While there may not be a clear theme emerging from this week's Cable-Tec Expo, it was standing room only at the IP Video Transition technical workshop.
Momentum for the migration to IP networks has been building, and now it seems as if those cable operators and vendors are getting down to brass tacks.
"The cost structures, scalability, and consumer behaviors and other factors are why some operators are transforming their networks from legacy MPEG-based delivery to network to an IP network," said moderator Pragash Pillai, senior vice president of digital network engineering for Cablevision. "Recent studies suggest that Internet media consumption grew 44 percent in 2011 compared to 2010 and is expected to continue to grow."
Motorola's Patrick Wright-Riley, director of strategy and business development at Motorola Mobility, said the transition to IP will come in stages, and that for some, it will be a mixture of the current MPEG-2, QAM-based architecture and IP elements.
"MPEG is a very efficient way of delivering video, but IP allows you to align voice, video and data down the same pathways," Wright-Riley said. "I think they can complement one another to allow you to not only serve the TVs the way you do today, but also hit the PCs, iPads and mobile devices in the home.
"Multi-screen is the driver for IP. IP is kind of forced upon us as we start seeing more and more video on the Internet, user-generated content, and over-the-top VOD players. They're putting pressure on us to figure out how to monetize ourselves, so that forces us to be able to hit the multi-screen."
While the pressure is on to make the march to IP networks, Wright-Riley said one cable operator employee told him that his company still expects to have millions of QAM-based set-top boxes in its network by 2025.
Wright-Riley outlined a reference architecture that had no timeline, but he included the use of switched digital video, digital terminal adapters (DTAs), MPEG-4 adaptive bit rate, network DVR, video in the cloud and DOCSIS 3.0 deployments.
Some operators may choose to serve analog customers – who may not want multi-screen delivery to different devices – for a while longer, while others may eliminate them sooner through the use of DTAs to reclaim bandwidth for other services such as DOCSIS 3.0 deployments.
On the other end of the network spectrum, Cox's Mark Pellegri, senior manager of transport networks at Cox Communications, spoke about how Cox implemented and then transformed its national backbone.
Cox's Video to Backbone (V2B) was first deployed in 2007, and it centralized the company's video acquisition to master headends in the East and West.
V2B 2.0, which was completed last year, brings four feeds, two from each master headend, into each system for improved redundancy and other efficiencies. V2B 2.0 also gave Cox a reduction in capex and opex, as well as maximized video quality, and gave Cox better maintenance and powering form factors.
At the close of the session, Jeff Brooks, Arris' vice president of IP video product management, gave attendees a detailed rundown of the different types of gateways that are now available in homes.
Gateways that combine voice, video and data services can not only convert signals to IP and send them to consumer electronics IP devices in the home, but they can also save on cable operators' costs by having one master device that serves cheaper, less intelligent boxes around the home.
"The successful deployment of converged IP devices at the home is going to be a function of the architecture of the network itself that is delivering the content to the gateway: the configuration of the gateway to access that architecture with the cost of not just the gateway, but the cost of the decisions made in the network, like network DVR and remote user interfaces and cost of operations, and then management," Brooks said. "There are a lot of choices and permutations that are being made for these devices."