[opendtv] CE manufacturers to hide upgradeable middleware inside sets

  • From: "Manfredi, Albert E" <albert.e.manfredi@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 8 Jul 2008 12:04:17 -0400

Speaking of STBs, ...

So it looks like several other CE manufacturers have, in fact, joined
in.

This is what I figured (hoped) would happen, several years ago, and why
I didn't think that you absolutely had to have DVB in order to arrive at
a common digital TV platform in the US.

Bert

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http://www.tvtechnology.com/pages/s.0082/t.14186.html

Beyond the Box

CE manufacturers to hide upgradeable middleware inside sets

by John Merli, 6.25.2008
John Merli is a News Correspondent for TV Technology Magazine.

LOUISVILLE, COLO.

If there's one thing that stands out like a sore thumb with all those
architecture-neutral, new-world, flat-screen HD sets, it's all those
old-world cable boxes and the unruly wiring that goes with them. This
seems especially true for wall-mounted units. But all that is about to
change as major manufacturers begin hiding the next generation of cable
boxes inside new DTV sets. And at the same time, the cable industry
hopes to satisfy FCC concerns over the next tier of consumer services,
as well.

Earlier this month Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, ADB, Digeo and Intel all
formally signed a comprehensive agreement with America's six largest
cable firms, including Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, Charter, Bright House
and Cablevision to develop technology compliant with CableLab's tru2way
technology that could eventually lead to the demise of the cable set top
box. The agreement will affect more than 80 percent of the U.S. cable
market, according to the National Cable Television Association.
Eventually, the NCTA said, it will affect virtually every cable
subscriber in America.

JAVA BASED

The technical two-way heart of this box-inside-the-box concept that a
wide array of other parties also plan to use (i.e., TiVo), consists of
Java-based, upgradeable middleware that enables the so-called "tru2way"
technology developed by CableLabs. Beyond the mere streamlined cosmetics
produced by hiding the box, the NCTA and CEA believe the agreement with
the CE companies will help establish a competitive market for two-way
cable-ready products and services. (The "tru2way" brand replaced the use
of the term "OpenCable Platform" for marketing the interactive video
platform to consumers.)

While tru2way still requires consumers to obtain cable cards from their
local systems (a bit of a nuisance that never caught on with the public
several years ago), this next-gen cable card could prove more popular
because tru2way accesses popular services such as VOD, DVR, and program
start-over options, among others.

NCTA Vice President and General Counsel Neal Goldberg said the main
reason cable cards never caught on with consumers several years ago was
because they were essentially one way-only devices.

"A common misconception is that there are one-way or two-way cable
cards," Goldberg said. "But in reality, all cards are inherently
two-way. They all serve the purpose for two-way devices, but they only
work two-way if they're in a device that [allows them to]. Now the
middleware in this two-way technology makes it future-proof because it
allows downloading for upgrades."

tru2way middleware upgrades will be provided by other manufacturers. The
application's software (EPG, interactive TV, VOD, etc.) will be updated
periodically by Comcast, Cox and other cablers, using the DOCSIS
(Data-Over-Cable System Interface Specification) communications "path"
built into new DTV sets. Thus, tru2way will allow cable firms and
middleware developers to upgrade systems literally overnight-in sharp
contrast to the often cumbersome methods of upgrading cable services
through its first few decades of existence. (On a more basic level,
cablers will no longer be required to supply their own boxes for
subscriber rental, at a huge cost savings.)

According to Jud Cary, CableLab's vice president for video technology
policy and deputy general counsel, tru2way can also be both hardware and
software.

"As a middleware, it is licensed from CableLabs and 'implemented' by
Sony for their specific device," Cary said. "The middleware abstracts
the hardware and exposes a common set of Java APIs [application program
interfaces] that applications can run on, similar, for example, to the
Windows operating system." tru2way will provide cable operators and an
array of retail devices with "a common, national footprint" for
deploying interactive applications, Cary said. (tru2way is the
consumer-level brand for OpenCable and OCAP, both of which were designed
to provide a common platform for interactive digital video on a global
basis.) Therefore, Cary said, future tru2way devices beyond DTV sets
could be DVRs, mobile TV, and other digital products (including, yes,
even future cable set-top boxes, should the desire for them ever arise
again).

AN ATTRACTIVE ALTERNATIVE

Sony was the first out of the gate to announce the tru2way agreement
earlier this month. Edgar Tu, Sony America's senior vice president of TV
operations, said no specific timetable for a rollout of cable-ready Sony
TV sets has been established yet.

"We cannot comment on how many, or if all Sony TVs, will offer
[tru2way], or how much it will cost," Tu said, adding that Sony
typically does not comment on negotiations or agreements with other
parties, acknowledging only that "the agreement [with the six cable
firms] gives manufacturers like Sony an opportunity to offer a different
experience to consumers than the standard cable rental box."

Cox Cable's Steve Necessary, vice president of video product
development, said the manufacturer-cabler arrangement should give
consumers the confidence of knowing that newer applications (including
Caller ID on the TV screen) will reliably work as a result of the
tru2way middleware component.

More to the point, he said, "Some consumers will simply like the
aesthetic advantages of a 'no set-top box' environment, as well as the
lower monthly fees that go with CableCARDs as compared to STBs. Cox, for
its part, benefits by having provided another attractive option to our
customers. And when they're happy, we're happy." (Comcast, the nation's
largest cable firm, would not comment on the tru2way agreement.)

There is also a political side to the tru2way initiative: If the
industry can satisfy some long-held concerns at the FCC, it could quite
possibly avoid any regulatory mandates down the road aimed at ensuring
wider consumer access to two-way and other newer cable services.

"We're pleased this technical challenge has been addressed through a
voluntary, private-sector solution," said Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of
the Consumer Electronics Association. "And we look forward to working
with our cable colleagues to ensure Americans across the country have
access to high-value cable content, while using the equipment of their
[own] choosing."

Goldberg said the manufacturers' agreement stands in contrast to a set
maker merely signing on for a license to use a specific technology.

"This is really the equivalent of what the FCC might have done with some
regulation," he said. "The agreement is a comprehensive framework for
development, deployment and support of true two-way technology."
 
 
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