Archives For Industry

Comcast Xfinity Barcelona Guide with AnyRoom DVR

Comcast has a new TV guide in the works, and it’s reportedly headed to Cisco set-tops this year and into 2012. Online personality cypherstream (who always seems to have the inside scoop at Comcast) pointed out a new web page yesterday on the Xfinity site. The page details features of the new guide, including the ability to control DVR place-shifting in the home, a feature Comcast calls AnyRoom DVR. After scouting out the page, I was able to confirm with my own source that the “Barcelona” guide is scheduled to roll out to Comcast subscribers with Cisco set-tops in the near future, followed by subscribers with Motorola set-tops at a later date.

Since Motorola set-tops are usually the first ones to get updates in Comcast land, I wondered briefly why the operator decided to switch things up this time around. But the answer seems obvious after a moment. Motorola set-tops got the update to the A28 guide in 2010, and Comcast started introducing AnyRoom DVR via the A28 guide last summer. In contrast, Cisco boxes have been stuck with the A25 guide for some time now, and no multi-room DVR service. The Barcelona guide brings Cisco boxes up to par, not only with AnyRoom DVR, but also with an HD interface, a filter for watching HD-only shows, and integrated search combining linear TV and VOD listings.

Of course, the Barcelona guide still doesn’t compare to the promise of the IP-based Xcalibur guide. But most of the country still has to wait a while for that one.

Back in September I heard from a source that Starz was not only pulling its content from Netflix, but also planning an app on the HBO Go model. Now we have confirmation from Starz President Chris Albrecht that a mobile app is on the roadmap for 2012. Not only that, but Albrecht said at an investor conference in New York yesterday that Starz is also open to offering a service not tied to a cable TV subscription. This may be a warning shot at operators who are blocking HBO Go on the Roku. If premium content providers like Starz and HBO can’t count on their operator partners to get their content to every paying audience, then they have to look at other distribution options.

On the other side of the coin, I have serious questions about Starz’s ability to go it alone. One option Albrecht reportedly mentioned at yesterday’s conference would be to bundle Starz with a broadband connection rather than with cable TV. But I think Starz would need to offer a pretty sweet deal to make that attractive. Does Starz really have enough desirable content for consumers to pay for the content by itself? The a-la-carte model always sounds good, but it would get expensive awfully quick. And there are only a few channels with enough cache to get consumers pulling out their wallets. ESPN and HBO could maybe pull it off, but Starz? I’m skeptical.

Meanwhile, Albrecht did say that Starz is also in discussions with other distributors like Amazon.com and Blockbuster, even if it’s through with Netflix.

Moxi Guide 1

Some of us still mourn the days when Digeo could have launched a credible retail DVR product with its Moxi box, but at least the technology hasn’t gone away. After Arris’ acquisition of Digeo in late 2009, we finally saw the deal bear fruit earlier this year when the company rolled out its Moxi set-tops with Shaw in Canada and BendBroadband in Oregon. Now, product manager Paul Palermo says there’s more in store for the re-branded Moxi Whole Home Solution. Arris will soon make an SDK available so that cable operators can take advantage of the Moxi Gateway’s IP connectivity to deliver their own apps to the TV. In the near future, Palermo says that there will be web browser capabilities in the gateway as well, though whether operators choose to use them is another question entirely.

Lots of cable operators are creating their own apps these days, so it’s no real surprise that hardware suppliers are trying to facilitate the jump from tablets and smartphones to the TV. Initially, though, the cable operators using the Moxi solution are only marketing it as a whole-home DVR. That’s a relatively easy sell for subscribers, who now know what whole-home DVR is, and why they should want it.

Meanwhile, Arris also has the Moxi UI going for it. Cable companies can brand the guide at will, but the interface is recognizable from the Digeo days. Big cablecos will still build their own EPGs of course, but smaller ones are generally happy to let someone else do the heavy lifting. Check out the photos below (shot on site at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo) to see some shiny new updates to pics of the Moxi guide.

Rovi TotalGuide 1

It’s the start of the SCTE Cable Tec-Expo in Atlanta, which means you’re going to see a lot of cable news over the next two days. Among the vendor announcements, Rovi’s put out two customer releases related to the company’s TotalGuide EPG solutions. BlueRidge Communications is now using the white label version of Rovi’s TotalGuide xD application for smartphones and tablets (think Comcast iPad web app, but built by Rovi), and Buckeye Communications is rolling out the TotalGuide on its advanced set-tops.

This may not sound like exciting news, but it is when you consider that Rovi is bringing Internet-sourced content to the cable TV guide experience. Features include an HD interface, unified search, and “six-degree discovery” recommendations linking related content via cast and crew, awards, similar programs and more. When I spoke to Rovi VP Sharon Metz last week, she mentioned that Buckeye specifically is delivering Internet-based guide data using the DOCSIS modem in Motorola and Pace set-tops. Now there may be other applications using that set-top Internet connection by now, but this is the first consumer app I’ve heard of that takes advantage of that connectivity. (We’ll talk about what’s happening on Arris gateways another time.) Rovi’s got other customers on the roster too. This year the company’s announced TotalGuide EPG deals with BendBroadband, Armstrong, Suddenlink and Charter Communications.

iPhones and Old Folks

Dave Zatz —  November 14, 2011

According to Nielsen research, folks aged 55 – 64 represent the fastest growing segment of smartphone adoption (as us whipper snapper generations are somewhat saturated with technology at this point). And while I’m sorry to skew their results, we brought my 68 year old mother into the fold this past weekend.

After the last few visits with Mom, it became clear she would benefit from smartphone features – namely access to a digital rolodex and efficient web searching while on the go. But would she be comfortable with the tech? She had her doubts. But, as I reassured over the last few months, a much more capable and powerful iPhone would actually be simpler to use than her aging Nokia flip – which she had a tough time using for text messaging and routinely, but inadvertently, snapped pictures of her feet.

Of course I’m the family tech advisor and what moved this project forward was Apple opening up their Mobile Me tier by offering free email and address books under iCloud (because seniors have fixed incomes). I’m convinced Mom could have handled Yahoo Mail, but Gmail’s interface would have overwhelmed her when migrating from her Mindspring Earthlink ISP. But Apple’s solution is even cleaner, featuring a streamlined, ad-free web UI… with seemless iOS integration. So shortly after iCloud went live, I created her email account and gave her two weeks to start populating the online address book from various lists and notebooks. Continue Reading…

Another week, another HP reversal. Or is it?

As the story goes, HP outbid several suitors to pick up Palm and their webOS assets about a year and a half ago for a cool $1.2 billion. It was an interesting corporate maneuver as HP previously had minimal success in the mobile space pitching Microsoft-powered handsets to corporate America and webOS would provide an attractive, modern operating system to a broader audience. In fact, they had dreams of porting the OS to all sorts of devices, including printers and computers. But the Palm team’s sluggish development pace and perhaps uninspired hardware design continued under HP. And, despite promises to the contrary, they launched their iPad tablet competitor with incomplete software… leading to a number of unflattering reviews and lukewarm sales. Fast forward a mere two months, instead of doubling down, HP blows up the enterprise – discontinuing the TouchPad with fire sale pricing and leaving the webOS unit in limbo. Some layoffs began last month and earlier this week The Guardian reported that HP will completely “kill webOS” and lay off the remaning 500 employees in that division. Or will they? One HP exec responds to this “unfounded rumor” via an Engadget transcription that HP continues to evaluate ways to “effectively utilize that phenomenal software.”

So what’s it going to be? HP is clearly a dysfunctional and schizophrenic organization having gone through three CEOs in little more than a year and backtracking on plans to spinoff their PC business. (Keeping it around was the correct move.) After several months in limbo, I believe webOS is dead at HP – despite what execs feed investment television. Given their failure to commit, even more than their failure to execute, webOS surely belongs elsewhere. The question is will anyone offer HP enough cash for them to unload the property? Unfortunately, I’m not feeling hopeful and envision a Cisco-esque Flip flameout.

Our growing appetite for high-def video is putting a serious strain on operator networks, and the result is an enemy we all love to hate: bandwidth caps. So bearing that in mind, it’s good news to hear there’s continued progress on the development of a new video compression standard, the High Efficiency Video Coding specification, or H.265. According to Multichannel News, an initial draft of the new spec should be ready in February, with a completed standard due in January 2013.

The H.265 codec is expected to decrease the bandwidth needed to deliver video by 25% to 50%. The bandwidth savings come at a cost of increased processing complexity, but the benefits, particularly for mobile operators, make the cost worthwhile. GigaOM reported not long ago that data delivery will stop being profitable for mobile carriers in about a year and a half. Without increases in efficiency, you can bet your bottom dollar that carriers will raise data rates as a counter-measure. On the other hand, with a combination of network improvements and compression advances, perhaps we can stave off that outcome and continue to enjoy our mobile streaming services.

New video compression techniques will also be put to the test with the advent of Ultra High-Definition Television. UHDTV is said to increase the number of pixels crammed into a video picture by 400% to 1,600%. The ITU settled on an agreement for the basic tech specs in a UHDTV standard with an announcement last week.