Enter The ‘Headless Gateway’

jargon into the video scene. Case in point, and the subject of
this week’s translation: The “headless” gateway.

First, the obvious: This one has no horseman, and electronics
don’t bleed.

So, marketers, not to worry: This is engine-room banter. It
won’t need messaging; it has no Ichabod Crane. But, as with
everything else, it’s good to be hip to the lingo.

“Gateway,” in a general sense, is any device in a network that
lets data in and out. That’s why the term has such a dense root
structure: Gateways exist in just about every industry that involves
networks. Data gateways, application gateways, home gateways,
demarcation gateways — each with a different purpose.

Gateway, in this specific sense, is what we recognize now as
the set-top box. It’s the thing in the house that’s connected to
the cable that hauls in the video.

A “gateway,” in the developing world of IP video, flip-flops
the cable modem to the center of the action. It’s a cable
modem tricked out to do what set-tops do. (Kind of.)

To confuse matters further, there exists such a thing as a
“headed gateway,” too.

What does a headed gateway have, then, that a headless
gateway doesn’t?

Answer: Middleware, and, in some cases, a video output
connector. “Middleware,” in this sense, means the OpenCable
Applications Platform, or OCAP, layer.

Picture a multiroom DVR box for linear and on-demand
video. Inside is a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem, set up for eight
bonded channels — plenty enough to simulcast the entire
video lineup, in IP.

It has Wi-Fi, to spray a nice fat broadband connection
around the house.

It has “MoCA,” for putting bits onto the coaxial wires connecting
the rooms of the house, and it has “DLNA,” so that video
displays can attach and state their needs. (“I’m a laptop,” “I’m a
smartphone,” etc.)

It doesn’t have OCAP, and perhaps not even a video output
plug — which means it needn’t be anywhere near the TV, really,
to do its job. Plunk it next to the wireless router (ours is in the garage,
for instance), call it good. That’s the headless gateway.

What, you say? Where does one point the remote control, to
change channels, or access the navigational screens? Hello, Wi-Fi.

You can’t really blame the engineers for this one. “Headless,”
as a technical term, dates back to Unix workstations, and is used
regularly in Java circles. Consider this definition, from the European
DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) group: “Headless device: One
which cannot support a display and some kind of input device.”

Also, from a definition of a current Microsoft Home Server:
“Headless operation (means) no monitor or keyboard is required
to manage the device.”

Headless gateways, although (thankfully) not marketed as
such, were a big deal at last month’s Cable Show. If schedules
track, they’ll be in homes within the next year or so.