At the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, cable operators and CableLabs rolled out the big guns for a press conference on the progress of CableLab’s OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP). So where are we a year later? A little closer, is the short answer.
OCAP, which was developed by cable operators and CableLabs, is a stack of software that resides between applications and the operating system within a consumer electronics device such as a set-top box or OCAP-compliant TV set. Unlike legacy set-top boxes, OCAP devices can have new information or applications ported to them because of their two-way capabilities.
Currently, Cox is trialing OCAP in Motorola and Scientific Atlanta headends and hopes to add automated provisioning before moving to market trials later this year or the first quarter of 2008.
Time Warner Cable had a trial using Samsung‘s OCAP TV set and is slated to install OCAP set-top boxes in subscribers’ homes in May en route to having all of its systems ready for OCAP by July. TWC will also have OCAP in its guide later this year.
Charter hoped to have OCAP trials in key markets last year, but Doug Ike, Charter’s vice president of advanced engineering, said the full-function version of the "navigation" software wasn’t available.
"We’ve been working with versions of the navigation software that are appropriate for lab and possibly technical trials; however, these versions don’t support our current legacy applications," Ike said. "There were some software availability problems; however, our goal (last year) was to do lab work around the OCAP platform, specifically the TV Guide GuideWorks implementation."
Charter is currently testing Panasonic and Motorola DCH 6416 set-top boxes with CableCards, as well as host devices from Motorola and Scientific Atlanta.
Charter’s OCAP team, which largely came over mid-year in 2006 from Adelphia, focused on getting the Motorola DAC headends ready first. Bob Blackburn, Charter’s senior director digital engineering, said Charter is prepping for trials this quarter on the Motorola side and hopes to have early alpha testing in those same markets in the second quarter.
"We do have the full TV Works platform up and running in our (Denver) lab," Blackburn said. "We also did go through and identify where we needed to have basic video headend upgrades on the Motorola and Scientific Atlanta sides. We basically had to go buy 18 new DACs that can run the new software that supports OCAP, so we did all of those field upgrades. I think we still have one our two DACs to go out of our 37 that are upgraded and ready to do OCAP in the field."
The headend upgrades included 3.1.1-x software updates to the DACs while SA DNCSs were upgraded to SR 4.2. Infrastructure supporting DOCSIS Set-Top Gateway (DSG) needed work, as well as ensuring that multicast and appropriate IP numbering schemes were implemented. On the Motorola side, new RADDs that point to the CMTSs were needed for DSG, in addition to the configuration and software upgrades on the DACs. Blackburn said Charter will use DSG in an OCAP environment for a trial slated to start this month.
"That will be our first DSG conversion and our first OCAP trial," Blackburn said. "We’ll get the DSG up and running first and then throw in the OCAP infrastructure, all of the headend servers and carousals that are required to support OCAP."
Charter will focus on using DSG for its out-of-band OCAP needs.
"I believe the Charter perspective right now, specifically for supporting retail devices, is we would [like] to stay away from, if possible, using the legacy out-of-band protocols from Motorola and Scientific Atlanta," Ike said. "We believe that DSG is the correct direction to go, and we’ll put that in as a precursor to deploying OCAP."
While Charter has a Samsung OCAP TV set in its lab, it has sat largely idle of late with the focus on OCAP basics such as DOCSIS and DSG pieces, time of day servers, DHCP configurations and object carousels, among others.
"I think we’re pretty much in line with the MSOs who are not actively developing OCAP applications," Ike said. "It’s pretty safe to say that Time Warner Cable and Comcast are indeed doing all of the heavy lifting, and some of us who don’t have those kinds of resources are in the mode of figuring out how to best integrate and implement the solutions that come to market." Comcast readies two markets In 2006, Comcast prepped four markets for OCAP-compliant devices; Philadelphia, Denver, Boston, and Union, NJ. This year Comcast will be taking the lessons learned from the work in those four cities to launch OCAP into two commercial markets before the end of this year.
"We integrated all of the hardware and software elements to make OCAP work in those four markets," said Mark Hess, Comcast’s senior VP of digital television. "When most people think about it, they think it’s just adding a piece of software, but you need to integrate it onto a hardware platform with some applications, which in our case is the guide in VOD, then integrate it into the network itself back to the VOD servers and back to the billing system. All of the network elements that were required have been integrated and deployed."
Hess said there aren’t any OCAP devices from vendors that are ready fully ready, so the company is in the process of putting the software integration effort onto its own leased devices.
"Eventually, we’ll have some TVs from Panasonic, Samsung or LG for some technical trials there as well," he said.
On the heels of last year’s CES announcement with Comcast on OCAP-enabled set-top boxes, Panasonic said at this year’s CES that it would test an interactive digital cable-ready HD plasma TV with Comcast. The 58-inch plasma TVs are based on OCAP specifications and are slated for testing this year with deployments following up in 2008, according to Panasonic.
At CES, Richard Strabel, a vice president with Panasonic, said Comcast will start deploying its OCAP set-top boxes this summer and that GuideWorks was still working on the electronic program guide. Hess said the set-top boxes were used in the four markets, and integration work is underway with the Panasonic TV sets.
Also at last year’s CES, Comcast announced two purchases that played into its real next-generation (RNG) set-top initiative, which includes OCAP as a core component. The deals included an order for 200,000 (with options for another 500,000) "RNG-100" boxes from Samsung and an order for 250,000 (with an option for as many as 1 million in the first year) "RNG-200" boxes from Panasonic.
Hess said a prototype of the Panasonic RNG-200 boxes has been used for testing and that Comcast is in the process of working with Panasonic on putting the information learned onto the RNG-200 platform.
Work on the RNG-100 Samsung boxes is slightly behind the RNG-200, "but we’re just beginning to put some of our integration efforts on that as well," Hess said. – Mike Robuck