A Cable Show IP Video Descrambler

One of the stronger undercurrents at this week’s Cable Show will be those two awkward letters, “IP,” shadowing every move of the core business: Video.

From the places where video gushes in to cable headends, to the gadgets and screens hanging off the ends of the plant, make way. Internet Protocol, or IP, is somewhere very nearby.

Let’s start with the places where video gushes in to the headend. From geosynchronous orbit, into the IRD (integrated receiver/decoder) of the satellite dish, right? Yes, but in the new lingo, video content comes from an off-lane of a fiber backbone, called a Content Delivery Network. CDN. Know it.

Then there’s the stuff hanging off the ends of the plant. Televisions, telephones, and computers, right? Video, voice, data.

Yes, but it’s that data passageway, constructed in the late 1990s, that’s at the helm of IP. It was conceived as a way to blast data at high speeds into a cable modem connected to a computer. We call it broadband.

Broadband begat the Baby Huey that is – well — IP. And the Baby Huey that is IP is thirsty. Screen upon screen has Wi-Fi or Ethernet spigots, and wants a connection. Wi-Fi and Ethernet are the wireless and wired ambassadors of IP, respectively, iPads, smart phones, netbooks, laptops, e-readers — they live when connected to IP.

In the middle, everything else. Tons of it. The navigational system. The hooks into billing systems and core video controllers. “Conditional access,” which in the IP world cedes to digital rights management, or “DRM.” Where to make room for “transcoding,” of incoming video, into the many different resolutions and formats that are thirsting for it on the receive end.

Architecture. Also big. Going to video over IP means sending video through the CMTS (Cable Modem Termination System), instead of through the digital video side of the house. In familial terms, it’s the uncle giving the family jewels to the nephew. In technical terms, it’s a big deal.

Gateways, that’s something we’ll be hearing a lot about, with IP ascending. Video gateways, home networking gateways, data gateways. Is it a cable modem tricked out for video, or a digital set-top, tricked out for IP? (Magic 8-ball says: Ask again later.)

Why all this IP hullaballoo? Chief among the reasons to belly up to IP is its speed, in making new stuff and getting it out there. Open up the interfaces, slide a web-based magic carpet onto the front end, test it, get it out there – weeks. Not months.

There’s also the matter of money. Especially the huge piles of cash directed at developing and honing the stuff of IP. Tonnage of it, compared to traditional digital video.

When it comes to IP, it’s probably best to just go with the flow — which is yet another example of the linguistic difficulties of “IP.” (Just like “it seems like IP everywhere.” Say it out loud and you’ll see what we mean).