According to the Chinese calendar it’s the Year of the Dog, but for cable operators it’s the year of OCAP. The OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) popped up at booths at least week’s NCTA Show like crocuses in spring. Vidiom Systems unofficially kicked off the show with a Sunday morning session on CableLabs’ OpenCable Application Platform standard and its impact on the cable industry, application designers, and consumer electronics industry. "After a five-year focus on development of the technology, this is the year where deployment takes precedence," Vidiom President and CEO Timothy Wahlers said this week. "The software environment is 100-fold more complex, so the burden is on the vendors, cable operators and content people to get the form to be run. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done." At the Vidiom session, Don Dulchinos, CableLabs’ senior vice president of advance platforms and services, cited the press conference at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vergas as proof that the industry is ready to move forward with OCAP deployments this year. At the CES press conference, company execs from, among others, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox and Charter outlined the markets where they would have OCAP deployed to some degree by the fourth quarter of this year. Two Phases of Deployment The OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), which was developed by cable operators and CableLabs, is a stack of middleware 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. Long a work in progress, OCAP falls within the broader OpenCable initiative, which CableLabs launched in 1997 to promote the deployment of interactive services over cable. OpenCable efforts have ranged beyond OCAP and its several extensions to encompass specifications that advance CableLabs’ stated goals of defining next-generation digital consumer devices, encouraging supplier competition and creating a retail hardware platform.
The benefits of an OpenCable world include the ability to bring new products and services to customers in a user-friendly, two-way environment. Wahlers said OCAP can be simplified into two phases. The first is underway with cable operators buying and deploying set-top boxes that have more memory and processing power to run OCAP on them, which was evidenced by several set-top box vendors at NCTA demoing their new OCAP-capable set-top boxes.  "In doing so they can improve their networks in a controlled fashion to support OpenCable and in the process get themselves prepared for the second phase, which is retail," Wahlers said. The retail phase will include set-top boxes and TVs that can be purchased at retail stores. The cable operators’ goal is to have their networks ready for when these OCAP-enabled devices start showing up on their networks. Wahlers said that while both phases are being pushed in parallel, the first phase is taking precedence this year. Also running along side of the push for OCAP are other products and technologies such as DVRs, DOCSIS set-top gateway (DSG), and CableCARDS. All of which makes for "a very complex world with multiple projects intertwining a bit," according to Wahlers. "A lot of the focus has been from the bottom up," Wahlers said when asked if the consumer applications industry and developers of OCAP products were ready. "The cable operators themselves have to create a suite of applications, including their guide and the monitor application, that have to be planted in the boxes when they show up on their networks. Those applications have to be ready and tested, and then, and only then, can you consider the deployment of third-party applications. " Amanda Jervis, Vidiom’s manager of training and support, said at the NCTA session that a revamped version of OpenCable 1.0, which was frozen from further development by CableLabs last year, could be completed by June. A rough draft of OpenCable 1.1, which includes upgrades to the Java platform, could be completed near the end of this year.  Vidiom’s OCAP roots, and concerns When it comes to OCAP, Vidiom literally helped write the book. The company was involved in writing the RFP and specification in a consulting role with CableLabs. It also developed an OCAP stack for the joint venture between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which is called OCAP Development, LLC. At NCTA, Vidiom showed its OCAP stack on Broadcom, ST Micro Electronic, Scientific-Atlanta and ADB platforms. The company provides both services and products and was purchased by ADB Holdings earlier this year. ADB Holdings also owns ADB, which makes set-top boxes and a software solution called Osmosys. Vidiom offers training seminars on OCAP, as well as products such as Vision Workbench that allows developers to test their OCAP applications while sitting at their PCs. Vidiom also has an OCAP Porting Kit and vCert OCAP testing solutions, the latter of which helps developers and manufacturers pre-certify digital receivers before going to CableLabs. Vidiom is also developing test facilities for OCAP-related applications and hardware in several of its locations. "I do worry, and I do hope, that enough effort is being put in into the testing and deployment, but there certainly will be, as there always is with a project this complex, a few stumbles out of the gate," Wahlers said. "I do see it (2006) as a big year."

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