets like kids at an ice cream truck, the larger size of the HD streams is putting a strain on service providers.

One way of easing the strain that HD channels and movies put on systems is by using MPEG-4 advanced video coding (AVC). Under ideal conditions, MPEG-4 yields a 50 percent improvement in bit rate compression over MPEG-2.

MPEG-4 AVC's history dates back to 2000 when MPEG-4 was adopted by the International Standards Organization. MPEG-4 AVC came about through the combined efforts of the International Telecommunications Union and ISO/MPEG, which formed a joint video team. The result was the creation of ISO/MPEG MPEG-4 part 10 and H.264 in ITU in 2003.

Telcos such as Verizon are banking on MPEG-4 to deliver HD video over ADSL 2 Plus because they have no other choice when using twisted copper pair, while satellite providers such as DirecTV are also making the switch to MPEG-4, even though it means replacing set-top boxes that are already deployed.

Cable operators are seemingly hampered by the more than 40 million MPEG-2 legacy set-top boxes in the United States, but Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in last week's CableLabs analyst conference that those boxes could end up being deployed in other rooms around homes in conjunction with MPEG-4 enabled boxes in living rooms. While cable may be out of the starting blocks a little late when it comes to MPEG-4 AVC, Roberts said he "absolutely" believes cable will benefit from MPEG-4 AVC for delivering HD channels and movies.

Grass Valley develops new silicon

With the improved efficiencies of MPEG-4 AVC in mind, Grass Valley and Thompson engineers set out more than three years ago to develop an advanced digital video signal processing chip, which is called the Advanced Compression Processor.

"MPEG-4 has great promise with the up to 50 percent gain compared to MPEG-2," said Jean Macher, Grass Valley's director of marketing, video solutions. "However, what we see today with the first implementations in the current encoders is that you don't reach that. Even though we can probably optimize with the current technology, there is a limit of what you can do with DSP (digital signal processing)-based encoders, which is what is available today.

"We decided a while back to go the silicon way with an ASIC that would really be able to do 50 percent better than MPEG-2."

Currently, most manufacturers use multiple DSP chips, but when more processors are involved, they need more cycles to communicate with each other instead of working on the content.

"The horsepower that you need for HD is much more than SD, especially with MPEG-4," Macher said. "The approach we're taking today is that we ship encoders with HD MPEG-4 that have DSP-based boards. When our ASIC is ready, we can just replace the DSP board with our ASIC board, and then they'll get a significant improvement on the bit rate efficiencies."

Macher said the typical bandwidth rate today for MPEG-4 in SD (standard definition) is in the 1.5 Mbps to 2 Mbps range, and for HD it's more in the 9 to 10 Mbps range.

"If you do stat-muxing, you can lower that, of course, and the more programs you have, the more you can lower the average bit rates," Macher said. "At NAB (the National Association of Broadcasters Convention), we were showing a stat mux of five HD streams together, and the average per encoder was in the 6-7 Mbps area. At NAB, that was stat mux with the DSP design in our encoder, but we can simulate the exact same encoding with the ASIC, and we'll be able to reach HD in the 5 Mbps range. Depending on the content, we might go lower than that."

The ASIC chip will be available in manufacturing quantities in September, and the first Grass Valley ViBE HD MPEG-4 encoders will be delivered early next year. Grass Valley anticipates IPTV providers will use the encoders for SD and HD signals over their networks.

"The obvious and biggest potential, short term, for MPEG-4 is the telcos," Macher said. "They don't have the legacy MPEG-2 set-top boxes out there. Not only that, but for the telcos who have a small last mile, when the pipe is ADSL, it makes a lot of sense for them to make it as efficient as possible with the new codecs.

"Most of the telcos we've been talking to want to go to MPEG-4, but they've been struggling because the delivery of the first deployable IP set-top boxes for MPEG-4 have been delayed over and over, but it looks like by summer they should have set-top boxes for deployment."

http://www.ct-magazine.com/news/060506.html
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post #76 of 869 Old 06-08-2006, 01:14 PM - Thread Starter
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Interesting article on "The Interactive Cable Ready Standard":

http://www.hdtvmagazine.com/articles...iew_the_in.php

Ed's view - The Interactive "Cable Ready" Standard
By Ed Milbourn on May 1, 2006 Digg ArticleDigg Add to NewsvineNewsvine Add to Del.icio.usDel.icio.us Save ArticleSave Email ArticleEmail Print ArticlePrint


This is an interview with Brian Smith on the status of the Cable/CE negotiations to establish a fully open interactive digital Cable Ready standard


Brian Smith is both a good friend and a former business colleague of mine at RCA/Thomson. Brian presently is VP of Technology Policy and Standards for Philips N.A. and, of special significance to us, is the Chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Video Division Board of Directors. The CEA Video Board addresses many CE common issues, chief among them being that of representing the CE industry in the ongoing "Interactive Cable Ready" standard negotiations. The objective of this standard is to ultimately replace the unidirectional CableCARD cable interface with a system that downloads a plethora of interactive services for digital Cable subscribers.

But developing this standard, based on Cable's OCAP (Open Cable Applications Protocol) system, is proving to be one of the most daunting tasks, both technically and commercially, to have been tackled by both industries. Brian took time from his busy schedule to give us a comprehensive update relative to several salient aspects of the negotiations:


ED: Generally, what is the present state of the negotiations?

BKS: Slow going. There are fundamental business issues on each side which conflict with each other and have not yet yielded to mutually satisfactory compromises even after almost 2 ½ years. Furthermore, the landscape continues to change over time with Cable planning new technologies/services (e.g. switched digital) which were not anticipated at the beginning and further complicate things.

ED: What are the major commercial and technical issues being addressed?

BKS: Cable's fundamental business position is that their service is the entire collection of individual services, presented in the way they want them presented with little or no room for CE products to provide any value-added or differentiation. In effect, Cable wants a set-top box buried within the TV.

CE mfrs. need the freedom to innovate and differentiate their products in order to compete with each other in the retail environment. This includes wanting a uniformity of user operation whether the viewer is watching cable, terrestrial broadcast or any other internal source. It is confusing to the consumer to have to "switch gears" in how the product remote control buttons, menus and other functions operate when they are "watching cable". Furthermore there is a history (including current unidirectional plug & play), where CE products can enhance/differentiate while viewing cable content.

OCAP was designed for use in a dedicated set-top box not having any other functionality but accessing cable services. It has a number of technical resource management systems that want to take total control of the device. Obviously in a multifunction product which may be used for viewing other content, modifications to the way OCAP operates are necessary. A joint technical team is working on some modifications. A major part of the discussions is how far those modifications should go.

Testing is a very large and complicated issue. OCAP is a middleware software specification, but it is not a uniform piece of software code. There can be many OCAP implementations all based on the same written specification. The applications that cable downloads onto the OCAP middleware can be likened to PC applications running on Windows. The combination of many platforms, many different OCAP implementations, many differently configured Cable head-ends and a variety of applications, would make testing everything against everything mathematically daunting. Cable does not want to unduly delay commercial introduction of new applications to enable extended testing, but CE mfrs are concerned about product robustness - which can be summed up as "TVs should not crash". Finding a middleground is a tough task.

Related to the testing issue is "common reliance". The CE side believes that whatever technologies Cable wants CE to use in cable-ready devices, they should use for themselves in their leased products. Whether it is CableCARDS, OCAP or anything else, if Cable must also rely upon it, then any technical issues will be quickly resolved. So far, Cable has not even implemented CableCARD for its own use and has consistently requested implementation delays from the FCC.

There are also Content Protection issues. Although CE is friendly towards the normal array of protections as covered in the unidirectional agreement and embodied in FCC regulations, cable's content providers want to go further. They would like to have the option to totally shut off selected product outputs, selectively reduce the resolution of hi-def content, and phase out analog interfaces. The CE community is concerned about consumers becoming totally confused, disenchanted and - even worse - believing the products are suddenly "broken" if a content provider shuts-off an interface.

Licensing issues also abound. In order to use cable's conditional access system, several licenses are needed from CableLabs, the cable industry consortium, and potentially from some third parties. Cable's proposed licenses for devices that are fully interactive with cable systems go far beyond simple licensing of the technology and its intellectual property (with appropriate rules to protect concerns over theft of service and copyright issues). CableLabs has drafted these licenses to compel product conformance to the business and future marketing objectives of cable operators, as well - something that many in the CE and IT industry have said is beyond the permissible scope of present FCC regulations. These regulations protect a consumer's right to attach a lawful competitive device to a network, so long as the device does not harm the network or contribute to theft of service, and limit the imposition of other licensing constraints on the device provider.

Technological evolution is another sticky area. At some point in the future, Cable will want to introduce new services which may not be able to operate on older products because they lack a certain new technology. Yet consumers will buy a fully-featured integrated bi-directional cable ready TV specifically because they want the full array of services and which they expect to operate for many, many years. How can Cable continue to evolve their services without angering consumers whose TVs are only a couple of years old? The trick for us is to protect consumers' expectations to enjoy the services they anticipated when they bought their TV, even if they may need some ancillary devices down the road.

ED: What, if any, are the "deal breakers" as seen by each side?

BKS: Cable does not want their services "disaggregated," i.e. allowing the CE device to become, in their view, a filter for the way they present and market services to the consumer. For example, they do not want their UI to be modified by the CE products, and they want everything on the UI to be available for the consumer to order and pay for. Cable wants copy protection and output control flexibility that they say is necessary for them to compete with other service providers.

CE and IT manufacturers believe that customers should have a choice in the blend of capabilities that they pay for in their products. They don't think that the combination of OCAP middleware and future cable conditional access software should totally control the TV and its access to other services/peripheral devices, or the home network. They don't think CableLabs should be able to unilaterally establish or change the specifications for what constitutes an Integrated cable ready receiver or the test process for approving them. CE wants all downloaded Cable applications to be thoroughly tested on CE devices for robustness.


ED: Are others besides Cable and CE involved? Do they have a vote?


BKS: Following completion of the unidirectional P&P process, when the groups embarked on this next phase, the FCC asked us to include input from other affected industries. There have been a variety of meetings on content protection with the MPAA, individual studios, TV networks, broadcasters, etc. These have included other MPVDs (e.g. satellite and telcos) and programming networks, which are also affected by the FCC "encoding" rules that protect consumers from excessive application of copy protection, selectable output control, and "downres" technologies, as well as Cable's existing hardware suppliers, component makers, etc. Under the FCC guidelines, the official "deal" is between CE and Cable, so these other groups do not get a vote in any proposed bilateral "framework" proposal for new regulations - - however when the agreement is put into the FCC open process, then everyone gets an opportunity to comment on it and the FCC may elect to modify it.

It should also be mentioned, that the CE group consists not only of typical CE companies, but there are also important members of the PC community as well.


ED: Is there any thought is making the negotiated version of OCAP (or whatever it is now called) an "open" ANSI standard?


BKS: We expect that whatever the final jointly agreed specification is, it will go through an ANSI open standards organization such as CEA or SCTE. From the CE perspective, we are on record with the FCC as wanting to see the regulations reference very specific versions ("snapshots") of such standards. If there is still disagreement on certain elements of those specific standards, the FCC could elect (and did in the uni-agreement) to specify in the regulations certain changes to the written specs.


ED: Is there really any commercial advantage for CE to embrace OCAP? (i.e. can CE in general make any money on it from the standpoint of a standard retail marketing model?)

BKS: Consumers seem to like the services they get from Cable. Many dislike having a separate set-top box in order to get them. This is now becoming even more the case when many TVs don't have "tops" to put STBs on! Multiple remotes, "dueling" volume controls, hugely different UI schemes, and other user control confusion are tremendously frustrating to consumers. Consumers embraced the very limited degree of cable compatibility that was achieved in the analog world, which allowed them to tune all unscrambled channels with their TV and VCR remote controls. We believe there is still great potential for unidirectional "CableCARD" products that first came to market in 2004, and allow consumers to do the same for scrambled digital channels, as well. Over 2 million have entered consumer homes in under 2 years but we are still struggling with CableCARD support issues in the field. If these can be resolved, and CableCARD installations become just as routine as set-top boxes, I believe that the consumer preference for well-integrated solutions will become apparent. This is both the promise and the challenge of taking the next step, and building highly reliable products that integrate the OCAP software. If we can, I think consumers and retailers will love them. We want to keep giving consumers a choice in what they buy, and in how it works.


ED: Concerning the present state of the negotiations, when do you anticipate an agreement (if any).

BKS: I don't know. There are still many issues unresolved (as described above), however the groups continue to meet to try to work through them.

Here is what we jointly told the FCC in a March 31 written status report that we filed in FCC Docket No. 97-80:

"The parties continue to meet with and work with each other, and both sides share the belief that this process is valuable and necessary for the successful design and deployment of integrated Digital Cable Ready products. Since the date of the last status reports, the parties' joint engineering team has continued its work and has made significant progress in how to define how resources in interactive Digital Cable Ready Products (IDCPs) using the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) can be shared between cable applications and other applications of the IDCP, in particular how to avoid conflicts in the use of resources within IDCPs by cable applications and other applications. There remain technical issues to resolve, and consideration of all solutions by the larger group. There is also an expectation that a joint team will address defining a workable conformance testing program for interactive products and software applications designed to run on them, based upon the framework previously described in earlier status reports. Other issues that the parties have agreed to discuss include possible updates to future unidirectional products, and means of conveying firmware updates to bi-directional products."
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Well, they certainly don't have "the most offerings in high def". Comcast's local HD advantage is now going away. They are missing the HDNETs and ESPN2HD. No Voom (AKAIK only Dish has them), no NGHD (I'm not sure if any major provider has it yet). Nice to see that the boss is aware about our desires for more HD though. Watch what happens the next few years as FiOS makes inroads. FiOS even has WealthTVHD (but no INHDs).

Rich N.

Comcast has added ESPN2HD as of today (9 June) in some markets, and it *will* be rolled out in all markets this year. No cable company carries *any* of the VoomHD channels anywhere (neither do any of the telcos, including Verizon), which seriously surprises me (especially in the case of HDNews, and considering NBCU has *not* done a HD news play itself). While TWC *does* carry the HDnets, do they carry the INHDs? I don't know of any major cable company that carries both the HDnets *and* INHD, so there may be some sort of *exclusivity deal* going on.
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Time-Warner Cable carries both the INHDs and the HDNets, and there may be other cablecos that do as well. Comcast, being the largest video provider, does not carry HDNet. The second, third and fourth largest providers(DirecTV-Dish-TWC) all carry the HDNets.
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post #79 of 869 Old 06-09-2006, 12:54 AM
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The information below is from Comcast's 2005 10K which they file with the SEC:


"Tier Buy Through. The Communications Act generally requires cable operators to allow subscribers to purchase premium or pay-per-view services without the necessity of subscribing to any tier of service, other than limited basic service tier. The applicability of this rule in certain situations remains unclear, and adverse decisions by the FCC on this issue could affect our pricing and packaging of services."

Some people are denied certain digital services without expanded basic. From my interpretation of this it appears illegal ( I am not a lawyer but Comcast appears worried).

The whole report is interesting reading:

http://media.corporate-ir.net/media_...s/10k_2005.pdf

NOT IN BOSTON!

Extended basic is not required to obtain ANY digital service. Hd locals are considered part of limited basic (and Comcast in Boston carries ALL the LOCAL HD channels)

All non premium HD channels are considered part of Digital Classic which runs a mere $7.95 over limited basic.
One can get an HD box,limited basic and digital classic for around $30-32 a month.
This includes TNT-HD,ESPN-HD,home Celtic games from FSN ,Discovery HD theatre, Universal HD,and Mojo.
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post #80 of 869 Old 06-12-2006, 06:12 AM - Thread Starter
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http://www.multichannel.com/index.as...leid=CA6342684

No Analog Viewer Left Behind?
By Ted Hearn 6/12/2006


The Federal Communications Commission is planning to examine the obligations of cable operators to ensure that consumers with analog-TV sets can view digital signals of local TV stations, an agency source said last Monday.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin is trying to round up support to launch a rulemaking that would establish federal policy well before TV stations must cease analog transmission on Feb. 17, 2009, the source said.

Martin is hoping to launch the rulemaking at the FCC's June 21 public meeting and at the same the commission adopts rules that would allow digital-TV stations to demand cable carriage of every free programming service they transmit. FCC rules currently require carriage of just one signal per TV station.
COST IMPACT ON CABLE

Broadcasters' transition to digital could prove costly to cable operators, depending on the substance of the FCC's rules.

When TV stations transmit only digital signals, cable consumers with analog equipment won't be able to view them. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association wants cable operators that carry local broadcasters in digital to have the right to offer the same signal in analog from the headend.

If the FCC were to outlaw headend downconversion, analog-cable subscribers would need to lease converter boxes for each analog receiver they want to use to watch television. Another option would be to purchase digital cable-compatible TV sets with CableCard interfaces.

Cable operators banned from downconverting signals at the headend would need to expand their capital budgets to warehouse millions of converter boxes not just for analog-only homes, but also for digital homes that have analog-TV sets not attached to digital set-tops.

According to NCTA figures, 54% of cable subscribers 35 million homes do not have any digital equipment.

Since 1992, federal law has required that local TV signals shall be viewable via cable on all television receivers of a subscriber that are connected to a cable system by a cable operator or for which a cable operator provides a connection.

In April, Martin went public with his interest in deciding how analog-cable subscribers would be served digital-TV signals by their cable companies.

I think 'viewable' is the key term [in the law]. I think Congress passed a law and said cable operators have to make sure that the broadcast signals that they are carrying are viewable by everyone that they are serving, Martin said.

In the end, Martin indicated that the FCC might leave it to cable operators to decide how to comply with the law.

I think what we will say is that it has to be viewable, because that's what I think the statutes say, he added.
NAB EASES STANCE

For a while, the National Association of Broadcasters insisted that no downconversion occur at the headend, even if cable were simultaneously transmitting a digital signal.

In recent days, the NAB has softened its position.

Congress should protect against the disenfranchisement of analog-only viewers by creating the necessary guidelines to allow downconversion for the consumer in an analog household, NAB president David Rehr said in a May 26 letter to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

In the same letter, Rehr said cable should not be allowed to downconvert HD digital signals to standard-definition because consumers have invested hard-earned dollars in digital and high-definition sets.
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Comcast Seeks Set-Top Waiver from FCC
By Matt Stump 4/27/2006 5:24:00 PM

Comcast Corp. asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to continue deploying low-cost digital set-tops after the July 1, 2007, deadline that calls for all new boxes to have separate conditional-access security, such as CableCARD software.

The waiver request, the MSO said, will allow it to offer more subscribers family and ethnic programming tiers. It would also provide a low-cost way for consumers with analog-TV sets to continue receiving cable service after all TV stations begin broadcasting in digital in February 2009.

Comcast said it was seeking waivers on three set-tops: Motorola Inc.'s DCT-700, Scientific Atlanta Inc.'s Explorer 940 and Pace Micro Technology plc's Chicago series.

Under FCC rules, all set-tops deployed after July 1, 2007, must have removable conditional-access features, which the commission hopes will foster a more competitive set-top market and widen choices consumers have for purchasing digital-cable-ready TVs at retail stores.

But when the agency adopted those rules, it said it would consider waiver requests for low-end boxes, Comcast said, adding that such low-end boxes will make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers to buy family or ethnic programming tiers, receive digital-quality pictures, widen parental-control features and increase access to video-on-demand.

Comcast said it has purchased 1 million DCT-700 set-tops and plans to buy another 1 million-1.5 million this year. The operator also plans to buy SA Explorer 940s and Chicago set-tops when they are available.

Those low-cost set-tops cost less than $100. To make such boxes compliant with the new FCC rules would require CableCARD-technology integration that would add $50 in costs to each set-top -- costs that would be borne by subscribers, Comcast said.

http://www.multichannel.com/index.as...leid=CA6328785
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post #82 of 869 Old 06-13-2006, 02:11 PM
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Those low-cost set-tops cost less than $100. To make such boxes compliant with the new FCC rules would require CableCARD-technology integration that would add $50 in costs to each set-top -- costs that would be borne by subscribers, Comcast said.

Really, I thought they would take a decrease in profits.
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post #83 of 869 Old 06-21-2006, 09:52 AM - Thread Starter
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Comcast Eyes 100 Hours of HD VOD

Comcast has a proven record when it comes to serving up VOD offerings in its systems. Last year, the biggest cable operator in the country had 1.4 million VOD views, which was a dramatic increase over the 567 million views in 2004, and it was one of the first cable operators to launch the service back in 2001.

Now Comcast is taking a bead on increasing its HD VOD offerings. At last month's Cablelabs' analyst briefing, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said his company hopes to have 100 hours of HD VOD programming available in some markets by the end of this year. Mark Hess, Comcast's senior vice president of digital TV, said Comcast currently has 10-15 HD VOD movies in the markets that offer the service, so one of the immediate thrusts in reaching in the 100-hour mark is finding more HD VOD content.

"I think there will be a lot more content becoming available," Hess said. "I think more and more movies will be coming, which is a logical place to start."

Comcast could encode HD content itself for its on-demand offering by using its Comcast Media Center, but it will probably lean on existing relationships with programmers such as HBO. Hess said the details of finding the content are still a work in progress.

"If you're talking about movies, the content is obviously there in HD form," said Digdia analyst Gary Sasaki. "The problem there is whether or not the studios decide to release it in that form or not. There is some controversy about the copy protection that makes some of the studios nervous about it, but by and large they're releasing it."

When it comes to HD offerings for TV shows, Sasaki said the pickings are slim in regards to what is available in HD form over VOD.

"It's just a matter of trying to work with all of the different content providers and determine what's the best content for the consumer and what's the best mix for us," Hess said.

Ramping up for more HD VOD


When it comes to provisioning the increased amount of HD streams for VOD, Sasaki said for most cable operators it's a matter of allocating existing bandwidth. Depending on how it's compressed, an HD stream takes five to six times more bandwidth than a standard channel. As far as VOD capacity is concerned, most systems have been built for 10 percent utilization rates, but are currently hovering around 5 percent or less.

"If you've built for 10 percent utilization, then you have a lot of headroom at the moment for HD content," Sasaki said. "Those utilization rates are going to go up the more HD content we have. The only thing that will mitigate that issue for HD content is that not a lot of people can necessarily take advantage of the HD content yet. At the moment, the HD impact phenomena isn't as big as it will eventually be, but by the end of this decade, a lot of people will be looking at wide-screen TVs."

Thanks to its $39 billion upgrade, Comcast will be able to shuffle bandwidth around to the places that need it for HD VOD. One key, according to Hess, is fine-tuning a streaming architecture.

"Not to downplay it, but there's no real magic to delivering an HD VOD stream," Hess said. "The bigger challenge is that we architected this for all SD streams. When we first did the VOD architecture, we said, 'let's do 10 percent contention,' but an HD file is much larger. You have to look at how it will be used, and do you need to either catch smaller service groups or do you need to have more bandwidth?"

Comcast will look at how many HD set-top boxes there are on a node, what the usage will be and how it mixes with SD.

"You really have to re-engineer, to a certain extent, the architecture to make sure you have enough capacity," Hess said. "That's the big challenge with HD in terms of streaming it.

"The challenge we're looking at is 15 or so movies fit right within our model. At 10 percent contention, we had more capacity than we needed at the time, but when we go to 100 hours, we might get more HD usage, so we better take a hard look at it."

To start with, Comcast will pick a node that is easily serviceable so there are no contention issues, or it will pick a section of a system and allocate more bandwidth to it.

"We'll pick a market for a more expansive HD offering, gauge the usage, and then move from there," Hess said of the deployment strategy.

http://www.ct-magazine.com/news/062006.html
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Comcast Eyes 100 Hours of HD VOD

Comcast will look at how many HD set-top boxes there are on a node, what the usage will be and how it mixes with SD.

Sure a few people still have 5100s and 6200s, but there a bunch of 6412s out there, which could connected for for HD or SD. How can they accurately gauge HD STBs in a Motorola area? Answer is, they can't.
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post #85 of 869 Old 06-22-2006, 07:09 AM - Thread Starter
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Cable, CE Firms Tangle Over CableCARDs

JUNE 21, 2006

By Alan Breznick

The cable and consumer electronics industries are fighting over whether removable security devices, known as CableCARDs, should be required for all new, digital, cable-ready TV sets and set-top boxes.

Recently Comcast Corp. asked the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) if it would waive its mandatory CableCARD requirement for a for three new, low-cost, digital, cable set-top boxes. But the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and several leading electronics makers are opposed to the idea, saying that making CableCARDs optional would undercut support for the conditional access technology.

For its part, the cable industry argues that not requiring CableCARDs would help advance the nation's transition to digital TV.

CableCARDS were first required by the FCC to make it easier for all consumer electronic manufacturers to sell "plug-and-play" cable-ready equipment at retail stores. The idea was to provide adequate competition against the set-top giants such as Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta, and Pace Micro Technology, which all have agreements that allow MSOs to lease their set-tops to consumers. By separating the conditional access technology from the rest of the set-top, the FCC hoped to allow subscribers to buy any set-top they wanted -- then they would just get a CableCARD module from their MSO, plug it in, and turn on their cable service.

Unfortunately, CableCARDS have not exactly taken off. MSOs have handed out only about 141,000 CableCARDs to digital customers over the past two years. Cable operators complain that the clunky CableCARDS were developed in the late 1990s and carry an estimated price tag of about $75 apiece. That's more than the entire projected expense of the basic all-digital set-tops that MSOs want to install in subscribers' homes.

CableCARDS are a very necessary thing, but they're not a very elegant way to handle things, says Wayne Davis, former CTO of Charter Communications. Technology has marched on. It's not the best technology can offer.

While cable operators deride CableCARDS as cumbersome, expensive, and obsolete, many consumer electronics players accuse the cable industry of dragging its feet on implementation. They charge that cable operators wish to isolate CableCARD-enabled sets and set-tops as niche, specialty equipment, not gear that fairly competes with MSO-supplied set-tops.

In the latest fight over the security modules, Comcast has asked the FCC to suspend its July 1, 2007, CableCARD deadline for three new low-cost, limited-capability, digital set-tops -- Motorola's DCT-700, S-A's Explorer 940, and Pace's Chicago model. Comcast argues that a permanent waiver would allow it to use the set-tops to offer more family and ethnic programming services to customers and serve analog cable subscribers even after all TV stations start broadcasting in digital less than three years from now.

Not surprisingly, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), American Cable Association (ACA), Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta, and Pace are all lined up squarely behind Comcast's position. But, somewhat surprisingly, so are two big electronics manufacturers. Both Thomson, which used to make CableCARD-enabled digital TV sets, and Panasonic, which still does, have filed comments in support of the waiver request.

In opposing the waiver request, CEA contends that the proposed Comcast move would further dampen the market for CableCARD-enabled competitive gear. CEA also argues that the request is open-ended, suggesting no other deadline for Comcast to meet the requirement.

Sony, Sharp, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel are all in CEA's camp. Besides pushing for greater deployment of CableCARDS, they contend that granting the waiver would just encourage the cable industry to pursue a proprietary version of downloadable conditional access, not one open to competition from other IT developers.

http://www.cabledigitalnews.com/week...is/062106.html
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post #86 of 869 Old 06-23-2006, 08:13 AM - Thread Starter
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HD to help cable TV ward off IPTV, say execs

Loring Wirbel
(06/23/2006 10:35 AM EDT)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/showArticle.j...leID=189600890

DENVER Cable multisystem operators needn't fear the claims of IPTV dominance by telcos, provided they are aggressive in rolling out their own switched digital video plans, cable executives agreed at panels of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers here earlier this week.

Richard Green, president and chief executive of cable consortium CableLabs, said he sees only the Verizon FiOS topology as posing a true threat to hybrid fiber-coax architectures.

"HD channels are the ultimate weapon against IPTV, because most of the PON architectures being talked about right now can't handle multiple HD streams," Green said. "Verizon is the toughest competitor because it duplicates the cable plant."

Geraldine Laybourne, chairman and chief executive of Oxygen Media, said that MSOs shouldn't be too quick to dismiss telco architectures based on passive optical networks that shift to fiber closer to the consumer. Each network can develop unique market models based on available bandwidth, she said, and the availability of IP clipcasts and slivercasts may have unpredictable consequences.

Nevertheless, Jerold Kent, chief executive of Suddenlink Communications, wondered why the merged AT&T and SBC had decided to continue with the Project Lightspeed architecture, based on coarser PON concepts than FiOS.

"Why is Lightspeed going ahead if it can't handle HD sources?" Kent asked. "We must be more judicious and careful in our investments in the cable industry, none of us are the size of an AT&T, so none of us can offer something representing the multibillion-dollar investment of Lightspeed and just say 'Oh well' if it doesn't pan out."

Michael Fries, chief technology officer of Liberty Global Inc., and David Woodle, chairman and chief executive of C-Cor Corp., agreed that the trick is to get residential consumers to exchange twisted-pair copper for coaxial cable. Particularly in new residential homes, Woodle said, there is no justification for multiple physical access media when unified physical links will suffice.

David Fellows, retiring chief technology officer at Comcast Cable Communications Inc., said that switched digital video architectures using MPEG-4 compression represents the optimal network to carry as much HD channels as customers might demand, while preparing for a network shift to 100 percent Internet Protocol. In the short term, however, this means a real pain for MSOs of shifting from 64-QAM to 256-QAM modulation.
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post #87 of 869 Old 06-23-2006, 08:25 AM - Thread Starter
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Excerpt from:

http://hometheater.consumerelectroni...e.jsp?id=47346

Panasonic Bows High-End Blu-Ray System

By Glen Dickson, STAFF (Broadcasting & Cable)

...... Panasonic has also worked with cable operators like Comcast to make the high-def experience easier for consumers. At the CES show in January, it showed how OCAP-compliant consumer electronics products, such as HDTV sets or DVDs, can be controlled from the same remote used to direct a cable set-top. Panasonic also recently filed comments with the FCC in support of Comcast's petition for a waiver on the FCC's July 1, 2007, deadline to integrate removable CableCARD conditional access technology in all of its digital set-tops.

Dr. Paul Liao, Chief Technology Officer for Panasonic, says the company is supporting Comcast's position because it would like to see Comcast continue to reclaim analog bandwidth by rolling out more low-cost digital set-tops to enable digital simulcast service. That efforts means more bandwidth for HDTV programming, which in the long run is good for HDTV set-makers like Panasonic, he says.
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post #88 of 869 Old 06-23-2006, 08:31 AM - Thread Starter
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Cable's Still Sweet on Switched Digital

JUNE 22, 2006

By Alan Breznick

DENVER - Cable-Tec Expo - Sure, IPTV may be getting reams of press. But many top cable engineers here insist that switched digital video will trump IPTV's benefits because it's built to take advantage of cable's hybrid fiber coax (HFC) networks, which have lots of bandwidth to spare compared to older copper-fed access lines.

In several panel discussions and interviews here, cable engineers touted switched digital video as the industry's best way to carve out more bandwidth for new digital services. They especially see switched digital as the way for cable operators to pump up their HDTV offerings.

"I think cable operators are very well positioned," said Tom Buttermore, vice president and general manager of global cable solutions for Nortel Networks. "It boils down to physics. The fat pipe wins."

Switched digital video, as the name implies, refers to a networking scheme that allows cable operators to avoid sending every channel to each consumer's set-top box all the time. They only send down the channels requested, then they switch the streams as the consumer changes channels.

The upshot is that cable operators, who already have a fatter pipe to the home than most telcos, will be able to make more efficient use of last-mile bandwidth. This will allow the cable guys to offer HDTV channels to multiple rooms in a house simultaneously, beef up their video-on-demand offerings and serve up much more Internet bandwidth than their RBOC counterparts.

"It's not a matter of if but when," said Jim Chiddix, chairman and CEO of OpenTV. "Switched digital is really the way cable has to go."

Cable engineers also argued that cable operators could use switched digital technology to target programming and advertising to small demographic groups or even individual households or set-top boxes. They envision the day when MSOs could offer ad-supported switched channels with different ads geared at specific subscribers.

Time Warner Cable is leading the switched digital charge most aggressively. So far, the nation's second largest MSO has rolled out the technology fully in two markets (Columbia, Ga. and Austin, Tex.), switching more than 70 programming networks in each system. Plans call for extending switched digital's reach to several more undisclosed cable systems by the end of this year and most of its other markets in 2007.

Despite "a few hiccups," Time Warner Cable CTO Mike LaJoie said the company is pleased with the results so far. He noted that Time Warner is realizing "about 60% (gains in bandwidth) efficiencies" with the deployments.

"It's going quite well," LaJoie said. "As time goes by, we'll add more channels."

LaJoie's counterparts at Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications also expressed support for switched digital video. But, as they have in the past, they remained cagey about when they will launch the technology across their cable systems because of more pressing corporate priorities.

"We're on board with switched digital video," said David Fellows, executive vice president and CTO of Comcast, which is concentrating first on digital simulcasting rollouts. "But we'll do it in conjunction with the Next Generation Network architecture."

Marwan Fawaz, outgoing CTO of Adelphia Communications and incoming CTO of Charter, offered a similar response. "I give it a qualified yes," he said. "We're in the efficiencies stage."

Among those not as thrilled about switched digital video are the content makers. Here's why: with cable MSOs providing only what the customer requests through the last mile pipe, they'll be able to track exactly what consumers are really watching throughout their entire network.

Content makers are worried this will give cable operators the ability to negotiate lower affiliate fees for less popular channels or drop them from their lineups entirely.

"It probably scares the heck out of some content providers," Buttermore said. "It gives cable operators enormous bargaining power when talking to content providers They don't need Nielsens anymore."

During one panel, an audience member pointedly asked the switched digital proponents if cable operators viewed programming suppliers such as HBO and CNN as friend or foes. After an awkward silence, LaJoie offered a brief response.

"I wouldn't call it friend or foe," LaJoie said. "The world's changed around all of us."

http://www.cabledatacomnews.com/week...222006_02.html
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post #89 of 869 Old 06-23-2006, 06:52 PM - Thread Starter
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Cable CTOs Say OCAP Set-Tops Are Coming

JUNE 23, 2006

By Alan Breznick

DENVER - CableTec Expo - Nearly five years after CableLabs wrote the first technical specifications for digital cable set-top boxes and TV sets that would enable them to run on any cable system, the cable industry is finally ready to start pushing that gear.

Six of the nation's largest MSOs -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems, and Advance/Newhouse Communications -- are now upgrading their cable system headends to support digital TV gear equipped with the critical OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) middleware. They aim to deploy the OCAP software in at least a dozen markets, including such major metro areas as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, and Indianapolis, by the end of the year.

Critics charge that the MSO deployment plans sound more like token offerings to appease federal regulators, who have been pressing the cable industry to support interoperable equipment that consumers can buy at retail stores. They contend that cable operators have been dragging their feet on the issue for years because they fear competition to their leased set-top business model.

Speaking at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' Cable-Tec Expo confab here, two top cable engineers insisted that the industry is now committed to making OCAP work. Despite a load of technical headaches, they said their companies are moving ahead with their rollout schedules.

David Fellows, executive vice president and CTO of Comcast, reiterated that MSO's intention to launch OCAP in an industry-leading four regions by the end of the year, including its Boston, Denver, northern New Jersey, and hometown Philadelphia markets. He said Comcast is working with Panasonic, from which the MSO ordered at least 250,000 OCAP-equipped set-tops with high-definition (HD) and digital video recording (DVR) capabilities earlier this year, on the rollout plans.

Marwan Fawaz, outgoing CTO of Adelphia Communications and incoming CTO of Charter Communications, confirmed Charter's goal to get two markets ready for OCAP gear by year-end. Although he declined to name the markets, he said one launch will occur on a cable system with Motorola plant and electronics equipment and the other on a cable system supported by Scientific-Atlanta gear.

"One manufacturer is more ready than the other," said Fawaz, declining to say which vendor is better prepared. "I lose sleep worrying about it."

At least one top consumer electronics engineer thinks cable operators urgently need OCAP-enabled equipment to compete against DirecTV and EchoStar, as well as such other national players as the big RBOCs.

"Without OCAP, the cable industry would be at a severe competitive disadvantage," said Paul Liao, CTO of Panasonic Corp. of North America. "From a competitive perspective, I don't see how you can't do OCAP as quickly as possible. If you don't have OCAP, it's going to be your competitors who do that."

Some TV programming suppliers say a wholehearted cable commitment to OCAP could make a big difference for them as well. With OCAP-enabled TV sets and set-tops, content suppliers and applications providers can write just one piece of software to run the same fare on most cable systems.

"OCAP does matter to us," said Vincent Roberts, executive vice president of worldwide technology and operations for Disney/ABC Television Group. "We deliver to multiple consumer devices. That's a real challenge for us."

A number of consumer electronics manufacturers want to see OCAP swiftly deployed, too. In fact, three large electronics makers -- Panasonic, LG Electronics, and Samsung Electronics -- have already committed to building the OpenCable two-way digital TV sets that would use the software.

"From Panasonic's perspective, OCAP is an absolutely critical and essential step," Liao says. "There's only one thing that will make it better-- get it deployed."

Ironically, the cable industry is moving to make its digital set-tops more retail-friendly for consumers at the same time that the more retail-oriented satellite TV industry is adopting the traditional cable model of leasing gear to customers.

For example, DirecTV carried out a major shift in its hardware strategy in March, instituting a new leasing program that pays commissions to dealers for renting, not selling, satellite converters to customers. In the past, DirecTV always subsidized the cost of set-top box sales to subscribers.

http://www.cabledatacomnews.com/week...223006_01.html
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post #90 of 869 Old 06-23-2006, 11:00 PM
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We'll see what happens. If I don't like it I'll just drop the cable. Been thinking about doing that anyway as it's just too expensive for what you get. You can watch all the better stuff via Netflix without the commercials and at a more satisfying rate if you don't mind waiting a few years. Over the air broadcasts should give you the basic TV fix you need, and DVDs still work fine.
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