… part II

Interactive services

Another half-day session honed in on what it means, technically, to offer an integrated suite of services to customers, in what AT&T calls "the whole broadband approach."

Ralph Brown, chief architect of set-top systems for @Home Network, kicked off the session by noting that PC and TV application convergence will never reach 100 percent. While an array of applications can be translated to either platform, he said, there are quite a few that will simply never make the transition.

On the silicon side, Thomas Quigley, director of Broadcom's residential broadband business unit, said the rapid evolution of silicon will produce a single chip cable modem by the second half of 1999, and a single chip (albeit simplified) interactive set-top by 2000. When it comes to software, Sid Gregory, vice president of Tele-Communications Inc.'s National Digital Television Center, said that when MSOs are choosing an operating system, they need to consider the services they'll offer, the performance, the development tools and the hardware that an operating system supports.

He said TCI is still working at a feverish pace with Microsoft, for its Windows CE operating system, and with Sun Microsystems for its Java-based middleware.

Also on the silicon front, John O'Donnell, president of Equator Technologies, detailed the structure and concepts behind programmable media processors that are optimized to handle multimedia-and especially video, audio, telephony and graphics.

Discussing Equator's new chip line, which features fully downloadable software, O'Donnell said the biggest advantage of the approach is its applicability to advanced set-tops, in that service changes could be coordinated via a download, and not a chip change.

Traffic engineering

On the second day of ET, attendees heard separately from Motorola Inc. and from Lucent Technologies about how the new, integrated service environment will affect traffic loading on today's cable plant. That issue is destined to become a big issue in coming months, as operators cram high-speed data, IP and digital video services into a limited amount of spectrum.

And, as always, the last ET session focused on the competitive landscape, with presentations from Angel Technologies- which wants to launch a sort of flyover video delivery service, with antennas mounted on a trio of airplanes that fly over a city to deliver video. Other presenters included Ward Laboratories, which has come up with a low-cost way to minimize signal disturbances in digital set-tops, and Texas Instruments Inc., which discussed how programmable DSP chips will affect the broadband market over the next five years.

At the end of the conference, attendees left sated, lauding this year's program lineup and calling the annual gathering a don't-miss event. "There's just no other event that gets together a group of people of this caliber, and imparts this amount of detail, on what's happening to the technologies we use," said one attendee.


Big pipe equals better content

Cable operators anxious to deploy and show off the unique benefits of high-speed data are ecstatic over the number of "broadband-only" content initiatives that are underway.

Broadband content combines text, video and audio in ways that were impractical with 14.4 and 28.8 kbps modem speeds. That opportunity isn't lost on content developers, some of which include traditional cable TV programmers. Programmers from CNN to Turner Classic Movies to ESPN are creating broadband content and delivering it (through streaming media applications) with ever-increasing frequency to broadband customers.

For example, Turner Classic Movies and broadcast "Casablanca" and other films on the Internet. Independent Film Channel, which has maintained a broadband version of its Web site since March 1997, premiered a full-length feature film over the Internet in November and will debut "Broadband Theater" this year, featuring monthly "cybercasts" of short foreign films.

Sports applications of broadband are also huge. Showtime Online cybercast "The Game on Showtime," the NBA players' charity event, and ABC Sports debuted its Enhanced TV Prime Time Football application through during this year's Fiesta Bowl.

With U.S. and Canadian cable modem subscribers now estimated to be 513,000 and growing by about 1,000 subscribers per day (according to Michael Harris, president of Kinetic Strategies), the critical mass of broadband subscribers will soon reach a threshold whereby broadband-specific content can flourish.

While broadband content is now found in various and disparate places on the Internet, Comcast recently announced the development of, a Web site that aspires to be a "broadband portal," or directory, of broadband-specific Web sites.

Outside of that under-construction site, the @Home and Road Runner sites are, to this point, perhaps the most developed of any broadband content starting points. Karl Rogers, vice president of programming for Road Runner, points out that thanks to tools such as (Macromedia's) Flash, DHTML and JavaScript, Road Runner is able to "come close to approximating the CD-ROM experience." While Web designers creating for audiences with 28.8 modems essentially "mimic a printed page layout," says Rogers, "with broadband you are replicating a more interactive environment."

Another broadband content pioneer is MediaOne, which is (still) in the process of merging its MediaOne Express service into Road Runner. Phil Weinstock, director of production and programming for MediaOne Internet Services, says synchronized multimedia and "hypervideo" are two effective tools for broadband content development. Synchronized multimedia lets a content creator insert text and/or graphics into a video, while hypervideo allows for hyperlinks to be created from video.

Observers point out that broadband content means much more than entertainment. Some envision dozens of minicams in a medical operating room, recording procedures from myriad points-of-view; and office employees watching their children in day care or a nursery on a split-screen on their desktop PCs.

Have a nominee in mind?

Every year at the Emerging Technologies conference, CED magazine, Corning Inc. and the SCTE bestow the prestigious Polaris Award on a "next generation" cable TV engineer. This person has demonstrated an ability to use fiber optic technology in an innovative and aggressive manner.

Candidates are culled from nominations sent in by people in the cable TV engineering community and evaluated by representatives of the three sponsoring organizations.

If you know of a deserving candidate, we'd like to hear from you. Prospective winners should have a background that exhibits innovative fiber optic research or deployment in the cable and/or telecommunications industry, or an aggressive roll-out of novel fiber architectures.

To nominate someone, simply contact Roger Brown, CED editor-in-chief, at 303-393-7449, or via e-mail at