Our colleagues at CableFAX Daily said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts looked a little like Buzz Lightyear yesterday in his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

As moviegoers may recall, Buzz’s mantra was "To infinity and beyond!" Yesterday, Roberts unveiled Comcast’s "Project Infinity" video-on-demand strategy. The idea is to accelerate the delivery of content available to consumers on multiple platforms with the help of a nation-wide system of library servers.

Another component of Roberts’ content-oriented message was the commitment to offer 1,000 high definition television (HDTV) choices to its subscribers by the end of 2008. At last November’s CableNEXT conference, Comcast CTO Tony Werner said the MSO was then offering 260 HD choices (a term spanning both linear and non-linear, aka on-demand, content.) In the next year, or two or three … As we reported in this week’s CT Reports, another Comcast consumer/content initiative is a portable set-top/DVR, one of several developed in collaboration with Panasonic. That P-DVR is expected to arrive in about a year.

It does seem to be the season for making projections. Going back to CableNEXT (itself cast as a look-ahead event) Werner was offering five, five-year trends.

Beyond the one-year projections of CEOs such as Roberts, CES is notoriously futuristic. "Some of that stuff may never appear," said one MSO engineer yesterday, who was following CES news from afar.

Then there is next week’s SCTE Conference on Emerging Technologies, billed as a look across the three-to-five year horizon. Some of the slated papers, such as the edge resource management discussion by BigBand Neworks‘ Doug Jones and Time Warner Cable‘s Chuck Hasek, are more here and now. Others, including the mashup of DOCSIS 4.0 and PON by Cisco‘s Alon Bernstein, are clearly pushing that longer-term horizon.

All this projecting and future-casting is nearly enough to confuse anyone about where any given technology may stand at the moment. Good, bad and ugly? For one attempt at a reality check on HDTV, see the current CT cover story.

The ugly side of HD – namely, that everything else looks so bad – is more of an unintended consequence of this technology than anything you can attribute directly to HDTV itself, but it’s there all the same, along with the massive amount of confusion among consumers about what HD is and now to get it, which further promises to make this transition a messy matter of stepping forward and backward at the same time.

The network implications of raising the HD ante are tricky, as well. Apart from switched digital video, which didn’t ramp up in 2007 as quickly as many expected, but may catch up in ’08, operators are looking at populating the homes of HD early adopters with MPEG-4 set-tops (including boxes unveiled at CES) and, in some cases, continuing a quiet deployment of field equipment capable of exploiting spectrum up to 1 GHz.

That said, there’s a time and a place for heroic Buzz Lightyear rhetoric, for the brainy projections of the industry’s leading CTO (who sounded a bit like Jimmy Neutron, as one audience attendee whispered at CableNEXT) and for the network strategizing that will take place next week in Los Angeles.

– Jonathan Tombes

The Daily

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