‘Worldbox’ Could be CableCard’s Successor

LAS VEGAS — Charter Communications has finally unveiled its “Worldbox,” a hybrid IP/QAM set-top platform that relies on downloadable security and runs the MSO’s new cloud-based user interface.

In addition to anchoring Charter’s next-generation video platform, the Worldbox might also have some significant regulatory implications now that the Federal Communications Commission is tasked with pursuing a successor to the CableCard, the separable security module that failed to create a vibrant retail market for cable-ready devices.

Cisco Systems was named as a “key” supplier of the Worldbox through 2015, selected to supply the platform’s downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) and digital rights management platform. Charter will eventually buy Worldboxes from other suppliers, but Cisco will supply a “substantial share” of them early on, while also continuing to provide CableCard boxes to Charter as the MSO migrates to the new downloadable system.

Out of the chute, Charter will off er two Worldbox models — an HD-DVR version outfitted with 1 Terabyte of storage, and an HD client. Those devices are expected to work together in a networked fashion to eventually support whole-home DVR capabilities, but won’t in the early deployment phase. Both models will be outfitted with 1 Gigabyte of RAM and USB connections “to enable future applications,” and DOCSIS 3.0 modems that can bond up to 16 downstream channels and four upstream channels. The DOCSIS element will give Charter a path to IP video delivery.

Charter expects to start deployments of the Worldbox and the new downloadable security system in select markets in “early 2015,” an MSO official said. Charter is currently testing the Spectrum Guide with tens of thousands of customers in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Charter’s new cloudbased Spectrum Guide shares similarities with Comcast’s X1 platform, but there’s a big difference in deployment strategy. Charter won’t limit access to the new UI only to only the new boxes, but will instead implement a networkbased processing platform from ActiveVideo Networks that allows Charter to deliver video and the interface as an MPEG stream. That will enable Charter to avoid an expensive box swap, allowing it to provide a unified experience via the new Worldbox devices as well as on its legacy set-top base.

In addition to keeping capex in check, that technical approach “makes every box and every TV in the Charter footprint state-of-the-art,” Tom Rutledge, Charter’s CEO, said last Tuesday (Jan. 6) during an event with press and analysts. “We can take any kind of device and make it a sophisticated device.”

Charter also believes its platform will be capable of supporting retail devices, including streaming media players and smart TVs. At the show, Charter demonstrated its new UI running on a Roku box.

Charter’s TV apps for smartphones, tablets and Web browsers will share the same look and feel as the set-top-based Spectrum Guide.

Charter execs also confirmed that its new security system is based on the same “open” architecture in use by Cablevision Systems.

That could factor in as the FCC looks at a successor to CableCard rules, which are slated to sunset in December. While the FCC is sure to hear about a variety of options, any successor platform is expected to steer clear of hardware- based options and instead focus on more softwarecentric, downloadable approaches to separable security.