Cable spotlights big OCAP plans
LAS VEGAS -- Cable brought out the big guns Thursday afternoon here at the Consumer Electronics Show to demonstrate its present and long-term support for the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), a CableLabs -specified middleware stack that aims to give operators a national footprint for interactive services and applications as well as an entrée into the retail market for digital set-tops and televisions.
Although the cable industry recently volunteered  to begin OCAP launches in 2006, and to complete OCAP headend installations nationwide by July 1, 2009, executives from the nation's largest MSOs outlined some concrete examples of their respective plans:
- Time Warner Cable  Chairman & CEO Glenn Britt said the operator would install OCAP headends in systems serving a combined 2.5 million cable customers starting this year in New York City; Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis.; Lincoln, Neb.; and Waco, Texas. At the conference, the operator also demonstrated an OCAP-compliant TV made by Samsung  that supported Time Warner's OCAP Digital Navigator interactive program guide, video-on-demand and third-party applications, including a weather and news program from BIAP Systems .
The examples of support demonstrate "some concrete steps to show that this (OCAP) is real," Britt said.
Time Warner's commitment follows an OCAP-related memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Samsung announced at last year's show. The MOU, which also involved Advance/Newhouse Communications, called for the MSOs and Samsung to write specs for OCAP-compliant TVs and how they operate on a cable network. Since then, Time Warner has begun to test OCAP-based TVs from Samsung in Gastonia, N.C.
- Advance/Newhouse, meanwhile, will spend 2006 preparing for an eventual deployment of OCAP. Company Chairman & CEO Robert Miron noted Thursday that the operator will begin such work in Indianapolis, and treat it as "learning experience" as the company preps other divisions for OCAP.
- Comcast Corp.  will also push the OCAP needle in 2006, starting in Philadelphia, Denver, Union (N.J.) and Boston, said company Chairman & CEO Brian Roberts. He added that Comcast is working with Panasonic on an OCAP-based application that will relieve some of the "frustration" consumers experience with their home theaters, namely the sizable number of remotes required to control multiple devices. Using OCAP, Comcast will be able to "provision" the speakers and other devices hooked into the home theater environment, and enable the consumer to control them all via one remote. Comcast revealed other OCAP-related plans earlier in the week, signing Panasonic to a deal  to initially provide 250,000 HD-DVR set-tops with dual MPEG-2 and H.264 compression techniques outfitted with Panasonic's implementation of the CableLabs-specified middleware.
- Charter Communications  President & CEO Neil Smit said the MSO will begin OCAP deployments in "select" markets in 2006. At last year's show, Charter also announced an MOU with Samsung, with expectations that it would deploy low-cost network interface units and Samsung bidirectional HD sets that incorporate XHT (eXpandable Home Theater), a home networking technology that supports the IEEE1394 "Firewire" cable.
- Cablevision Systems Corp.  COO Tom Rutledge said the operator is also moving ahead with OCAP plans of its own in New York. There, Cablevision has started the process of porting its IPG and associated apps to OCAP, thus enabling the operator to retain the "signature" elements of its digital cable service, he said.
- Cox Communications , meanwhile, is "fully committed to deploying OCAP," said company President Patrick Esser. This year, he said, Cox plans to deploy a series of two-way, OCAP-compatible news, weather, e-mail, bill viewing/payment, premium service upgrade, TV-based caller ID and gaming applications.
The rollout of OCAP is also tied to the deployment of a new downloadable conditional access system (DCAS), a replacement for the hardware-centric CableCARD that promises to be less expensive and much more elegant.
Mike Hayashi, Time Warner Cable's SVP, advanced engineering & technology, said plans are to start field implementations of DCAS toward the end of 2006, position plant for a larger rollout in 2007, and to extend DCAS nationally by 2008.
Not all OCAP news on Thursday was MSO-related. LG Electronics  became the second TV manufacturer to sign a license for DCAS. Samsung was the first.