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Cutting Edge

Motorola, N2 Get Integrated

Motorola and N2 Broadband have launched Mpulse, an integrated product that will allow cable operators with Motorola systems to offer customers the ability to self-subscribe to premium cable packages from the operator's Web site or EPG (electronic program guide). The companies believe that the system will reduce customer-service-representative call volume and increase customer satisfaction. N2 Broadband's Mpulse system is deployed at the cable operator's headend and interfaces with Motorola's DAC and the operator's billing system.

HD TV Guide

Concurrent Computer and TV Guide Interactive demonstrated the latter's VOD guide in HD at NCTA. It also featured the industry's first full-motion video streamed from Concurrent's video server to the program guide's barker window. According to Steve Necessary, president of Concurrent's Xstreme (VOD) Division, streaming full-motion video to the barker window of a program guide enables cable operators to target audiences for advertising based on demographics, such as geography or other criteria.

ESPN Finds Foundation

ESPN will be porting its ESPN Today to Microsoft's Foundation Edition digital TV platform and make it available to cable operators that deploy Foundation. ESPN Today is a virtual channel that was launched in 2001 and provides sports viewers on-demand access to video and other information, including ESPN programming, game highlights, scores and stats. Manish Jha, ESPN senior vice president and general manager of emerging media and data services, says that the network will launch other services with Foundation in the future.

An Intelligent Gateway

Scopus Network Technologies introduced the Intelligent Video Gateway (IVG) for cable-TV applications, a move the company says allows cable operators to offer the "triple play" of video, data and voice. The first element is the IVG-7300 series, designed for video routing, processing and management over broadband networks. It's a scalable, 1RU headend-in-a-box residing at the master headend and also has video processing for MPEG-protocol conversion, dynamic session allocation, digital program insertion, and bit-rate reduction. It can simultaneously handle 16 carriers per unit, with 400 programs processed for output at up to six ASI ports.

Other features include conditional access interfaces and scrambling per each ASI output. It also supports DVB and ATSC, and SD and HDe bit rate reduction.

HD Starz

Starz Encore, which has historically been reluctant to embrace HD, rolled out three HD services at NCTA: Sharper Movies HD, Starz! HD, and Starz On Demand HD. They all will be 1080i and 16:9 and have 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, requiring 17.3 Mb/s of bandwidth each. Launch is expected in the fourth quarter.

The move will put Starz Encore on equal HD footing compared with competing pay services from HBO, Showtime and Cinemax. Starz! HD will be an HD version of the main Starz! channel; Sharper Movies HD is envisioned as part of the HD tier that cable and satellite operators are increasingly considering. Starz On Demand HD will offer 100 movies, with one new HD title added per week.

According to John Sie, Starz Encore founder, chairman and CEO, 50% of the content on Starz! HD will be mastered in HD at first, with that number climbing in the future.

Starz Encore also introduced a service that is bound to spark industry debate over the relationship between HD and SD content: Starz High Res. The service, says Sie, will give viewers the same viewing experience as HD with only one-third the bandwidth. It will take 1080i content and downconvert it to 16:9, 480i. Sie believes that the vast majority of viewers cannot tell the difference between HD and SD when it comes to movie content (sports and other live events are a different matter). The new service also will allow widescreen content to be sent out via lower-end digital set-top boxes, something that isn't possible with HD content.