Charter Unveils Its ‘Worldbox’

Las Vegas – International CES – Charter Communications and Cisco Systems used this week’s gadget-fest to unveil the “Worldbox,” a hybrid IP/QAM video device that will use downloadable security and a cloud-based interface that will serve as central components of the MSO’s next-gen video platform.

The companies also announced that Cisco will serve as  a “key” supplier of the Worldbox through 2015 as well as the device’s downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) and digital rights management platform (Charter will use Cisco’s VideoGuard Server for the DCAS and its VideoGuard DRM for security on client devices).

Financial terms were not disclosed, but Cisco will supply a “substantial share” of Worldboxes while also continue to provide CableCARD boxes to Charter until it migrates current and acquired systems to the new DCAS solution. Execs here said the DCAS in use by Charter shares the same “open” architecture for the downloadable system now deployed by Cablevision Systems.

Here during an event for press and analysts, Charter and Cisco showed off the Worldbox and the cloud-based guide that will grace it. Charter has already developed two versions of the Worldbox – and HD client (pictured) above and an HD-DVR model that will come equipped with 1 terabyte of storage. Both models contain 16x4 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems, 1 Gigabyte of RAM and USB connections “to enable future applications.”

Charter expects to start deployments of the Worldbox and the new downloadable security system in select markets in “early 2015,” an MSO official said. Charter is currently testing the Spectrum Guide with tens of thousands of customers in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Looking ahead, Charter expects to deploy downloadable security to its current systems this year, and then will continue deployment to acquired systems that will come way of a deal that hinges on the pending Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.

Charter will also look to deploy the new guide to all set-top boxes across its footprint, including older boxes that don’t speak IP, by leaning on a system from ActiveVideo Networks that processes the guide on the network and send the video content and the interface in an MPEG stream. Update: Zodiac Interactive is supplying the software stack powering the device. 

That network-based approach  “makes every box and every TV in the Charter footprint state-of-the-art,” Tom Rutledge, Charter’s president and CEO, said. It also means Charter won’t have to swap boxes to get its new UI deployed broadly. "Smart networks make dumb screens smart," he added. "We can take any kind of device and make it a sophisticated device." 

Rutledge also talked up the economics of the new platform, calling it a “breakthrough in terms of cost and capability.”

While Cisco is Charter’s initial source for the device, Charter is expected to add others into the mix. Charter said it is working with vendors toward manufacturing compatible boxes for the retail market as well.

The network-based processing system will also pave the way for Charter to render its UI on retail boxes. Here at the show, Charter showed a proof-of-concept of the Spectrum Guide running on a Roku box.

“We are proud to join Charter today to showcase the leading edge IP and cloud-based video solutions they are developing, and the Cisco products at their core, Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers said in a statement. “We are proud to join Charter today to showcase the leading edge IP Charter’s new video solution, featuring cloud-driven video experiences offered across many devices will be a huge win for Charter subscribers.”