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Comcast to float RS-DVR trial balloon

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 8:35am
Mike Robuck

Comcast CTO Tony Werner said his company was gearing up for a small trial of a remote storage DVR service later this year during a panel session at The Cable Show on Wednesday.

Werner said the trial would include a few dozen homes, but he didn't provide any additional details on how the service will be provisioned.

"We're all fascinated with remote storage and with the cloud," Werner said. "Ultimately, it's just an elegant way to deliver this service. It makes it easier to do whole-home implementations because you don't have to do MoCA. There are so many upsides."

Werner said the purpose of the RS-DVR trial was to "understand as much as we can" about the service and that RS-DVR was a more rational way of storing video assets. Werner said over time network DVR "is more friendly than home DVR."

After years of legal battles, Cablevision broke through with its RS-DVR service earlier this year.  After initiating a trial of its RS-DVR service in 2006 http://www.cedmagazine.com/arroyo-serving-up-cablevisions.aspx, Cablevision was sued by content owners who said the service went against copyright laws.

One way of winning networks over is to disable the fast forward function on DVRs for a certain period of time, which also gives programmers the Nielsen C3 ratings that they need, according to Werner.

The panel "Houston, we have a solution: Cable CTOs on innovation, investment and invention" touched on a range of hot topics.

Time Warner Cable CTO Mike LaJoie said there was a difference between Internet streamed video services, which he called TV Everywhere, and the company's iPad app. Earlier this year, Time Warner Cable crossed swords with Viacom after it launched the iPad app for viewing videos within a home.

"TV Everywhere is different than my streaming iPad app," LaJoie said. "What we do on iPad apps is no different than multichannel video. It's the same download and the same distribution network but we use H.264 instead of MPEG-2."

Comcast has an iPad app that also functions as a remote control and remote DVR scheduling device in addition to viewing video content.

"We were all in love with the iPad and we went through this period of euphorically building apps for it," Werner said. "I'm a little off that high. I love the tablet and I use it a lot, but I don't consume a lot of video on it.

"We spend a lot of time looking at apps on TVs, and we think the killer app on TV happens to be TV."

LaJoie concurred with Werner's view on the search for the next big app on TVs, and noted that user interfaces are becoming more important to help viewers find what they want.

"Looking for a killer app on TV is like a fish looking for water," he said. "The killer app is television."

HBO CTO Bob Zitter said his company has to encode "many thousands" of versions for videos and various digital rights management solutions for its HBO Go service. Zitter said that while there may not be a standard in place companies such as Ultraviolet were working on a common format.

Panel moderator Craig Moffett said Netflix accounted for 30 percent of the traffic during peak times on data networks and asked the panelists if they were ready for large amounts of streaming with unicast.

Werner said there were plans in place to enable unicast, but in the meantime cable operators can be more efficient with tools such as MPEG-4 and variable bit rates.

"If the world went nuts tomorrow and went to unicast, we might have an issue," he joked.

LaJoie said he's been hearing the same refrain for 15 years ever since the launch of DOCSIS in regards to there being enough bandwidth. LaJoie said he wasn't worried about Netflix and that right now over-the-top services occupied 3 percent of Time Warner Cable's available spectrum.

"I think that the cable industry and the cable network industries are in the catbird seat," LaJoie said at the end of the session. "We developed the most compelling content and brands and we have the best networks, I think we're in great shape. It takes years to become an overnight success."

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