DENVER -- The digital transition has prompted cable operators to install millions of digital terminal adapters (DTAs) in homes with old-style analog television sets. To illustrate just how far and wide DTAs have spread, Rovi Corp. announced that it has now successfully deployed program guides on more than 500,000 of the low-cost set-tops across the US and Latin America. The Rovi guides have been implemented on both standard and high-definition boxes from Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Evolution Digital LLC and Pace Micro Technology . (See Rovi Roams to More Devices.)
There's a tight limit to the functions that a DTA can perform because of the restrictions that the FCC has placed on deploying advanced set-tops with integrated security. However, Rovi's software provides an interactive program guide with details on channel line-ups, parental control features and multi-language support. Armstrong Cable in the US and Cablevision Argentina are among the service providers using the Rovi guide on DTAs.
"Rovi has provided significant support as we execute our strategy of enhancing subscriber satisfaction while moving to an all-digital environment," said Armstrong Vice President of Cable Marketing Dave Whittmann in a statement. "Rovi not only delivered the high-quality navigation experience needed to make the process easy and positive for our customers, but also the assistance required to streamline the service-wide rollout."
The transition from analog to digital cable, which DTAs enable, continues to be a priority for the industry as operators seek to reclaim spectrum for more advanced services. The new DOCSIS 3.1 standard will also need more spectrum freed up for full implementation.
DENVER -- Comcast is planning its next move in customer services apps, and augmented reality technology may be on the product roadmap.
Speaking here Monday at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo show, Anthony Fox, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) vice president of product management, said he's now looking at how technology from the well-known augmented reality company, Metaio, could be applied at Comcast for customer service. Appearing alongside Jack Dashwood, senior marketing manager for Metaio, at a session titled "Cable Has an App for That," Fox said he first saw Metaio's AR technology in 2013 and was intrigued.
Augmented Reality combines images from the real world with additional digital information. In Comcast's case, Fox talked about the possibility of allowing new cable subscribers to take pictures with their mobile devices of an image on the bottom of a modem or set-top. The image would then provide information to the Comcast system and allow the operator to initiate product provisioning automatically.
Cable companies, and particularly Comcast, continue to get blasted for poor customer service. But, as Fox explained, one way the company is combating the problem is by putting more choice and control into consumer hands. New apps might not make discontinuing service any less hard (witness tech blogger Ryan Block's now infamous phone attempt to cut off Comcast service), but they should make setting it up and using it a little bit easier. (See Despite Efforts, Cable Service Still Sucks.)
Today, Comcast has several self-service apps, including Xfinity Connect and Xfinity My Account. Fox says these apps have reduced call volumes at customer support centers, and that self-installations have doubled since 2011.
Meanwhile, AR is gaining traction as a customer support tool. In his talk, Dashwood provided several examples of industries that have adopted the technology to improve service. Volkswagen has deployed an AR app for its limited-edition L1 concept car. Customer service agents use the app to perform a visual diagnostic scan and determine what issues may need to be addressed. Dashwood also talked about how AR apps have been created to help users with printer set-up and configuration.
The technology behind AR is anything but simple since it has to teach a smartphone how to "see" in the same way that humans do. But implementation may get easier once phones start to double up on cameras. Two cameras in a phone would create depth perception the same way that two human eyes do.
Fox didn't share a timeline for Comcast to start using AR in its self-service apps. But the company has talked about testing the technology in Comcast Labs since June 2013. Fox's presentation suggests implementation may be getting closer.
Ultimately I can see Comcast adopting this codec for all of its content, but first Comcast will go to mpeg-4 for all of the non 4K content since all of Comcast's new equipment is mpeg-4 capable.
DTA On-Screen Guide FAQs
October 16, 2014 at 3:20 PM
Introduction This article details frequently asked questions regarding the On-Screen Guide available on DTA devices.
What are the benefits of this On-Screen Guide?
This is the first time an On-Screen Guide has been available on digital adapters! With the guide, you now have access to TV listings, Parental Controls and information on the channel you're watching.
My remote control does not have arrow keys, so how do I navigate the guide?
Since the standard digital adapter remote control does not have arrow keys, the number keys are used for navigation when the guide is displayed. When in the guide, pressing 0 will display a helpful keypad overlay. Press 2 for Up, 4 for Left, 6 for Right and 8 for Down.
When I change channels, an information bar displays on-screen; what is that?
The information you see is called the SmartBar. The SmartBar displays the channel number and name, as well as the program that is on now and the program that is coming on next. The SmartBar is also the entry point to view TV Listings and the Setup menu.
Can I enter channel numbers to go directly to a channel?
When the guide is displayed, the number keys on the remote control will function only for navigation, which includes using the SmartBar. If the guide is not displayed, however, you can enter in your desired channel number and tune directly to that channel.
Can I access the SmartBar without changing channels?
Yes, to access the SmartBar simply press INFO on your remote control.
How do I turn on Closed Captioning?
To turn on Closed Captioning, you will need to enter your TV manufacturers' Settings menu using the remote control that comes with your TV. Please consult your TV's user guide to locate the Closed Captioning settings in the menu.
Can I set up Parental Controls on the digital adapter?
Yes, you now have more choice and control over what your family is able to watch by setting Parental Controls. You can lock content by ratings or by individual channels. You can also hide certain program titles. Simply press INFO and highlight Setup on the SmartBar, then navigate down to Parental Controls. You will need to set a Locks PIN before setting up Parental Controls.
What if I forget my Parental Control PIN?
No problem. If you enter your Locks PIN incorrectly 5 times and get locked out, you can simply wait 30 minutes until our system resets, or click Forgot PIN and you will be emailed a reset PIN.
Can I customize parts of the guide?
Yes, you can customize options like the language of the guide, the amount of time the SmartBar is displayed, location of the SmartBar and the Remote Help display. All customizable settings can be found in the Setup menu under Guide Setup.
Why is this On-Screen Guide different from other guides in my home?
The On-Screen Guide on your Digital Adapter is not that different from any of your other set-top box guides. Because the Digital Adapter is a one-way device, Pay Per View and XFINITY On Demand are not available but the most important features, like Parental Controls, are included in the guide.
Why do I see "To Be Announced" in the TV Listings grid?
If you have just activated your device, or have recently pulled and reapplied power to the device, you will see "To Be Announced" where you TV Listings should be. This means that the guide is downloading the program information and should complete in 10-15 minutes. If it has been longer than 15 minutes and you are still seeing "To Be Announced," reach behind your Digital Adapter and remove and reinsert the power connector. This will powercycle the Digital Adapter and the download will begin again. If that does not fix the issue within 15 minutes, call 1-800-XFINITY.
When using the TV Listings grid, can I move up or down a page or do I need to move one row at a time?
You can move up or down an entire page by using the Channel Up/Down buttons on your remote. Channel + will page up in the grid and Channel - will page down in the grid.
My friend's DTA has a guide, but mine doesn't.
The DTA On-Screen Guide was originally made available via trials for select markets only. We have since decided to deploy the guide nationally on a rolling basis. You will receive a message on your bill when the new guide becomes available in your area.
Barring a presidential pardon, the CableCARD mandate is headed for an inglorious exit.
Late last week the US Senate passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) Act, a compromise bill already approved by the House. In addition to allowing satellite operators to beam out-of-market broadcast TV signals to rural areas, STELAR includes a provision ending the separable security requirement for cable set-tops. Since 2007, cable companies have been under mandate to break out the security function from cable boxes using CableCARD technology. The mandate was supposed to spark retail set-top competition, but it has widely been considered a failure.
President Obama is expected to sign the bill before the existing satellite rules expire at the end of this year. Assuming it becomes law, the integrated security ban for set-tops will sunset at the end of 2015.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) originally lobbied to get the CableCARD provision tossed out of the STELAR Act. But the two senators backed down in order to get the rest of the bill through Congress.
In the private sector, TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) has been one of the biggest proponents of keeping the CableCARD mandate in place. Cable companies, however, have been anxious to see CableCARD go. While the nine largest cable providers in the US have now deployed more than 50 million set-tops with embedded CableCARDs, those same operators have shipped out fewer than 650,000 individual CableCARDs for use in retail devices.
In a statement on the STELAR Act, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said, "In passing H.R. 5728, the Senate has moved with appropriate speed to prevent consumer disruption and to enact meaningful video reforms. We applaud Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Thune for their leadership and dedication to achieving bipartisan consensus on the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014, including action that will sunset the FCC's outdated and ill-conceived 'integration ban' at long last."
Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Monday that they have been assured by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that he will move quickly in coming up with a new plan for creating a competitive set-top box market.
The senators released Wheeler's response to the request for that expedited action, which followed the passage last week of a satellite reauthorization bill that eliminated the FCC's integrated cable set-top box ban, which had been intended to spur that market but had failed to do so.
The law mandates that the FCC create a working group and come up with a successor, but Markey and Blumenthal put an exclamation point on the need for speed.
Wheeler signaled he had gotten the point, actually echoing a commitment he made Friday in a press conference with reporters.
"Recognizing the near-term enactment of STELAR, I plan to direct the Commission staff to establish the Working Group as quickly as possible," Wheeler said. He said the Commission will help the group, and assess the best way to proceed when it releases its report, which has to be within nine months of the enactment of the bill, which should be this week or next.
The ban sunsets a year after enactment.
“We appreciate Chairman Wheeler’s commitment to moving as quickly as possible to put in place a new standard in light of the upcoming repeal of the existing integration ban rule. We believe we need to protect competition and choice in the set top box marketplace. Consumers should not have to pay high monthly fees to lease cable boxes forever. We look forward to working with the Commission and its Working Group as it works to implement a new standard. The Chairman’s letter today confirms our belief that he will embrace the Commission's role as a champion of consumer choice, and we anticipate that a majority of his fellow Commissioners will support these efforts," said Public Knowledge, which had been pushing, along with Markey and Blumenthal, to have the integration ban elimination struck from the bill.
But Public Knowledge was not taking any chances. At about the same time it was sending out that comment, it sent an e-mail to supporters asking them to sign a petition to the FCC to move on a new set-top regime.
While there's no good time for a cable TV outage, right in the middle of a big holiday week has to rank among the worst.
According to reports in the official Comcast user forums (hat tip, DSLReports), X1 customers have been having issues with DVR service since at least yesterday. Subscribers report that they haven't been able to record TV shows or even access previous recordings despite the fact that programs are stored locally. Rebooting the cable box doesn't solve the problem, and at least one user got word from Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) that the issue is company-wide and "engineers are working on it."
Light Reading has reached out to Comcast for more information, but is still waiting on further details.
The latest difficulties with X1 come after Charlie Herrin, Comcast's new SVP of customer experience, already had to issue an apology earlier this month for TV outages affecting a significant portion of X1 customers. Herrin apologized not only for the outage, but also for difficulties some subscribers had reaching customer support. Comcast further backed up the mea culpa with $20 service credits, which have since been issued to user accounts.
Unfortunately for Comcast, the technical and customer support issues with X1 come at the same time that the company is trying to convince regulators that it should be allowed to acquire Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). TWC has had major service issues of its own and was fined $1.1 million by the FCC in August for its failure to comply with outage reporting requirements. If and when the two companies merge, not only will the new entity face a combination of their existing problems, but also potential new issues stemming from system integration challenges. (See TWC Internet Outage Follows $1.1M Fine .)
In the meantime, while technical difficulties continue to plague Comcast, the company is working to improve the way it handles support service. In addition to creating the new SVP of customer experience position, Comcast recently introduced a new feature for its MyAccount app that allows customers to track support technicians on their way to a service appointment. The feature entered trials in Boston last week and is expected to debut for more customers in 2015.
Quick Reference of Forum Rules
1) Do Not post pricing you found on-line or at a local dealer UNLESS IN A DEALS THREAD.
2) Do Not ask for, or offer, a receipt so people can price match.
3) Do Not say to "Call John Smith at ..." (you know what I mean)
4) Do Not put down someone else's choice in...
Several Enhancements Focus On Sports Programming
Comcast has recently enhanced some features tied to X1, its IP-capable video platform, including several that tie into how customers access and navigate sports programming.
As explained in this blog post by Pete Nush, Comcast Cable’s executive director, product management, Comcast has redesigned X1’s Sports Guide View. Among the additions is a “Browse By Sport” row that gives viewers a look at upcoming live programming arranged by sport; an “Events On Tonight” row that shows sports programming that airs between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.; simplified access to available programing and pages related to a customer’s favorite teams; and indicators within the traditional guide search view that enable viewers to tune directly to a live game or restart it (if the sporting event is start over-eligible).
Among other enhancements, Comcast, Nush noted, has spruced up the user interface for voice control interactions via the X1 Remote app and new design of on-screen notifications that appear when voice commands are used. Comcast has also added a feature that tells customers when their remote control battery has reached a “critically low” level and requires a swap-out.
Comcast has also enhanced X1’s “Recently Watched” feature, which shows the last nine programs a customer has viewed. The updated version is now faster and more responsive, according to Nush.
Comcast hasn’t announced how many customers are on its cloud-focused X1 platform/interface, but revealed late last year that it has deployed more than 5 million X1 boxes.