CHICAGO, June 14 – The doors to this year’s Cable Show exhibition opened at 10:30 this morning, and set-top boxes (STBs) again are some of the hottest items on the show floor. But have vendors made sure their offerings are ready to handle the onslaught of content cable subscribers are demanding?

Prior to this week’s show, CT Reports polled many of those exhibiting in the futuristic CableNET area of the show floor for their takes on the both the state of today’s STBs and what next year’s Cable Show attendees will be seeing. 

CT Reports: Are today’s set-top boxes ready for next-gen video offerings? How is legacy gear being retooled?

Ken Morse, CTO, Cisco Service Provider Video Technology Group:  Cisco Videoscape IP STBs are optimized to support the wide array of content from all forms of video – pay TV, broadcast, premium channels, VOD and online – to new Web 2.0 applications.?

Ellen Dudar, co-founder/chief product officer, FourthWall Media: The cable industry deploys millions and millions of digital cable boxes from the latest advanced DVRs to lower-end models that support basic programming. All of these boxes are capable of running new interactive applications on the EBIF common platform, including various advanced-advertising applications and many more interactive applications. Next-gen video offerings will always push the envelope; that’s why they’re next generation. A range of the next-gen services can be supported across the entire cable footprint, while more sophisticated experiences will be featured on high-end boxes.

Jesper Knutsson, vice president/general manager-sales, NDS (Americas):  I would say it’s less about retooling existing gear and more about ensuring that today’s software works with today’s infrastructure and offers an evolutionary set of functionality to grow long term. It’s not an either/or choice today, but rather about designing software solutions that offer MSOs long-term benefits and don’t lock them into a single hardware solution. In talking to our customers, they need solutions that can be implemented rapidly in a phased approach, offering a consistent look and feel as they scale to meet the needs of today’s STBs as well as next-gen STBs. They want proven offerings that they don’t have to revisit in the next two or three years.

Marty Roberts, vice president/sales and marketing, thePlatform: Today’s DOCSIS-enabled STBs can, and are, delivering next-gen video offerings. TV remains the centerpiece of the video market, eclipsing every other market segment by comparison. At the end of the day, our customers have ‘video’ businesses, and that video needs to be on all kinds of devices.

Chris Busch, CTO, Incognito Software: The STB today is a much different platform than its predecessors. Multiple tuners, embedded cable modems, gateway functionalities, Wi-Fi, and whole-home PVR are all part of today’s STB conversation. Legacy platforms have EPG challenges, OTT access challenges and an inability to serve content within the home to other consumer devices.

The legacy platform also has competition from such cable-friendly media platforms as Sling and TiVo that, for some operators, is an opportunity to extend service to these platforms. For others, these represent distractions from the next-generation whole-home video gateway.

Steve Christian, vice president/marketing, Verimatrix:  Typically, there are many STBs still in the inventory of operators that may be limited in terms of the codecs they support. There are a lot of legacy MPEG 2 STBs out in the marketplace that are definitely not very compatible with the types of services that you would like to deliver today using MPEG 4. Where boxes have been rolled out with IP connections based on H.264 capability, then software can definitely be upgraded but, in many cases, interfaces and navigation remain a challenge.

CT Reports: What will we be seeing next year at CableNET?

Dudar, FourthWall Media: CableNET 2012 will celebrate the broad deployment of EBIF-enabled applications including their integration with other technologies and devices. We also anticipate that the new age of interactivity will lead to a vibrant development community that will be on display in the largest CableNET space ever. Finally, this new era will be highlighted by highly accurate, census-level measurement data on how viewers consume television.?

John Dahlquist, vice president/marketing, Aurora Networks: As technology continues to evolve and subscribers shift from requesting to expecting their providers to offer advanced services, we predict next year’s Cable Show will present more technologies that address bandwidth constraints and drive new levels of QoS and QoE. Quality has become increasingly vital to operators in order to increase ARPU and reduce churn. Tech-savvy consumers have increasingly higher quality standards.

Christian, Verimatrix: I expect we will see more complete multi-screen, multi-network digital home strategies next year. Our feeling is that multi-screen, multi-network services will continue to grow as largely value-added options for existing subscription relationships in order to compete with free (or cheap) services already offered on various devices.

Busch, Incognito Software:  Several things: Technology driving the concept of consumer-driven content ownership over any network; the tools to mediate the shift in digital rights management and consumption of network resources; and deeper end-to-end solutions, enabling the devices consumers demand for any content, anytime, anywhere.

-Debra Baker and Linda Hardesty

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