zBand: Content in, IP out

SkyStream's recently introduced version of zBand content-distribution/management system is intended to help content creators and distributors involved in new areas like video-on-demand, broadband delivery or datacasting meet one of the challenges: figuring out how to send and receive content in a digital landscape peppered with proprietary technology and incompatible systems.

A movie studio, for example, may be interested in developing its own VOD service for delivery to cable and satellite operators and maybe even to broadband. Launching the service involves sending it out in multiple formats to reach the various set-top boxes and application-programming interfaces in the field.

"Broadcasters and content developers have started to look at the business models that allow for the distribution of digital content and content in the IP format," says Clint Chao, SkyStream vice president, marketing and business development. "There has been a challenge in finding how to empower the different components in the food chain to implement a service."

SkyStream believes its system could help spur the growth of programming services like VOD or datacasting. Ranging in price from $50,000 to $1 million depending on implementation, the system consists of a zBand server that takes in content (video, audio or data) and prepares it to be sent out via Internet Protocol to zBand clients. Transmission can be done via satellite, terrestrial or cable transmission.

Version 4.0 of zBand is designed to allow content creators and distributors to create systems around their own needs. Content providers can create their own channels of content (movies or other media, such as interactive or streaming programming, which NBC recently tested with SkyStream) and manage them without having to set up complicated systems on the reception side.

"The content provider just feeds the channels into the server before transmission, and zBand allows clients with the software to accept that content seamlessly," adds Chao. "We're replicating a similar environment that was created for video programs for IP programming."

The server at the heart of the system includes modules allowing the creation of channels and the establishment of access policies, security, billing and other rules. "That's really the workhorse piece. The client sits at the receive end. If it's a mid hop (like a cable headend), it could sit in a server. If it's the last hop, it could sit in a set-top box or residential gateway."

The only requirement client-side is the software, to reside on a PC with Intel Pentium III 1-GHz processor or Sparc's uSparc-IIi 440-MHz processor (recommended: 512 MB of RAM and a 30-plus-GB U160 SCSI hard drive).