Charter Taps Terayon For HD Stream System

Facing a wave of high-definition programming in coming years, Charter Communications Inc. is deploying a new Terayon Communication Systems Inc. device that can get more HD bang for the bandwidth.

The St. Louis-based MSO said it would deploy 32 of Terayon's new CherryPicker DM 6400 statistical multiplexers to power its HDTV rollout, which now reaches 18 markets.

The new CherryPicker has the capability to funnel to four HD streams on a single 256 quadrature-amplitude modulation channel, thus freeing up bandwidth to expand HD offerings or beef up other services, including video-on-demand.

HDTV signals consume up to five times as much bandwidth as standard-definition video channels.

Charter will be using the DM 6400 units to mix three HD streams per channel.

In addition to its HD statistical multiplexing capabilities, the DM 6400 sports a new, higher-capacity chip — courtesy of Terayon subsidiary iMedia Inc. — and double the number of processors of its predecessor, the DM 3200.

The unit also signals a shift in Terayon's design philosophy.

In the past, MSOs chose from more than 300 CherryPicker hardware options that set what the box could do. But with the 6400, the idea is to boil down the hardware design, instead offering optional features through software licenses.

That doesn't just allow the cable operator to choose which rate-shaping, multiplexing and digital program insertion (DPI) applications it wants. It also makes it easier for it to add new applications in the future without scrapping the box.

"I can ship a mux with no rate shaping all the way through 64 SD streams or 16 HD streams," said CherryPicker senior product line manager Mark Jeffery. "And that's just through a Web-based licensing tool."

That software-driven flexibility was a strong attraction for Charter, according to Pragash Pillai, the MSO's senior engineer for digital video technology.

"It's always been that with some products, you've got to pay for features you don't really need," he said. "I don't want to buy a box for features I don't want to use. I only want to pay for stuff I want to use."

In Charter's case, that meant opting in for HD rate-shaping, but holding off on the 6400's program-insertion capabilities.

"I can defer the investment for in our future, when we start doing DPI, and it's just software," Pillai said. "That's what we are looking for."

Although the DM 6400 can process standard and high-definition streams, Charter will continue to use its older DM 3200 multiplexers to herd the SD traffic, devoting the newer box to paring down the bandwidth demands of HD signals.

"Without the stat mux, we are tied to two HD channels to one QAM," said Pillai. "With this, we know we can do up to three. It's just uses the bandwidth more efficiently."

Such bandwidth concerns may not be pressing for cable operations in these early days of the HD rollout. But a growing number of programmers are looking to go high-definition, so it pays to plan ahead, Pillai said.

Charter's growing HD programming lineup includes pay channels Home Box Office and Showtime; cable's Discovery Networks U.S. and the recently announced HDNet and HDNet Movies channels; and local broadcast feeds from ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates. In addition, sports net ESPN is planning to launch HD programming in April.

"If you don't plan from the beginning, it is very difficult to go back and change everything later," Pillai said.