There seem to be a plethora of test-and-measurement companies vying for cable business lately. Why the uptick?
The migration from analog to digital networks has created new needs for quality assurance, according to Jeremy Bennington, VP/GM of Cheetah V-Factor at Cheetah Technologies.
“In the analog days, you just put color bars up and put through a waveform monitor or vectorscope; if the pattern looked good, you were all set. If not, it was easier to find the issues than in a digital world,” said Bennington. "In the digital world, we don’t have the same types of tests. We have to make sure the signal got from point A to point B, and that the quality was maintained in the process in the packet world."
The other reason for more vigorous interest in video quality assurance is competition.
"It’s really important for the industry to look at quality as a key metric," Bennington added. "Competing on price with satellite and telcos is not a game that anybody wins."
While other monitoring companies appear to be averse to the terms "test and measurement," Cheetah Technologies is fine with those words.
"Test and measurement is what we do," said Steve Santamaria, EVP/business development with Cheetah.
Cheetah’s portfolio is based on products and technologies recently acquired from Symmetricom. In a 2007 study of cable-operator video quality commissioned by Symmetricom and conducted by Multimedia Research Group that surveyed executives from nine of the Top 20 U.S. MSOs, 61.9 percent of respondents said they found out about video quality problems via customer phone calls. Only 31 percent said they used network-monitoring tools to discover quality problems.
Regarding the genesis of video quality problems, respondents also said 50 percent of digital video trouble came from customer premises equipment. Headend issues were second, at 19.5 percent, followed by edge/node at 14.9 percent; other issues comprised the balance.
Sometimes video quality is degraded as it gets transported from content owners to the operators’ headends, said Bennington, and sometimes problems occur at the headend, such as snow on the satellite before the content is packaged.
Today, Cheetah Technologies announced the availability of V-Factor Stream Probe Advanced with “Intelligent Decode” to enhance the ability of operators to measure the quality of encoded video as it leaves the headend by providing measurements for “blockiness,” blackout, frozen video and jerkiness that accurately match human observation.
The Intelligent Decode feature of V-Factor allows operators to monitor anywhere from 30 to 120 high-definition MPEG-2 video channels (post-encoder) in a 1RU to 2RU platform with results the company said are “objective and repeatable.” Stream Probe Advanced combines the ability to detect visual errors with MPEG and IP analysis.
“The only way to ensure video quality is to ‘look’ at the images,” said Bennington. “Intelligent Decode builds on more than 10 years of V-Factor technology and human vision research to enable the operator to see what the subscriber sees and to proactively correct errors as quickly as possible.”
Other monitoring solutions "ensure bits and bytes get from point A to point B. We model the human eye," added Santamaria.
(More on test and measurement).