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Rovi to Bring New Guides to Old Boxes

RADNOR, Pa. — Move over, ActiveVideo Networks. You’re not the only tech company that has developed a way to teach old settops some new tricks.

Omni, a next-generation, cloud-based interface under development at Rovi, is poised to bring a fresh look and personalized video-navigation capabilities to cable’s new IP-connected set-tops, as well as to legacy boxes that don’t speak IP, company officials said in a briefing held at the company’s facility here.

Omni is being groomed as the successor to TotalGuide, a platform that Rovi targeted to retail consumer electronics and tailored for its serviceprovider partners. Taking an approach already being forged by Comcast and its X1 platform, Omni will decouple many elements of the guide that were once resident in the set-top box, tuck them into the proverbial cloud and ship them in over IP.

That approach, the company hopes, will allow operators to tweak, change and enhance their UIs without going through time-consuming regression testing that has historically slowed set-top box software development to a crawl.

Plus, the company believes that the new guide, when paired with what it calls “Rovi Remote Access Services,” can also enable MSO partners to extend this new interface to millions of customers who are still using older boxes. But to pull off that trick, those customers will need to pair those boxes to smart TVs that do have IP connections.

In Rovi’s proposed architecture for legacy boxes, the new guide will run on the smart-TV platform while many of the other key operations continue to be managed by the set-top box, including conditional access/security, the MSO’s video-on-demand platform, management of the DVR, and even TV-based caller ID apps.

Under this collaborative approach, the smart TV overlays the new UI while remote-control commands (channel tuning, VOD session activations, and DVR trick-play functions like rewind, pause and fast-forward) are delivered to the Remote Access Services layer using smartphone or tablet apps. The cloud-based processing system then converts those commands for transmission through the headend to the set-top box, which then executes the commands.

While that might sound complicated, Rovi contends that it’s not when compared to the application porting and integration testing that would be required if every component had to be stitched to the smart TV. Many of those trickier functions stay with the set-top box.

“If we can already pair a phone and a tablet to a settop box [using apps], we why not pair a smart TV to a set-top box?” Bob Shallow, Rovi’s senior vice president of product sales and marketing, explained.

Integration “has been the long pole when it comes to introducing new services in cable,” he said. “Our proposition eliminates the need to bother with all of that regression testing. It’s already tested and it works … Cable can introduce a new experience without changing [its] infrastructure.”

And Rovi’s approach will also ensure that an MSO’s video service can continue to function if connectivity with the cloud goes awry. If that happens, the service simply reverts to the “classic” guide running in the box.

But Rovi’s not the only company trying to bring new UIs to older boxes. ActiveVideo has developed a cloudbased system that can stitch the new interface into the digital MPEG transport stream sent to the set-top box. ActiveVideo has demonstrated how its platform can enable everything from the Comcast X1 interface to the TiVo UI to run on Roku boxes, smart TVs and even ancient Motorola DCT 2000 set-tops. Charter Communications is working with ActiveVideo to ensure that its coming “Sky” guide can operate on all classes of boxes. Rovi holds that its way requires less integration.

Rovi, which just bought voice-based video search specialist Veveo for $62 million, plans to launch Omni in the second quarter. The company showed a proof-ofconcept at the International CES in January.

Shallow said Omni will include what the company calls “Recommendation 2.0,” a platform that will support more advanced metadata capabilities that can produce highly tailored, subjective recommendations that can factor in, for example, what the viewer might want to see based on the day of the week or the time of day.

TAKEAWAY

Rovi’s Omni guide will use cloud-based technologies to bring cutting-edge user interfaces to older set-tops.