High-definition TV (HDTV) is picking up steam in Europe. It’s an uphill struggle, however, simply because it’s difficult to replace something that isn’t screaming to be replaced. The problem is ironic: Europeans have a strong legacy technology in place. Phase alternation line (PAL) offers 625 lines of horizontal scanning. That compares favorably to North America, where the National Television System Committee (NTSC) standard scans a relatively paltry 525 horizontal lines. In addition, the aspect ratio—the ratio of horizontal and vertical screen size—is 16×9 in PAL, which is the same as motion pictures and generally preferred by viewers. Despite the difficulty of displacing a solid standard, HD is beginning to make inroads in Europe, according to insiders. The linchpin is a startup HDTV channel, Euro1080. The Antwerp, Belgium-based broadcaster went live at the beginning of the year. It currently is the only HD programmer in Europe, according to communications manager Terry Verbiest. Euro1080 has cable deals with two cable operators in both Holland and Germany. It has single deals in Monte Carlo, France and Holland. All told, the systems pass about 4 million homes. Negotiations are ongoing with two operators in Belgium and single operators in Holland, Germany and France. Verbiest says that the company now serves about 1 million of Europe’s 38 million cable homes and aims to serve 4 million to 5 million by the end of this year. However, Euro1080—the name refers to the scanning frequency used—does not want to be the sole HD outlet in Europe. It likely won’t be the lone provider for long. Verbiest says that BSkyB and the BBC are launching HD this month in Great Britain and that a launch is likely in France next year or in 2006, and in Germany in 2006. Declining costs The time lag between major HD pushes in North America and Europe favor European cable operators. For one thing, they have far friendlier compression algorithms with which to work. Two standards—MPEG-4 part 10 and Windows Media 9—cut data rates in half, dramatically reducing capacity that must be given over to HDTV, says Warren Hobson, director of corporate strategy for Tanberg Television. It also suggests that the regions will diverge, at least technically, because North America’s large, installed base of MPEG-2 set-tops will impede the adoption of a new format. The cost of encoding and decoding gear also is coming down. The reduction of the price of consumer HDTV gear in Europe is being met with increasing demand as Europeans are drawn toward plasma and other thin displays. "It’s started to break out," says Tony Werner, the CTO of Liberty Media. "Sets are getting much cheaper, and people want flat screens for room aesthetics." Different regions in Europe have different orientations, Hobson says. "In general, our expectations are that high definition is most likely to be deployed first in regions where the competitive dynamic is strongest," Hobson says. "In large areas of Europe where there is (mostly) analog, high definition could be a tool for operators to encourage migration" to higher value programming. One lesson North American operators can learn from their counterparts in Europe is the importance of programming. Europeans are breaking out of the chicken-and-egg scenario that bedeviled North American operators a few years ago. The problem was that content was necessary before people would buy sets, but vendors weren’t anxious to build sets or operators to dedicate bandwidth before demand emerged. European outlets are combating this by stockpiling programming both from North America and key sports events such as the summer Olympics in Greece or World Cup soccer. Germany will host the World Cup finals in 2006. —Carl Weinshenk Cable’s high-speed data teams are collaborating and adopting new security technologies in their battle against network "intruders," such as spam, viruses, worms and denial of service (DoS) attacks. "The peer group at the security level on the ISP side of the MSOs are in constant contact with one another," Adelphia Vice President Data Engineering and Operations Tom Buttermore says. "This is a very close-knit community." Concerning spam, the collaboration ranges from identifying the source to blocking offensive Internet protocol (IP) addresses to coordinating legal action, Buttermore says. "(Spammers) are sneaky guys, and you have to run a constant vigil, so we’re always sharing information about what we’re seeing in the network." Grab your partner Vendors are likewise collaborating. Sandvine, for instance, is integrating Camiant’s PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM)-based policy server platform with its own traffic management technology. The move is not entirely defensive. The companies say that along with removing intrusive traffic, this approach could also result in branded voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and gaming services and tiered, peer-to-peer (P2P) management. It’s an attractive notion. "Wouldn’t it be neat if we could dynamically or heuristically determine a service flow of interest?" Buttermore asks. The idea is that when a sub cranks up an XBox or PS2 game, the operator sees that invite going across the network, then uses a policy manager to verify the request and prioritize ensuing traffic to provide a superior gaming experience. The catch is that the PCMM box needs something like a network-aware switch to make the initial identification. "PCMM was developed with the thought in mind that there would be an application server," says Ellacoya Networks Vice President of Marketing Ben Legault. "In the case of P2P apps or intrusion management, there is no server." Ellacoya itself showcased the addition of PCMM-based functionality to its family of switches with an Xbox Live gaming application at the National Show and unveiled a network intrusion management module at Cable-Tec Expo. The module integrates Sourcefire intrusion sensors that use a rules-based detection engine derived from the open-source Snort code. Another company that has been making the rounds in cable operator trials is Tipping Point. Associated with the SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security) Institute and its @RISK weekly newsletter, Tipping Point earned a "best buy" ranking in SC Magazine’s July issue and later announced that Charter Communications is deploying its UnityOne product. "We selected Tipping Point because it integrated security and traffic management capabilities in one platform," Charter CTO Wayne Davis said in a statement. "The big news is that for the first time (an operator) is putting something in their network that’s neither a switch nor a router," Jim Johnson, vice president of Tipping Point’s service provider business unit, says. —Jonathan Tombes

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