CE Show Takes Its Video to Go

Hit the road, Jack: Comcast and Panasonic will kick off the Consumer Electronics Show this week with the debut of a digital video recorder that you can unplug to watch TV shows or movies on the go.

The AnyPlay Portable DVR, developed by Panasonic for Comcast, functions as a regular set-top box when it’s set up in the living room.

But the “P-DVR” can be removed from the docking station and unfolded into a portable video player. The device features an 8.5-inch folding liquid-crystal display and stereo speakers, and provides 60 Gigabytes of storage capacity for recording digital video.

“Consumers have told us they want easy and convenient access to all the great content Comcast provides, and the AnyPlay P-DVR does that,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a prepared statement.

The P-DVR will use the CableLabs-developed middleware standard formerly known as the OpenCable Platform, and now dubbed “tru2way,” to access Comcast video programming and other services. Comcast and other cable operators have lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to adopt tru2way (nee OpenCable) as the standard for letting consumer electronics access interactive cable services.

The co-branded Panasonic-Comcast device will be available in early 2009, the companies said. They did not disclose pricing. The AnyPlay P-DVR, which features a rechargeable battery and a 12-volt car adapter, also can play DVDs and audio CDs.


At its Vegas booth, Motorola will show off the DCX, a line of high-definition set-top boxes for cable operators that support MPEG-4 video and the MPEG-2 format. The newer MPEG-4 compression standard is more efficient, requiring roughly half the bandwidth to deliver video of comparable quality.

The support for both compression technologies will let cable companies “effectively manage the transition from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4,” Motorola senior vice president John Burke said in announcing the set-top line last week.

The DCX series has other “future-proof” features, according to Motorola, including 1-Gigahertz tuners and a built-in cable modem with channel-bonding capabilities.

The DCX line is scheduled to be available in the third quarter. The models include: the DCX3400, a dual-tuner HD DVR; the DCX3200, a single-tuner HD set-top; and the DCX100, a single-tuner standard-definition set-top.

Motorola also will demonstrate a digital voice modem with an integrated cordless phone system, the SurfBoard SBV5422. The unit’s cordless handsets, developed in conjunction with communications-software firm Casabi, can display customized information — such as weather forecasts or sports scores — a visual voicemail list and a centralized address book.

A third new gadget in Motorola’s lineup is a mobile TV player, which the company is pitching to broadcasters and wireless service providers. The Mobile TV DH01, which uses the Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H) standard, has a 4.3-inch wide screen, enough memory to record 90 minutes of TV video and a memory buffer to allow someone to pause live TV for up to 5 minutes.


Meanwhile, Motorola’s chief rival in the video space — Cisco Systems — will announce new cable set-tops that will for the first time carry the Cisco brand, replacing the long-time Scientific Atlanta moniker. Cisco, which acquired SA in 2006, has previously said it would consolidate consumer-oriented products around a common brand.

Ken Wirt, Cisco’s vice president of consumer marketing, said cable operators are already testing set-top boxes in their labs with the Cisco brand. All new set-top products will carry the Cisco brand, Wirt said. But he said the company will not go back and rebrand existing SA product lines. “Cisco’s profile with the consumer will be increased, because there will be a bunch of boxes in their house with the Cisco logo on it that they interact with every day,” Wirt said.

The overarching theme for Cisco’s announcements next week will be “visual networking,” Wirt said, a phrase the company is using to refer to delivering any video to any device and providing personalized features.

“People want to watch video on their TV and their PC, and they want to watch the Internet video stuff on the TV, and they want to watch everything on mobile devices,” he said.

Microsoft also will be touting TVs as connected devices, with the software giant preparing to show off new features of its Mediaroom Internet Protocol TV system.

“The TV is really the only major digital device that’s been left out of the networking revolution,” said Jim Brady, communications manager for the Microsoft TV unit.

Microsoft will work with Showtime Networks and Turner Broadcasting System to demonstrate new interactive TV applications on Mediaroom. And Microsoft will demo a key new feature for Mediaroom, whole-home DVR. The DVR Anywhere feature allows a primary IPTV set-top to deliver recorded video to boxes throughout a house.

Microsoft also plans to announce that its IPTV platform is running in 1 million set-top boxes with 14 customers, including AT&T in the United States. Brady said at the current rate, Microsoft is adding two subscribers every minute and should have 1 million subscriber homes in the first calendar quarter of 2008.