MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) set-top box shipments surpassed MPEG-2-only set-top box shipments for the first time in 2010, with about 53 percent MPEG-4 shipments worldwide, according to ABI Research’s report “Global Set Top Box Markets.” Despite the support for advanced encoding, however, pay-TV operators worldwide have been slow to support interactive features on set-top boxes.

High-end boxes that shipped this year in the United States and Europe will enable higher levels of interactivity, including next-generation EPGs (electronic program guides) and hybrid services, with many services slated to launch in early 2011.

“Set-top boxes are slowly catching up to consumer electronics devices which enable access to interactive services and over-the-top (OTT) content,” said ABI Research practice director Jason Blackwell, in a statement. “In the U.S., operators are favoring their own ‘TV Everywhere’ platforms, including Comcast’s Xfinity, Dishonline.com, and U-verse, rather than supporting OTT video services. In Europe, Project Canvas and HbbTV are more open interactive TV platforms.”

“More processing power is being tested in set-top boxes, including early tests of an Intel Atom-based platform. These high-powered boxes act as gateways with multiple tuners and support multi-room viewing with thin clients on other TVs in the household,” said ABI Research senior analyst Sam Rosen, in a statement. “‘No new wire’ home networking standards are enabling deployment of these gateway devices.”

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