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Abracadabra at Keystone

Tue, 08/11/2009 - 9:34am
Traci Patterson
Imagine chucking your remote and just waving at your TV to get what you want. A technology that will enable that and much, much more – some of it a little creepy – prevailed as the innovation most likely to become a successful commercial product at the Innovation Showcase at CableLabs’ annual Summer Conference.

Prime Sense is a four-year-old semiconductor start-up, based in Israel, that has figured out what it believes is the least expensive means of performing 3-D motion detection and object identification.

Prime Sense makes a chip that OEMs can build into standalone webcams or into any system that might integrate a camera (e.g., a game console, a TV or a set-top box). The chip works with a near infrared detector (operating in part of the spectrum not used by remote controls) that emits an IR projection that the camera senses, explained Suneil Mishra, Prime Sense’s U.S. vice president of sales and marketing.

The company was originally thinking along the lines of motion detection similar to that incorporated in Nintendo’s Wii game console, but recently realized the technology might have some applications in TV viewing.

For instance, pay-TV providers could deploy the technology to enable their subscribers to use gestures to browse through program guides, in conjunction with a remote, or even without one. Mishra described the possibility of using a virtual touchscreen – projecting a screen that users could gesture at (virtual projected keyboards, for example, already exist; here’s one implementation).

Beyond that, Prime Sense’s technology can also be used to identify objects – including people. An operator could determine if the person watching is an adult or a child. Further, it has the ability to identify specific individuals.

That capability led at least a couple of questioners during CableLabs’ media Q&A call-in to wonder about potential privacy issues, but Mishra insisted that Prime Sense imaging is less like video and more like thermal mapping.

That might make some viewers more comfortable about watching TV in their underwear – maybe – but I’m not sure that really answered the question.

Still, the capability undeniably has some intriguing potential for addressable advertising, recommendation engines, parental safety locking and other features. Imagine being able to identify the viewer automatically, without compelling viewers to sign in or otherwise identify themselves, and then providing the appropriate services, content or advertising.

… Once the voyeur factor is fully addressed, of course – assuming it is fully addressed.

Mishra said Prime Sense chips could be available in volume by the end of the year. Mishra said Prime Sense will be “a $20 solution.” The company will have reference designs for several products available.

Software development kits (SDKs) are already in the hands of about 1,000 developers, he said, explaining that Prime Sense’s SDKs are powerful enough that third parties should easily be able to integrate the capability into existing applications.

How Prime Sense technology would play with tru2way is up in the air; the company simply hasn’t been working with cable companies long enough to know how to answer the question, Mishra said.

He said that at least a couple of major OEMs are looking to use the technology. Given his response on tru2way, the OEMs likely aren’t set-top box manufacturers.

During CableLabs’ discussion of its Innovation Showcase, CableLabs executive vice president and chief strategy officer David Reed repeated several times that innovation is still happening in the cable industry.

And that’s so. But it’s also true that the locus of innovation has moved. Through much of the 1990s and the early oughts, there was a phenomenal amount of innovation involving the systems and components that are integral elements of the HFC network. In recent years, innovation has shifted to providing or improving input into the HFC network, or handling output from it.

The nature of the innovations from Prime Sense and the 10 other companies that presented at the CableLabs conference simply continued the trend. In alphabetical order. …

Aerohive Networks showed a simplified enterprise wireless LAN architecture that uses intelligent access points and distributed control protocols to eliminate the need for WLAN controllers.

Aerohive says that compared with controller-based WLANs, its distributed control architecture delivers increased performance, flexibility and resiliency while dramatically reducing capital costs and deployment complexity.

Alcatel-Lucent  demo’d an application that allows end-users to take video from a mobile phone and broadcast it directly to the TV sets of friends or family, in real time, and have that video downloaded directly to network storage for subsequent viewing. The demo used tru2way/EBIF, IMS/PC2.0, A-L’s application enablement solution and its interactive application template development and management solution for enhanced TV applications (Interactive Media Manager).

Alcatel-Lucent also showed a Flash-based user interface with 3-D enhancements, based on Adobe Flash Lite 3 and Philips’ WOWvx technology, that provides a 3-D effect without additional devices or special glasses. According to the company, in the cable space, A-L is also focusing on 3-D and the convergence of the three screens.

Arris showed there’s still some fun to be had within the network with its demo of an on-demand system over an RFoG system. The company said the demo introduced an automated tool that probes CMTSs, identifies low-SNR power-starved CMs, and dynamically moves the CMs to channels with modulation profiles that can accommodate their limited SNRs.

AudioCodes has been talking about improving the quality of VoIP so that it exceeds the quality of PSTN calls for quite some time. The vendor demonstrated what it’s calling HD VoIP, which it demonstrated within an ecosystem of IP phones, media gateways, conferencing resources, transcoding and carrier peering solutions.

Ceton Corp. has taken the cable industry’s least favorite technology and figured out a way to make it not only palatable, but potentially desirable. It showed a next-generation multichannel CableCard that turns Media Center PCs running Windows 7 into gateways capable of delivering up to six HDTV channels simultaneously for live viewing, DVR recording, and/or securely streaming live and recorded programs to multiple HDTVs throughout the home.

This implementation is aimed at whole-home entertainment. Another implementation, offered in partnership with ATX Networks, incorporates four six-tuner Ceton board sets with four CableCards to deliver all channels from 24 independent QAM tuners with decryption to the limit of the four CableCards – an architecture aimed at the hospitality market.

Processing graphics is far different from processing data; that’s why specialized graphics processing units (GPUs) were developed to supplement central processing units (CPUs). The thing is, GPUs have become so powerful they can be used for much more than graphics.

Elemental Technologies is using GPUs to build what it calls an enterprise-class video processing system that provides fast, high-quality video transcoding and encoding. The company claims its Elemental Server can format content faster for faster distribution, at significantly lower cost. Charter CTO Marwan Fawaz said the system could be used to support moving content in and out of cable networks.

FreedTV is a start-up talking about “virtual TV rooms.” Near as I can make out from its breathless self-description, it combines video and social networking in a manner similar to the way online gamers can not only play, but talk with each other. It’s such a start-up it doesn’t even have any information on its Web site as of this writing.

Openet demonstrated its Content Anywhere system, which manages authentication, authorization and other entitlement interactions required across multiple networks and IT domains.

Alphabetically speaking, it’s a coincidence that the last two companies in the list addressed the same issue.

Tandberg Television showed a means of leveraging currently deployed on-demand infrastructure to deliver video in multiple formats, protocols and resolutions to any device.

And start-up Verivue also showed its system, which it claims is the first media storage and delivery system built on a network platform (Arris is OEMing it). Details from when the company announced its system are here.
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