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CTAM attendance up; panelists debate thick/thin set-tops

Thu, 03/07/2002 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

LOS ANGELES - Despite a slow economy and the travel fallout of 9/11, CTAM's annual Digital Conference enjoyed a small year-to-year rise in attendance here.

Bucking the trend tied to smaller and occasionally meager trade show and conference turn-outs, CTAM drew 1,259 attendees, compared to 1,200 in 2001.

While video-on-demand and its potential impact on digital growth was the conference's hottest topic (Discovery Networks, for example, unveiled plans for an on-demand service that taps the company's vast programming library), the long-standing "thick" versus "thin" digital set-top debate continued to brew during a session on Thursday afternoon.

Mark DePietro, vice president of marketing and systems engineering for Motorola Broadband's DigiCable unit, weighed the pros and cons associated with digital video recording (DVR) functionality.

Using a network DVR scenario with a legacy, "thin" box, DePietro noted that on the downside, such a system requires high bandwidth availability, can put a strain on available headend space and generally isn't designed to handle networked "whole home" DVR functions. On the upside, a networked DVR platform leverages existing VOD infrastructure, requires less aggregate storage and is more immune to disk crashes.

Meanwhile, Cablevision Systems Corp. Director of New Media Projects Robert Rosentel argued whether the concept of a "thick" client actually exists. What matters most, he said, is that it's how the box is used, rather than how powerful it is, noting that it's literally impossible to build a box that satisfies the technical requirements for every application that might be offered in the future.

A "thin" box with high-speed connectivity, linked to services and applications on the network, is the most viable answer, Rosentel said, noting that upgrades could be downloaded to the set-top later.

"It's the only way to go, in my opinion," he said.

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