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CableLabs provides update on OpenCable Application Platform

Wed, 07/18/2007 - 9:44am
Mike Robuck

During his keynote address at last month’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow joked that he had banned the use of the acronym OCAP at NCTA headquarters because “it completely drops the ball” when it comes to defining the OpenCable Application Platform. During yesterday’s CableLabs Webcast, it was dropped from the official lexicon in favor of the OpenCable Platform.

“The OpenCable Platform is about hardware and software and OCAP was just software,” said Margit Tritt, director of APS program management for CableLabs.

Tritt said MSOs were publicly committed to the OpenCable Platform and the goal, from the subscribers’ perspective, is to make as seamless a transition as possible to the portable hardware and software. Tritt pointed to the 13 companies who were showing OpenCable exhibits at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show as proof that OpenCable is gaining momentum.

Bob Mechler, CableLabs’ software engineer for eTV and OpenCable, said the OpenCable developer’s conference at the NCTA show drew 300 attendees for the keynote address, and averaged 200 during the sessions that were designed to help developers write applications for the technology. He also talked about CableLabs’ OpenCable Developer’s Community, and how CableCARD-enabled STBs are running parallel to OpenCable in some MSOs’ labs and deployments.

OpenCable was initially conceived by CableLabs and cable operators 10 years ago as a stack of software that resides between applications and the operating system within a consumer electronics device such as a STB or OpenCable-compliant TV set. JAVA-based OpenCable devices can have new information or applications ported to them because of their two-way capabilities, with eTV being an early forerunner of application for legacy STBs. 

Tritt said the feedback CableLabs has received to date has indicated that electronic program guides will be among the first OpenCable applications to launch. Mechler said OpenCable STBs are currently in customers’ homes and that the recent rollouts will also, at a minimum, support VOD and DVRs, as well as EPGs.

A revision is scheduled to be finished this month for OpenCable Platform 1.0.0 that Mechler said would mainly entail maintenance, while version 1.0.1, which is also slated for completion this month, would include personal basis profile 1.1. There’s currently no timetable for OpenCable Platform 1.0.2, but areas of focus include multi-screen manager, digital program insertion and metrics. CableLabs is also looking at adding DVR and basic home networking capabilities to future versions of the OpenCable Platform.

“The rollouts are accelerating,” Mechler said. “We’re getting things into the field and they’re working.”

During a CTO panel at the NCTA show in May, Cox CTO Chris Bowick said his company is slated to have five OpenCable trials underway by the end of the year, while also deploying applications through its Java-based On Ramp platform to legacy STBs.

Also at the show, Mike Hayashi, SVP of advanced technology and engineering at Time Warner Cable, said all of his company's Scientific Atlanta headends and STBs will be OpenCable-capable this year, while Comcast’s James Mumma, director of video product development, said Comcast expects to have OpenCable-enabled systems in 80 percent of its footprint by 2008. Comcast has OpenCable trials underway in Denver, Philadelphia, Boston, and Union, N.J.

Comcast has been focusing on an integrated guide for the technology, getting DOCSIS Set-Top Gateway (DSG) ready and production codes. Mumma also said at the show that Comcast is looking at early next year for OpenCable trials with its RNG-100 STBs.

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