HDTV will find its way into about 60mln US HHs by 2008, a recent Yankee Group report predicts. Great news for plasma/LCD display manufacturers and the consumer with the cash to invest in the format … but perhaps not such great news for cable. Vendors say bandwidth is in crisis, with supply and demand about to crash into each other as consumer awareness of advanced digital services grows. (Yankee pins the HD awareness level at around 78%; as sets get cheaper—prices are declining at an average of 2% per month—take rates are likely to soar.) Mark Palazzo, vp & gm of access networks for S-A, will address the challenge of keeping up with the bandwidth demand during a special SCTE Live Learning Webinar this afternoon at 2pm (see the society’s home page for details). In "HD Coming at Ya: The Ins and Outs of an Unstoppable Opportunity,"Palazzo maps out a strategy to begin reclaiming bandwidth and so effectively manage it, with the upshot being that ops are going to have to rely on more than a few tools to ensure they’ll be able to continue to leverage the investment they’ve already put into their cable plant. Last week, Palazzo gave CableFAX a sneak preview of his presentation, beginning with the observation that no matter what the MSOs are saying in public, on the system level, they’re well aware that the bandwidth situation is reaching critical mass. The good news is that the answer lies in the network itself. "Everybody wants to dance around the word ‘upgrade,’" Palazzo said. "It’s taboo, causes a visceral reaction, like the Mongol Horde is on its way." In fact, bringing networks up to speed needn’t be considered an upgrade at all, and certainly not in the $40bln sense. "The $40K per mile model isn’t necessary," Palazzo continued. "Cable’s fiber-to-feeder network was built to facilitate expansion." One approach that most vendors have agreed upon is the "Next-Generation Network Architecture" project, which aims to unify the IP and MPEG video infrastructure, which should help drive down equipment costs as well as reclaim valuable HFC spectrum. A key S-A contribution to NGNA is its "QUASAR MKII," a high-density edge QAM approach that uses a variety of multiplexors and video processors. While other strategies have won accolades from a number of MSOs, including switched broadcast, which frees bandwidth for HD by preventing channels from being sent to unwatched nodes, Palazzo said there were some practical impediments to such an approach. "Unless I can be 100% sure that channel isn’t being viewed, I don’t know if I’d be comfortable as an operator in switching off." The use of a dual-tuner DVR could pose a similar conundrum, as the op would have to decide which channel was being "watched," the live channel or that being recorded. Whatever the case, don’t expect network architects to start embracing new compression formats any time soon. As Palazzo pointed out, there are about 45mln MPEG-2 set-tops in the field that can only handle that particular standard. The cost of retrofitting or outright replacing those units is understandably prohibitive. "In the long run, the consumer is going to determine where the MSOs will spend their money. You can’t tell them what the killer app will be; it’s up to them to decide…. If it turns out to be HD, they’ll let us know. We’d better be ready." Another thing cable is going to have to be ready for is Rupe. The reallocation of the "Spaceway’ birds to handle local HD is going to put a knee on cable’s collective throat if the biz doesn’t rally to differentiate its product. When the local HD edge is gone, only VOD will be left … But will that be enough? Broadband Bits: Ellacoya released the "e30 Switch," the latest version its line of IP service control product, with 4 times the capacity of its "16000 Switch." — ICTV joined the Myrio video partner program (MVP).

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