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RGB Turns Up VOD Volume

RGB Networks is set to announce a video-processing box that the company claimed will let a cable operator jack up the number of video-on-demand streams by 50% using the same amount of spectrum -- all with only minor changes to an existing VOD infrastructure.

The company’s Dynamic Bandwidth Manager, to be announced Monday, works by piecing together video of variable bit rates like a jigsaw puzzle. The common practice today is to layer fixed-bit-rate VOD streams on top of each other like books of the same thickness.

Using constant bit rates, 10 standard-definition streams fit into a standard 6-megahertz channel. The DBM can kick that up to 15 or 16, RGB claimed.

“In essence, we’re increasing the amount of bandwidth on a per-[channel] basis by 40%-50%,” RGB vice president of product marketing Ramin Farassat said, adding, “We’re doing this with true MPEG-2. It’s not some proprietary codec.”

The DBM's features sound nearly identical to those of a system being marketed by startup Imagine Communications that also uses variable bit rates to achieve what Imagine claimed is 50% or greater VOD efficiency.

But Farassat said the RGB product operates in real-time, able to process more than 1,000 streams in one device, rather than requiring VOD assets to be preprocessed and stored prior to delivery. In addition, the DBM offers very low latency, on the order of 300-400 milliseconds. That, he claimed, will ensure that VOD trick-play functions like pause and fast-forward will not have any noticeable delay.

“We have changed the algorithms to reduce latency so much that putting this device in the network doesn’t affect trick play,” he said.

Meanwhile, BigBand Networks last week sued Imagine -- a startup formed by two ex-BigBand engineers -- alleging the smaller company infringes on three BigBand patents related to statistical multiplexing and bit-rate conversion.

Farassat said he had “no idea” whether BigBand’s patent claims would apply to RGB’s DBM. But, he added, RGB now has about 14 patents covering high-density video-processing technologies.

San Mateo, Calif.-based RGB expects to ship the DBM in the third quarter of 2007. Farassat said three major North American cable operators are also slated to begin trials of the system in the third quarter.

RGB will price the DBM on a per-quadrature-amplitude-modulation-channel basis, in the range of the price per channel for a QAM modulator or lower, Farassat said.

The company has tested its DBM with set-top boxes from Motorola and Scientific Atlanta, as well as with VOD servers, including those from C-COR and SeaChange International. The DBM system will provide “bulk encryption” for VOD streams, a feature compliant with Motorola’s MediaCipher conditional-access system.

Farassat said the DBM could also be configured to work with switched-digital video, as well as VOD, since SDV is architecturally very similar in how it delivers video streams. “There’s no reason we can’t go into switched digital at the same time, but there are already a lot of VOD deployed in the networks. That’s the immediate opportunity,” he said.

By the end of the year, RGB plans to add in digital-program insertion capabilities to the DBM platform, similar to the technology it announced last month. These features would, for example, allow an operator to insert a logo on a VOD program or dynamically insert targeted ads, according to Farassat.