Cable Show 2012 sessionJoan Rivers used to tell a joke about Elizabeth Taylor, that the movie star would yell “faster” at her microwave during her more porcine days. While today’s cable customers aren’t quite as demanding, there’s definitely a need for speed when it comes to the innovation cycles for new products and services.

One way to speed things up on the traditional side of the cable operator industry is Comcast’s Reference Development Kit. The Comcast RDK initiative provides a streamlined approach to the development and deployment of advanced set-top, gateway and system-on-a-chip (SoC) platforms.

“The typical set-top box development cycle was taking about 24 months when we launched this product, and that’s just a long time to go through the whole process of building the box, building the software, and getting everything up and running,” said Steve Reynolds, senior vice president for CPE and home networking at Comcast, during the session “Speed to market: Enabling faster innovation cycles.”

“So we had this notion of building a reference design for software that would bring all of the modules together in a pre-integrated kit, where we could take that kit and work directly with the SoC manufacturers to get the RDK up and running on those chip platforms before they started building the box around that chip,” he added. “By working directly with the SoC manufacturers to do that porting, we really make all of the software that we need for a box OEM available essentially when the chip comes back from samples.”

Reynolds said the goal was to lower that two-year set-top box deployment cycle to one year, or even less time. In order to help speed up the process, Comcast has licensed the RDK to vendors such as itaas and VividLogic, the latter of which was bought by SeaChange in 2010.

Comcast’s X1 platform, which launched this week in Boston ahead of a larger rollout this year, benefitted from the RDK project when it was first trialed on a Pace box in Augusta, Ga.

Chris Cholas, director of subscriber equipment at Time Warner Cable, said the RDK puts cable operators on a single track for development, as opposed to three OCAP stacks back when that standard was first getting off of the ground. Cholas said TWC would have RDK boxes out the door near the end of this year or early next year.

“The benefit of running the RDK is it keeps everything simple,” he said.

David Colter, Charter Communications’ vice president of architecture and technology, said his company had been looking at several transitional paths to all-digital and migrating to IP and has started working with SeaChange as its integration partner.

“We’re kind of doing it a little bit different from Comcast, where we’re doing an HTML5 interface, whereas Comcast started with XRE,” Colter said. “Because Charter had not done an OCAP guide previously, this really gives us a chance to move forward with a different UI experience. You’ll probably see a field trial from Charter in the middle of next year.”

While Reynolds touted dropping the set-top box development cycle from two years to one year, ActiveVideo Networks’ Edgar Villalpando, senior vice president of marketing and content relations, extolled the virtues of cloud-based features and services.

Villalpando said ActiveVideo developed a voice-controlled application over the course of two weeks using the iPhone’s Siri to navigate a guide TV. The cloud-based application is also faster than current remote controls, Villalpando said.

Reynolds said Comcast has been working with ActiveVideo on some capabilities, but he didn’t provide any additional details. He also said Comcast has benefitted from cloud-based services by being able to update set-top box software from the cloud instead of downloading them to each, which can take several months.

Lastly, Kurt Hoppe, director of smart TV innovation and alliances at LG Electronics, said his company has conducted a trial with Cablevision that delivers 400 live linear TV channels from a cloud over the Internet to an LG smart TV. The service uses adaptive bit rate streaming and needs an authenticated cable modem from the cable operator in order to function.