Comcast to launch advanced compression in '06
Comcast plans to complement its migration to an all-digital platform by introducing more efficient compression schemes by 2006.
Though Comcast has yet to settle on a specific format, Comcast is already looking at several possibilities, including MPEG-4, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media 9 and the RealNetworks Inc. RealVideo 10 platform, noted Comcast CTO Dave Fellows at a media day held this summer at the MSO's headquarters in Philadelphia.
One MSO exec noted privately that Comcast will be able to make those selections without getting "locked in" by deploying set-tops equipped with software-based chipsets. That means a set-top running Windows Media 9 could be converted to another codec via a simple download to the box.
Nearer-term, Comcast hopes to kick off all-digital trials soon in a couple of markets by simulcasting analog channels in its digital spectrum, a strategy Charter Communications is employing in Long Beach, Calif.
Further out, Comcast will pin some of its all-digital hopes on low-cost digital set-tops that will emerge from Next Generation Network Architecture (NGNA), a project being headed up by Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.
"We're headed down the path of $35 to $50 set-tops," Fellows said. He expects the first of those devices to become available sometime next year.
Comcast also said it will remain aggressive with video-on-demand, and expects to have the service available to about 80 percent of its footprint by year-end.
Fellows said Comcast will continue to add free and pay content to the VOD vaults. Comcast offers an average of about 1,500 hours of VOD content today, but is headed for 10,000 hours or more, he added.
Comcast has also embarked on some initial high-definition VOD testing in the Philadelphia area. For now, the company is offering HDVOD fare only in the pay category.
Comcast also shed more light on its IP telephony plans. Today, the operator is conducting VoIP trials in the Philadelphia area; Indianapolis, Ind.; and, most recently, Springfield, Mass.
Comcast had about 650 customers on the service at press time, though the VoIP equipment already deployed in those test markets could support about 1 million homes passed. Next up, Comcast plans to test some new packages and marketing techniques for the service, said Rian Wren, Comcast's senior vice president and general manager of telephony.
Looking ahead, Wren said Comcast, if it so chooses, could be in a position to offer VoIP in up to 50 percent of its footprint in 2005.