Comcast’s Hybrids Rev Their Engines

LAS VEGAS — Comcast’s drive to establish a common set-top platform — which should let it deploy new multi screen video equipment from multiple vendors more quickly — shifted into higher gear at the 2013 International CES last week.

At the show, a pack of suppliers including Arris Group, Intel, Pace, Broadcom, Technicolor and Entropic Communications introduced products designed for the operator’s Reference Design Kit.

Besides helping Comcast avoid vendor lock-in, the RDK initiative is producing hybrid IP-cable gateways and set-tops that will be a stepping stone to a fully IPTV future.

Comcast senior vice president of premises technology Steve Reynolds, who is spearheading the initiative, said RDK ultimately will let operator-supplied equipment “work with the millions of IP-enabled consumer devices capable of displaying video and will help operators, consumer-electronics companies and developers innovate at an even faster pace in today’s rapidly- changing multiscreen TV environment.”

Because it’s an open set of specs, other MSOs can take advantage of the RDK developments, too. Operators investigating the architecture include Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

The deployment of hybrid RDK boxes “provides cable operators the flexibility to continue the delivery of standard broadcast video through QAM channels, and the ability to eventually transition customers to IP-based video when they eventually upgrade their headend equipment,” Raymond James analyst Simon Leopold wrote in a research note. And, he noted, as operators adopt RDK, opportunities for share shifts among vendors will increase.

At CES, Arris, in partnership with Intel, took the wraps off its first RDK product: a hybrid media gateway capable of streaming IP video to devices within the home and delivering nearly 1 Gigabit per second of downstream Internet.

The Arris gateway is based on Intel’s Puma 6 Media Gateway chipset and DOCSIS 3.0 processor. It features a hybrid video architecture supporting QAM and IP-delivered video, with eight QAM tuners to support traditional MPEG/DVB video. In addition, it can simultaneously transcode up to four live TV or DVR streams, using Zenverge’s ZN200 transcoding chip.

Comcast is expected to conduct field trials of the Arris gateway in the first quarter of 2013.

Last week, Pace also said it is developing a media server gateway based on Comcast’s XG5 product specifi cation and RDK software, using chips from Broadcom, to deliver content to various devices. The U.K. set-top company also announced a high-performance IPTV box and an RNG150N set-top that can be configured to run the X1 user interface as multiroom DVR client devices.

Both Cisco Systems and Motorola Mobility (whose Home group is in the process of being acquired by Arris) have also signed on to the RDK program. Cisco showed products based on RDK, while a Motorola spokeswoman said it will announce RDK-based products “in the near future.”