Comcast Wants Box Options

Comcast has made a
declaration of set-top independence.

The operator has embarked on
a software strategy designed to
let it more easily mix and match
set-top box hardware suppliers,
as well as give it the ability to roll
out interactive TV applications

Comcast plans to use Cable-
Labs’ open-source Tru2way
middleware reference implementation
(RI) as the standard
operating system “stack,” which
conceptually would power all its
set-tops at some point. The MSO
has selected NDS to be the prime
integrator on a project to develop
and test new Tru2way applications
and devices.

“We are committed to the Cable
Labs reference implementation
and its deployment on
Tru2way devices,” Mark Hess,
Comcast senior vice president of
advanced business and technology
development, said in a statement.

The work between Comcast
and NDS to “enhance” the
CableLabs RI “will help
advance the industry’s adoption
of Tru2way while also enabling
us to bring our customers interactive
services,” Hess added.

As part of Comcast’s new initiative,
Pace already is developing a
set-top based on the CableLabs
Tru2way software that runs on
Intel’s system-on-a-chip CE 3100
Media Processor, as previously
reported by Multichannel News
(see “Comcast: New Way on Tru2way,” June 14, 2010, page 3). But
a source close to Comcast cautioned
that the MSO has not yet
settled on deployment plans for
the Pace box and that other vendors
are expected to deliver RIbased
solutions as well.

At this point Comcast isn’t discussing
details about when it
expects to deploy the CableLabsderived
Tru2way software on different
hardware platforms.

“The RI is a CableLabs-managed
initiative, and all hardware
OEMs [original equipment manufacturers],
as well as silicon and
software vendors, are encouraged
to participate,” said Jenni Moyer,
Comcast senior director of corporate

NDS’s work on the CableLabs
Tru2way reference implementation
code started in early June.
Th e company is tasked with optimizing
the RI stack and enabling
uniform operation across Tru-
2way set-top boxes. The goal is to
let Comcast run the same applications
and services across multiple
set-top models, providing a
consistent user experience.

“We’re taking the CableLabs
reference implementation and
we’re hardening it up to make sure
the performance is what it needs
to be,” said Jesper Knutsson, vice
president and general manager
of sales for NDS Americas. “We’ll
work with various hardware vendors
to solidify their implementation
with that.”

Current implementations of
Tru2way — which is the consumer
brand name for CableLabs’
OpenCable Application Platform
— typically have quirks that are
specific to a given hardware platform.
For example, Cox Communications
is deploying its new
Tru2way-based Trio guide (developed
by NDS) on Cisco Systems’
Axiom OCAP middleware. In Motorola
systems, Cox will roll out
Cisco Explorer boxes with Motorola-
based CableCards.

“It was easier to do the integration
[with the Trio guide] with
one OCAP stack instead of two,”
Cox vice president of video strategy
and product management
Steve Necessary said in an interview
last month.

Originally, cable’s aim
with OCAP/Tru2way
was to achieve regulatory
compliance with U.S. government
mandates to let third-party
devices, like TVs, run operators’
interactive services without the
need for a separate set-top box.

To that end Comcast now supports
Tru2way in almost 90% of
its cable headends and has supported
the availability of Panasonic’s
Tru2way-enabled HDTVs
at retail outlets in Chicago, Denver
and Atlanta, Comcast said in
comments filed last week with the
Federal Communications Commission.

“Despite these efforts, thus far
there has been little consumer
interest in these Tru2way devices,”
the operator said in the
comments, which were in response
to the FCC’s proposed
rule changes intended to improve
the way MSOs offer CableCards
to consumers.

Separately, device-middleware
firm Alticast is working with Cisco
to bring the Alticast-developed
Tru2way stack to that vendor’s
set-tops. Alticast CEO David
Housman said Cisco set-tops with
his company’s OCAP middleware
will be available in November, although
he noted that Cisco will
continue to offer its own Axiom
OCAP software.

Cisco confirmed it is working
with Alticast but said the timing
for commercial availability of the
solution is not yet set.

A brief history of CableLabs’ Tru2way, a.k.a.
the OpenCable Application Platform:

March 2001: First OCAP specifications released for industry

October 2004: Samsung first to sign CableLabs licenses for twoway

January 2008: CableLabs announces “Tru2way” as consumerfacing
name for OCAP.

June 2008: Six MSOs sign deal with consumer electronics
manufacturers to support Tru2way across footprints.
June 2009: CableLabs releases open-source OCAP reference

SOURCE:Multichannel News research