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2012 International CES Roundup

Wed, 02/01/2012 - 3:29am
Mike Robuck, Senior Editor

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, a record number of attendees flocked to Vegas for last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, which means there were more than 153,000 individual takeaways as to what it all means going forward.

The big-picture items – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s last keynote, Apple’s continued indifference in having a show presence and Google TV’s sparse announcement that LG Electronics is joining the ranks of the chosen, to name a few – were obvious to the most casual observer on the Strip, but here’s a look at a few trends that are either incubating or fully hatched.

TV EVERYWHERE WAS ... EVERYWHERE
While TV Everywhere has been on cable’s radar since 2009, it really is just now hitting the mainstream with full force. Whether it’s iPads, Android-based tablets, PCs, Macs or smart TVs, consumers want their video content to be digestible in all forms for consumption.

Cisco 9845 HDCBut TV Everywhere is more than just TV shows on a smaller screen. It now includes the ability to use tablets and iPads to find cloud-based user interfaces, search and discovery features, recommendation engines, posters, and more info on actors.

As one Cisco executive pointed out during a demonstration of the company’s Videoscape platform at The Venetian, devices such as iPads are now synchronous to TVs and other video services in a home.

ActiveVideo, which has signed on as part of Cisco’s cloud-based Videoscape platform, showed how the iPhone 4S’ Siri voice control can be used to change channels; search for linear, VOD and public domain Internet content; and search for movies by an actor’s name. According to ActiveVideo’s David McElhatten, senior vice president of studio and services, the Siri app was developed in a few days and is just one example of the power of HTML5 and cloud-based services.

On the MSO front, Time Warner Cable tweaked its TWCable TV app to run on Panasonic’s Viera TVs. The IP-based app on display at CES streamed DVR and on-demand video content and included the use of Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) to access the stored video content from a DVR.

Speaking on an IP&TV World Forum panel, AT&T’s Jeff Weber, vice president of video products, said he expects more deals similar to the 10-year accord reached between Disney and Comcast to be struck because TV Everywhere services are what customers want, and they provide value to all of the parties involved.

Weber said tablet devices “will control the TV experience in U-verse” and deliver video content anywhere in the nation to AT&T customers.

TV Everywhere is architecture and not a “thing,” according to Weber. “There’s no question that pay-TV operators have to deliver to all of the devices to compete well.”

On the same panel, Cox Communications’ Lisa Pickelsimer, executive director of video product development, said TV Everywhere isn’t a question of technology, but of gathering up the video rights.

Pickelsimer said video content needs to be served up to customers in an integrated fashion through similar interfaces across devices, and with tools and mechanisms for seamless searches. She also said metadata is important and that having standards for integrated searches would open up the deployments of TV Everywhere services.

DISH ENTERS A NEW ERA
Dish Network made the most of its time in the Vegas spotlight by making a host of product-, content- and broadband-related announcements.

Dish President and CEO Joe Clayton took to the stage at The Venetian with a baby kangaroo, or “Joey,” to announce new EchoStarmade whole-home networking boxes.

Comcast/Intel Multi-Screen DemoHopper is the master HD DVR that has 2 terabytes of hard drive memory, while the Joey thin-client boxes are located around a home and connect to the Hopper drive via Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA). The Joey devices, which are about the length of a dollar bill, are small enough to fit behind TVs.

Hopper can store up to 2,000 hours of HD content and can record up to six HD shows simultaneously. The latter is important because it allows Dish subscribers to record the entire primetime menu – under the Dish moniker of “Prime Time Anytime” – of shows from Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC for up to eight days. The end result is “the industry’s biggest video library, hands down,” according to Clayton.

Dish subscribers can also Sling that Prime Time Anytime content anywhere in the nation, which gives them a powerful library of content – both at home and on the go.

“This is the industry’s smallest, most energy-efficient feature-laden and HD wholehome DVR,” Clayton said.

The three-tuner Hopper whole-home DVR can access both IP and satellite video, including HBO Go and video from Dish’s Blockbuster @Home content. The end result is a one-two punch that challenges Comcast’s Xfinity library and over-the-top threats such as Netflix.

Hopper and Joey also feature a 750 MHz Broadcom processer that makes the new user interface lightning-fast, according to Clayton. Hopper and sidekick Joey were slated to start shipping near the end of January and are included for free as part of a two-year subscription, according to Vivek Khemka, Dish’s vice president of product management.

There’s also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and ZigBee RF4CE to help customers find those lost remote controls.

Clayton said that while the Blockbuster name may be undervalued by Wall Street, it resonates with consumers. Dish subscribers can access the Blockbuster @Home content via Internet streaming or by cached content in Hopper that downloads the top 10 most popular video shows or movies each day.

New subscribers to Dish get Blockbuster @Home for free for the first two months, and Dish has also added 6,000 family and kids’ titles to the service. Clayton said music is also undervalued, and on that note, Dish is offering 73 commercial-free music channels from Sirius XM.

Dish is also bundling a data service, which is provisioned by ViaSat, in with its video service for $79.98 a month in order to reach the 8 million to 10 million rural customers who are currently underserved on the data side. ViaSat handles the data plans, which feature up to 12 Mbps on the downstream, while Dish provides the customer with unified billing.

And just to make sure it hit all of the bases, Dish also re-launched its Web portal, redesigned its “Dish” logo, added new personnel to its executive team and announced a content deal with Univision.

“Today is a new dawn for Dish,” Clayton said in his closing remarks. “We are basically re-launching our company, and we are well on our way.”

EchoStar President and CEO Michael Dugan said it “would be an easy decision to make” in regard to making the Hopper and Joey boxes available to its customer base, including cable operators, in order to garner recurring revenue.

While there was no official announcement, EchoStar’s Michael Hawkey, vice president of sales and marketing, said at an EchoStar press conference that Cable One is testing its Aria platform.

Aria made its debut at The Cable Show last year. It’s a hybrid IP/QAM platform that uses existing cable plant and features cloud-based VOD, TV Everywhere and an interactive HD program guide. It also comes with system maintenance and software upgrades.

Prior to the show, Broadcom announced that Sling Media software is integrated into its BCM7425 Dual HD Transcoding MoCA 2.0 Gateway systemon-a-chip. With the integration, set-top box vendors other than EchoStar can start offering SlingLoaded boxes, and EchoStar can also license the service to cable operators for additional reoccurring revenue.

DLNA’s PREMIUM VIDEO DEBUTS
The Digital Living Network Alliance unveiled its Premium Video standard, which enables networking to various DLNA-certified devices in the home, while Comcast and Intel demonstrated it with Comcast’s Parker box on the show floor.

Consumer Electronics AssociationNidhish Parikh, the president and chairman of DLNA, said there are currently 13,000 DLNA-certified devices, which translates into half a billion devices in consumers’ homes. The number of devices is projected to increase to 3 billion by 2016.

DLNA worked with its member partners, including CableLabs, Comcast, Cisco, Intel and AT&T, on the design of Premium Video, as well as on new DLNA interoperability guidelines that will become available later this year.

Premium Video uses DTCP IP to protect the multiple formats of streams. At the sprawling Intel booth, Comcast and Intel’s multi-screen demo sent MPEG-2 streams in 1080p to various devices in a proof of technology demonstration, according to Comcast engineering fellow in the office of the CTO David de Andrade. CES marked the first time that Intel and Comcast had taken the wraps off of the demo that used DLNA guidelines and Premium Video.

The demo featured a box built by Pace, which is known internally at Comcast as the “Parker” box, that Comcast is currently using for its Xcalibur trial in Augusta, Ga. Comcast teamed up with Intel, which provided the Intel Architecture-based CE SoC for the new Pace set-top boxes, to deliver the CPU and graphics performance required for the service's advanced user interface, fast responsive performance and new interactive applications.

With the cloud-based Xcalibur user interface, Comcast subscribers will be able to access their video content across various devices in a home through the Parker box instead of multiple DVRs.

The proof-of-concept demo added in an IP port on the Parker box to securely deliver Premium Video to DLNA devices. De Andrade said the roadmap of the future will include transcoding of the various streams in the box, as well as adaptive bit rates.

The CE devices in the demo, which are based on Intel’s SoCs, included a Samsung tablet and an Acer all-inone PC, both running Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 9.

For the technology demonstration, Comcast and Intel used wired Ethernet to the Acer PC and 5 GHz Wi-Fi to the tablet. The live programming was provided by the local CBS and Fox channels.

There’s no timeframe for availability of the Xfinity TV guide on the DLNA client, but Comcast will launch Xcalibur in a major market in the first half of this year ahead of a bigger rollout later this year.

ON DECK: TV 3.0
With the proliferation of all sorts of new makes and models of TVs, CES served as an appropriate backdrop for a discussion on what the TV of tomorrow will look like.

FCC Chairman Julius GenachowskiThe “Inventing TV 3.0 – Defining the set-top-connected TV, streaming media adapter, downloadable consumer experience” session featured six panelists and one moderator discussing a wide range of topics, but collecting consumer data was highlighted by two panelists.

Jason Forbes, senior vice president of strategy, new products and marketing for Time Warner Cable Media Sales, said Time Warner Cable is collecting anonymous customer data through set-top boxes and its use of switched digital video in 13 markets. The data collection occurs on a macro level, so Time Warner Cable can tell an advertiser what programs a family is watching without crossing privacy boundaries.

The set-top data collection markets include New York, Dallas and Los Angeles.

“Our advertisers are looking to find that right audience, looking to engage that audience, and they’re looking to measure that audience,” Forbes said. “We’ve listened to their needs, and now we can bring a portfolio of capabilities that allows the inventory we represent across 30,000 advertisers to do exactly what they are looking for.”

As an example, Forbes said that last year, Time Warner Cable couldn’t tell advertisers how many subscribers were watching Monday Night Football in New York City, but now it can tell them how many are watching the game in Manhattan.

Flingo co-founder and CEO Ashwin Navin said his software company chose smart TVs as its focus because it was a new field without any established players, rules or paradigms, “and we wanted to kind of define those.”

Flingo is an open-source project that allows users to find video content anywhere on a phone, tablet or on the Web and then pass that content along to a smart TV. The content can be placed in a queue on a set-top box, smart TV or any other device that renders the user interface.

“In doing so, we also figured out the business model for TV is very strong,” Navin said. “The content is generating record levels of revenue through the operations in cable, satellite and other delivery mechanisms. We wanted smart TVs to build on top of that business model. We developed a technology for smart TVs that uses algorithms to figure out what is on a TV and then enable an experience that synchronizes with the linear programming.

“We think that’s going to be the most important thing you can run on a smart TV. It will generate some interesting insights about the programming, what people care about, and hopefully improve the user experience for television over time.”

Navin said there is a fundamental mistake in the approach that Google and Apple have taken with their TV ambitions.

“Their big error was that they treated TV as an app, but broadcast TV is the platform,” he said. “The business model is good, and users don’t want a lot of change. Build on that experience to be successful with over-the-top.”

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