When the 2011 Cable Show exhibit hall officially opens next Tuesday, June 14, attendees will be able to view, handle and evaluate the next generation of set-top boxes (STBs) that either have just hit the market or that will be available soon.

With competition rampant, operators and vendors alike face the daunting task of presenting content to subscribers in the ways they consume programming, which means easier navigation and better search-and-discover methodologies.  Here are the key questions: Are today’s STBs ready for next-gen video offerings and how is legacy gear being retooled?

According to Chris Busch, CTO at Incognito Software, a CableNET exhibitor, “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.”

Busch also points out that legacy platforms also have competition from the likes of  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,” he says.

“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,” says Ellen Dudar, co-founder/chief product officer at FourthWall Media, which also has a booth in the CableNET section of the show. “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."

Adds Steve Christian, vice president/marketing at Verimatrix (also exhibiting in CableNET), “Typically, there are many STBs still in the inventory of operators that may be limited in the 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.”

Next Monday (June 13), CT Reports subscribers will be receiving a special Cable Show preview in PDF form, “CableNET 2011: The Future of Video Today – Taking Interactive Video and TV Everywhere A Step Forward,” in lieu of their regular CT Reports e-letter. On Tuesday (June 14), CT Reports will return to its normal e-letter format.

(Editor’s note: If you are attending The Cable Show and have not registered for our FREE Tech Breakfast on June 16, click here TODAY to reserve your place!)

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