While most large cable operators are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their digital simulcast deployments, Rogers Cable has already put some all-digital set-top boxes into customers’ homes. Rogers got an early jump on digital simulcast when it decided to overhaul its network for disaster recovery and redundancy reasons four years ago, although Dermot O’Carroll, Rogers’ senior vice president of engineering and network operations, said the overhaul also primed the infrastructure for digital simulcasts that started last year. Currently, Rogers has digital simulcast available in 3.1 million homes
passed, out of a total of 3.5 million, in the province of Ontario, New
Brunswick and Newfoundland.
“By the end of the year, everybody will have simulcast except for some
of the small rural markets that only get 600 megahertz of bandwidth,”
O’Carroll said. “Because we have simulcast everywhere, the next obvious step is going
to an all-digital box. We’ve launched an all-digital box here in
Ontario, and we have two vendors, Pace and Scientific-Atlanta.” MDUs pose challenge O’Carroll said Rogers ran into "an interesting challenge" with its deployment of all-digital set-top boxes: security cameras in apartment buildings.
 
"The security cameras are on an analog channel," he explained. "With an all-digital box, you have to figure out how to service the security camera. There are a bunch of ways to do it. The expensive way of doing it is to put an encoder in the building and actually digitize the security channel with a QAM modulator and stick it into the lineup. The problem with that, obviously, is it uses up a 6-megahertz slot. "To keep in the analog world, if you have a TV that has both an RF input and a video component input, you can feed the security camera by a coax into one input and your digital box into the other. You can switch to the security camera with your remote control by changing video inputs on the TV." Bruce Marshall, the technical director of Hamilton, Ontario-based Mountain Cable, ran into the same problem. Mountain Cable is using Motorola’s DCT 700 as its "garden variety" set-top box in its digital simulcast deployment, except for in apartment buildings with security cameras. "Apartment security cameras mean we have to install set-tops with an analog tuner," Marshall said. "A DCT 700 doesn’t have an analog tuner, so the apartment security camera wasn’t visible." For more about digital simulcast deployments, see the September issue of Communications Technology, or go to http://www.bigbandnet.com/technology/tech_whitepaper_digi_sim.php Comcast and Time Warner Push Digital Envelope When Comcast held is quarterly earnings call this week
it was obvious that video is still the company’s workhorse, although
this horse is more of a thoroughbred than a plow horse. Comcast President and COO Steve Burke said the MSO expects to have
digital simulcast rolled out in three quarters of its markets by the
end of the year. The mammoth MSO plans on pairing digital simulcast
with its enhanced basic service, which will give subscribers access to
hundreds of movies from Encore. Comcast’s enhanced
basic customers will also have “free” access to roughly 500 movies that
will be refreshed each month. Comcast is slated to offer a bigger free
movie service for enhanced basic and digital subscribers in October. Comcast hasn’t said how much the enhanced basic service will cost, or where will it be deployed first, but it will throw in a digital set top box with interactive programming guide and VOD functions. Comcast’s video revenues increased 5.9 percent, or $192 million, in the
second quarter to $3.4 billion, which was partly driven by the 13.3
percent increase in the number of digital customers. Comcast Cable
added 284,000 new digital customers in the second quarter of 2005 and
with more than 9.1 million subscribers digital cable penetration
reached 42 percent of basic subscribers. TWC trials "startover" Time Warner Cable also held its second quarter
earnings call this week, where the MSO announced its digital video
penetration is at 46 percent after the addition of 144,000 net
subscribers. Time Warner is working on two new features that it hopes to roll out late this year and next year. The first is a "startover" feature that allows subscribers to restart a show from the beginning at any point in its time-slot. A limited field trial for the startover feature is currently underway in Charleston, S.C., with a more general trial scheduled to take place in the same area this fall. Over the course of next year, Time Warner plans on rolling out the
switched digital video capability that its currently trialing in
Austin, Tex. -Mike Robuck

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