Archives For Industry

Now that most of industry’s original interactive TV companies are dead and gone, Comcast may be looking to revive the one thing those iTV enterprises promised above all else – a way to access the web on your TV.

FierceCable’s Steve Donahue uncovered a patent application today detailing how Comcast might enable web-based search engines and TV-based commerce on cable set-tops. In the application, Comcast also notes that it could link its iTV platform to content from other video service providers, potentially knocking down a wall or two around the cable garden landscape. From the patent application summary:

The present invention is directed to content searching of various databases in an interactive television network; caching programming for rebroadcasting to interactive television network subscribers; and interactively offering goods and services referred to in broadcast programming to interactive television network subscribers.

There are certainly plenty of roundabout ways to do a little web browsing on your living-room TV set today, but it’s hardly common practice. In fact, the main reason connected TVs are growing in popularity is not because people want to surf Facebook or play Angry Birds, but because they want access to more content on the biggest screens they own. Presumably, Comcast is using this latest patent application to further its own content ambitions – not just opening up access to other video services where necessary, but making its own growing library of on-demand content available on a platform with increased interface flexibility, access to new distribution channels, and greater room for continued content growth.

The new patent application also falls in line with Comcast’s Xcalibur initiative and its overall transition to IP-based television. Comcast is currently testing the Xcalibur service in Augusta, Georgia, and reportedly has an all-IP set-top – something that would pair nicely with a new iTV platform – on its product roadmap.

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  April 5, 2012

A periodic roundup of relevant news… via our other outlets:

Comcast subscribers may soon get HBO Go on the Xbox
The fact that Comcast has blocked HBO Go on some devices has been a major point of contention in recent weeks. Reports say that Comcast and HBO are closing in on a deal to make the HBO Go app available to Xfinity subscribers on the Xbox and the operator may unlock access as early as this week.

Comcast plans the X3, its first all-IP HD set-top
In addition to building out the Xcalibur platform, Comcast has several other IP initiatives in the works. In February the operator introduced Streampix, an on-demand Internet-based service that’s been compared to an early version of Netflix’s (Nasdaq: NFLX) streaming service. Then there’s the Comcast Xfinity app on Xbox

Google reaches halfway mark with new fiber huts in Kansas and Missouri 
Time Warner has been dismissive of Google’s plans so far. A spokesperson told the Kansas City Star, “This [Google Fiber] is a product that doesn’t exist on a network that doesn’t exist.” Google, however, says it will begin offering service on the new fiber network later this year.

Rovi signs new wide-ranging licensing deal with Sony
Rovi announced that it has signed a technology and patent licensing agreement with Sony covering components of Rovi’s interactive program guide (IPG), which is currently in use by Panasonic, Toshiba, Charter Communications, and Suddenlink, among others.

Last week a number of Comcast subscribers had a serious hardware problem on their hands. Netgear modems in California suddenly stopped working. Specifically, owners of the Netgear CMD31T lost Internet service, and subscribers were given a lot of confusing information about why they were being left out in the cold.

Industry analyst Mike Demler first reported the issue on EE Daily News, and noted that he was told by a Comcast technician that his Netgear model was not designed to work in California. Demler’s modem had been working for two straight months, however, and a quick search on the Internet found a data sheet saying the modem should work for all major providers except Time Warner. A trip to the local Frys Electronics store confirmed other Comcast subscribers were having the same problem, and Demler quickly escalated his investigation by reaching out to the PR departments at both Comcast and Netgear.

Fast forward to today, and it turns out that the faulty modem problem is an IPv6 issue. Here’s the statement from Comcast:

Comcast is in the process of deploying IPv6 nationally, as noted on this site in great detail. We recently identified that the retail NetGear CMD31T device ships with and runs an uncertified version of firmware that exacerbates a critical IPv6-related defect. To ensure Comcast customers with these devices will continue to have uninterrupted Internet service, we have rolled back IPv6 temporarily in some parts of our network to give NetGear more time to address the issue. Comcast anticipates NetGear will soon address the issue for their retail devices, which we will test and deploy on an emergency basis.

Of course the Comcast/Netgear problem makes one wonder what other glitches we’ll see as the IPv6 rollouts continue. Comcast plans to have IPv6 deployed in half of its network by the second half of this year. Here’s hoping the migration progresses as (relatively) smoothly as the digital TV transition. I had concerns then too, but ultimately the shift proved largely uneventful.

If you were mesmerized by Apple news this week, you might have missed the scoop from The New York Post suggesting that Google is putting the Motorola set-top business on the chopping block. So far it doesn’t appear that anyone else has confirmed the report, but no one’s terribly surprised by it either. Google has enough of an integration mess on its hands without adding set-tops to the list. And while I speculated on some of the potential advantages for Google last year, I would have been more surprised than not to see the company try to make a go of it in cable.

So with that out of the way, who could potentially be interested in the Motorola cable portfolio? It’s important to note that the products include a lot more than just set-tops. There’s also encoding, content management, security, and access network technology. (Full Disclosure: I still do some contract work for the network infrastructure portion of the business.) Jeff Baumgartner has speculated here and here about who might be interested. The potential suitors mostly differ depending on which set of Motorola assets we’re talking about, but there are couple that might be willing to take a flyer on the whole bag of tricks, namely Arris and Ericsson.

Meanwhile, Jeff mentioned one company that had me spitting coffee across the table. He wasn’t talking about an acquisition, but he did suggest TiVo might be in a position to help fill in the gap left if Motorola exited the set-top biz. Yes, TiVo. After all the years of fighting for toehold in the cable industry (and even times when Motorola at least unofficially considered acquiring the company), the idea that TiVo might come out on top here is irony at its finest. There’s nothing to say that will actually happen, but even that there’s editorial consideration of the idea has me chuckling and shaking my head. Here’s what Jeff had to say about TiVo:

It’s been a painful and sometimes downright ugly process, but TiVo’s cable strategy is paying dividends as it sees subscribers rise to new levels thanks to MSO partnerships. Cable’s starting to take a real shine to TiVo’s UI and over-the-top video capabilities. Also, TiVo gives cable a line into the retail market.

For a look at the other side of the coin, check out what Motorola has to say on its blog about its business and the future of the set-top.

As we’re all well aware, Apple introduced the “new” iPad yesterday. And, while I’m still not quite sold on the tablet form factor, I did place a pre-order. Primarily due the iPad 3’s integrated voice dictation capabilities and much heralded “retina” display — likely featuring more pixels than anything else in our homes. Although, I do wonder how long it’ll take app developers to maximize its potential.

During the marketing spiel Apple made several fascinating and dramatic proclamations. I’m not prepared to classify any as dubious, but it looks as if some could be comparing apples & oranges. For example, I was initially stunned when they said, “This new device has more memory and higher screen resolution than an Xbox 360 or PS3.” Yet, after thinking about it, the factoid isn’t so surprising… and what exactly does it mean?

Other interesting points to ponder: Nvidia has taken  issue with the characterization of their competing chipset, utilized by some Android devices, and what exactly is a PCContinue Reading…

Nest vs Comcast smart thermostat

The tech world went a little crazy when the Nest thermostat launched. However, we haven’t seen quite the same level of excitement for the home automation services making their way to market from the cable and telco providers. And those services are growing by the day. Comcast has launched Xfinity Home to about one third of its customers, and plans to cover almost its entire footprint by the end of the year. Time Warner Cable also said in a recent earnings report that it plans to extend its home automation service to more markets in 2012. And Verizon is quite likely to do the same, having debuted its home control service back in October.

Of course, the MSOs are offering something quite a bit different from Nest. The full Xfinity Home package, for example, includes thermostat control, home security, door and window sensors, motion detectors, smoke detectors, lighting control and a glass-break sensor. Nest is just a smart thermostat. But the beauty of Nest is that it offers something simple, and you only have to buy it once – no subscription fee required.

The operators are betting big that home automation will give them another value-added service to keep margins up and avoid the dumb pipe scenario. However, I have to wonder if subscribers are willing to fatten up the cable/telco monthly bill even more. Home security is its own business, and perhaps the operators can chip away at ADT’s market share. But adding on a regular fee for thermostat or lighting control strikes me as a hard sell. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is like the DVR, and only when the cable/telco industry jumps on board will the market really take off. But personally, if I decide to spent money on temperature control, I’ll pick up the Nest device. It sure is prettier.  Continue Reading…

jobs-vader

The Verge sat down with chip manufacturer ARM at Mobile World Congress to discuss strategy. But when confronted with an Apple inquiry, they responded:

We don’t comment on Apple. Full stop.

Of course, these days, this sort of reaction isn’t so unusual. Apple clearly prefers to tell their own story and they’ve got the muscle to insist. But it seems a far cry from the era when Apple raged against the machine and encouraged us to think different. Now they make the rules as every one of us eagerly anticipates their iPad 3. Yet, really, the main purpose of this post was as an opportunity to brush up on my Photoshop skills. Leave your clever captions below.