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Comcast closes in on HD DTA deployments

Fri, 08/17/2012 - 12:22pm
Mike Robuck

Comcast is currently in a large field trial with HD digital transport adapters (DTAs), with plans to have them more broadly deployed in customers’ homes later this year.

“We started field trials of the HD DTA in the first quarter of this year,” said Comcast’s Steve Reynolds, senior vice president of CPE and home networking. “We’re just wrapping up those field trials at this point and time. We haven’t actually announced the date when paying subscribers will start getting HD DTAs.

“We have been in field trials for a number of months, and the technology is working well, and all of the devices are stable, so all systems look good.”

Similar to its SD DTA effort, Comcast is working with Pace, Motorola and Technicolor on the HD DTAs. Reynolds said Comcast was also working with Evolution Digital on its wall-mounted HD DTA, which mounts over existing cable junction boxes.

Evolution recently announced that BendBroadband was using its HD universal DTAs in a hospitality environment in order to provide a low-cost, no-frills HD service to hotels. Reynolds said HD DTAs were also being used in multi-dwelling units, bars and restaurants, and even health clubs.

“We’ve been using DTAs in some of those environments, and it’s really a function of what our local market wants to do in order to provide service for those bulk accounts,” Reynolds said. “The DTA is one of the tools in the toolbox for our systems to be able to offer cable service to those hospitality environments.

“Health clubs have actually been one of the areas where we’ve deployed a lot of DTAs. They use an IR blaster technology to control the DTAs. If they’re screen-mounted on an elliptical trainer or on a stationary bike, they’ll just use a DTA on a one-per-one basis.”

Comcast championed the use of SD DTAs in order to reclaim bandwidth that was subsequently used for the launch of DOCSIS 3.0 services and the addition of more HD offerings, among other items.

The SD DTAs were purposely designed to be low-cost channel zappers that converted digital signals to analog without needing CableCards. While cable operators reclaim bandwidth with all-digital conversions, the SD DTAs allowed the millions of analog TV users to continue their viewing experience.

With analog TVs largely unavailable in retail stores, customers are now buying more affordable HDTV sets, which can be serviced with the one-way HD DTAs. Another reason for the push to HD DTAs is they’ve become more affordable now that they cost about $50 each when purchased in volume.

Reynolds said Comcast has also been working with Rovi on a program guide, which is known as “Atom” internally at Comcast, that will provide information on what’s on now, as well as some information about the program.

“In Comcast markets, we haven’t deployed any kind of guide on the DTA devices. The user interface that is on those devices is relatively simple,” Reynolds said. “It’s really just a navigational bar that pops up and tells you the channel number and the call signs of the feeds you’re watching.”

“We have been doing some work on a guide for the DTA devices. It was publically demonstrated at the CES 2012 show, and then again at The Cable Show in Boston.
We deliberately kept it simple because of the DTA’s capabilities.”

Rovi announced its Rovi DTA Guide, which works with both SD and HD DTAs, at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo last year. Rovi is working with Evolution Digital on adding the guide to Evolution’s SD and HD DTAs, but it hasn’t said when the guides will become available.

Work is currently underway on the next generation of DTAs, which includes the addition of an Ethernet port. E-DTAs could solve the encryption problem for companies such as Boxee, even if the Federal Communications Commission allows cable operators to encrypt their basic tiers. Reynolds said that while E-DTAs are still in the planning stages, they could be available by early next year.

“We sat down with Boxee and talked about using our DTA device for the front for the digital services,” Reynolds said. “We’ll use the tuner in the HD DTA, and we’ll use the security in the HD DTA to pull those services off of our access network, then make those services available to the Boxee device via the Ethernet home networking interface that this next generation of HD DTA would support.”

Last year, Cable One started using HD DTAs from Nagra. Since then, Nagra has racked up another cable operator win in Indiana.

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