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ActiveVideo Sets Sights On ‘Virtual’ Set-Top Box

ActiveVideo believes the notion of a “virtual” set-top box is ready to take a big step toward reality.

The supplier claims it is in position to boost the scalability and reduce the requisite costs for a proposed virtual STB architecture that shifts the key processing and other primary functions of the traditional set-top into the cloud using off-the-shelf servers that are outfitted with Intel’s new Quick Sync Video technology.

ActiveVideo, whose CloudTV platform delivers interfaces, video services and interactive advertising to IP-based and QAM-locked devices, claimed that servers with Intel’s QSV technology can reduce virtual set-top box data center capex to as low as $1 per subscriber, which compares to $50 to $60 for a modern IP-only set-top, or roughly $200 for more traditional boxes.

ActiveVideo has already been running CloudTV on commodity servers that rely solely on CPU processing, but the new approach also builds in Intel QSV, which, according to the chipmaker, is built into the Intel Core processor, and uses dedicated media processing to rapidly create and covert video. That addition, when paired with ActiveVideo’s MPEG-stitching technique, enables CloudTV to simultaneously deliver the UI and transcoded video streams.

ActiveVideo said it can reach that $1 mark in part because servers with Intel QSV can deliver a 40% cost improvement on a per-session basis in part to a 400% increase in session density that allows it to support 1 million virtual STBs on one data center rack (moving from 400 sessions to 1,600 sessions per blade server). The vendor also claims that the combo offers a 10X increase in real-time video transcoding sessions to adapt premium online video to any set-top box.

ActiveVideo will show off that handiwork at the IBC show, which gets underway this week in Amsterdam. Although ActiveVideo is agnostic when it comes to servers, its IBC demo will feature CloudTV running on Kontron-made Symkloud servers with Intel QSV. Artesyn Embedded Technologies, Kontron and QuickFire are among other vendors that have integrated Intel QSV. On Tuesday, Thomson Video Networks announced that its ViBE XT1000 Xtream Transcoder is powered with Intel QSV.

“We believe that the set-top is the last node in the network,” Sachin Sathaye, ActiveVideo’s VP of strategy and product marketing, said, noting that the virtualized approach offers a massive savings over traditional set-tops that rely on local processing. “We can now deliver the power of 1 million set-top boxes in one data center rack.”

With Intel’s new tech on board, ActiveVideo said its CloudTV platform is capable of not only delivering the user interface and apps via the cloud, but its transcoding capability also enables operators to deliver their primary video services as well.

ActiveVideo envisions several potential deployment scenarios. Operators can use CloudTV to complement legacy QAM-only boxes with new services, and bring the full suite to new IP-capable devices, including HDMI sticks or directly to connected televisions.

Sathaye said ActiveVideo is in talks with customers about deploying CloudTV with Intel’s new technology, but expects its first deployments to get underway in Europe. Its announced European customers include Dutch MSO Ziggo, Deutsche Telekom, and UPC Hungary, which is using the vendor’s tech to bring YouTube and other apps to non-IP set-tops. Its U.S. customers include Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications, Grande Communications and Time Warner Cable. Comcast, meanwhile, has been testing ActiveVideo for a VOD interface that runs on QAM-only boxes.

Update: Murali Nemani, ActiveVideo’s chief marketing officer, said in an email that the new technology is already being deployed by two tier-1 operators, and are expected to be in production and in-service before the end of the year.