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Tech Talk

Handy Device For Kids

Remote-control manufacturer Universal Electronics is seeking to capitalize on the cable industry's effort to limit children's access to indecent content with the Cricket, its kids remote control, introduced at NCTA.

Made of durable plastic, it features 10 channel buttons with simple power and volume controls. The Cricket doesn't allow children to channel-surf or access programs on a DVR. Eight branded buttons tune directly to Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Discovery Kids, Disney Channel, Toon Disney, Nickelodeon, Noggin and PBS Kids. “Star” and “moon” buttons allow parents to program two more favorites.

The branded buttons can be changed to other networks, says Universal Electronics Director of Product Management Mike Hirsch. Parents can also set the remote to block a button if they find content objectionable.

Given ongoing pressure on the industry from the FCC, Universal thought Cricket would be attractive to operators that might want to bundle it with family-friendly programming packages.

He says, “It's fun and easy to use, gives parents peace of mind, and allows cable operators to be proactive.”

New Hi-Def DVR From Digeo

Digeo, supplier of feature-rich set-tops and electronic program guides, unveiled the Moxi HD Digital Video Recorder, a next-generation set-top. The company also demonstrated support for the OCAP (OpenCable Application Platform) standard in its Moxi guide software.

The new box has two HD tuners and a 160-gigabyte hard drive, giving it similar capability to high-end boxes from Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta. Moxi features built-in support for Multi-stream CableCARD conditional access with two-way capability. It also can link to an external SATA hard drive that can grow storage to a terabyte.

Digeo CEO Mike Fidler says the real benefit of the new HD box is the latest version of the graphics-intensive Moxi programming guide, which allows users to perform global searches across both DVR and VOD content, as well as filter material according to user preferences. The company also demonstrated a Web-based scheduling application from Synacor that allows users to remotely program the Moxi box to record programs via the Web.

Digeo has released 450,000 Moxi set-tops to date, mostly across Charter Communications. According to Fidler, subscribers using Moxi buy three times as much VOD programming as users of other guides.

Concurrent Intros VOD Software

Video-on-demand vendor Concurrent gave private demonstrations of its new business-management software, the MediaHawk On-Demand Back Office Software Suite (MHBOSS), as well as the “resilient streaming” provided by its flagship MediaHawk 4500 server.

Based on an Oracle database, MHBOSS is designed to support such new services as time-shifted TV, which Concurrent is now enabling for Time Warner Cable. Like other VOD vendors, Concurrent is under pressure to separate its specialized software from its hardware, and MHBOSS has an open architecture that allows interoperability with multiple VOD-server vendors. It also provides Web services for reporting, subscription management, billing and any other applications that require information from the back office. MHBOSS will support OCAP applications as they are deployed by operators.

The MediaHawk 4500, which supports up to 1920 on-demand streams from a two-rack-unit (2RU) system and spreads video across multiple units of RAM storage for increased reliability, has already been released for use by Time Warner at operations in Hawaii and Columbia, S.C. Concurrent is working on a solution for dynamic advertising insertion for VOD that should be available by year-end.

Switched Digital Heats Up

Switched-digital video (SDV) was a hot topic at NCTA. The technology is now being commercially deployed as a way to conserve bandwidth to offer more HD and VOD.

Tandberg Television introduced its first product that supports SDV—a transmission scheme that delivers individual “unicast” streams of less popular content to individual subscribers as they request it, instead of “broadcasting” hundreds of channels full-time to their homes.

Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta and BigBand Networks also demonstrated new SDV technology. BigBand, which has already released its switched technology to Cablevision and two other major operators, used the marketing slogan “90 days to 100 HD Channels” to highlight how SDV can help operators keep pace with the aggressive HD-programming expansion planned by DirecTV for this fall.

Besides allowing operators to use their bandwidth more efficiently, SDV has great potential for delivering targeted advertising, since the operator knows exactly which streams are being watched and therefore can match commercials accordingly. That capability could help programmers respond to advertisers' demands for more addressability and measurability.

“It frees up bandwidth,” BigBand Executive VP John Connelly says, “and you have real data on the streams and how they're being consumed.”