The company has been demonstrating the feature-rich capabilities of its IPTV, cable and satellite set-tops at trade shows in the past few months, marking a departure from middleware-centric demos that highlight advanced applications that are meant to run on a variety of manufacturers’ set-tops. As described by ADB CEO Francois Pogodalla, the company is applying a wealth of hardware and software expertise to maximize the greater processing power of new chipsets in ways that can’t be done without tight integration between software and hardware.
“I do not think that complexity should be pushed on operators, let alone consumers,” Pogodalla says. “I believe that pre-integrated, open standards-based products, combined with customizable feature options, are a powerful answer for operators who want to roll out innovative services faster and at a lower total cost.”
For example, the company has introduced what it calls the “Smooth-View” approach to DVR trick play functions that does away with choppy frame-by-frame displays while synching up with audio to allow users to follow what’s happening when content is sped up. Similarly, viewers can slow the content down to slow-motion experiences that replicate the slow-motion play reviews of sports programming. In such instances, once the viewer has stopped watching in slow motion, the content stream picks up where it left off.
Seamless continuity in DVR content that is viewed and stopped in one room and picked up in another is also intrinsic to the company’s line of multi-room DVR set-tops. “We’ve also introduced fast channel change, which in some cases reduces the time of channel acquisition by half,” Pogodalla says. By using predictive software capabilities the company will soon be able to offer instant channel change, he adds.
One of the drivers behind the ADB strategy is the emergence of hybrid service requirements, especially in Europe and Asia, where operators are delivering digital TV broadcast programming in combination with IP-based on-demand and over-the-top content. The complexities of software management in hybrid scenarios require implementation of TV-based middleware such as MHP (Multimedia Home Platform) or GEM (Globally Executable MHP) in parallel with the IP software stack, which is tricky when it comes to how hardware resources are allocated.
Add to this the need to support local area multi-device connectivity through DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) implementation, multi-room DVR and the security mechanisms around these features, and the challenge becomes overwhelming in any scenario where operators or suppliers attempt to achieve these functionalities by patching together a raft of software modules. Such approaches stress the efficiency of the software stack, often resulting in unstable and slow performance in set-tops, Pogodalla explains.
ADB anticipates that North American cable operators, as well as telcos, which already comprise a significant portion of the company’s customer base, will not only see advantages to ADB’s approach to integration of features such as Smooth View, multi-room DVR, DLNA home networking connectivity and fast-channel change. They’ll want eventually to exploit the hybrid functionalities as well, albeit in different ways from how it’s been done in other parts of the world.
“The North American cable industry is discussing these types of solutions,” he says. “It’s yet to be decided what the perfect set up will be. We’ve aligned with the industry in driving these changes.”
With multiple cable tuners, Ethernet ports and, in some cases, DOCSIS modems embedded in its set-tops, ADB believes it is well positioned to support whatever directions the cable industry pursues when it comes to implementing hybrid services. “The big difference for us is hybrid reception is common to our products,” Pogodalla says. “That doesn’t mean most of our deployed boxes are used for hybrid services as yet, but we’re ready.”
A starting point in use of IP in conjunction with cable set-tops is multi-device connectivity, where, using DLNA-certified devices, consumers with ADB set-tops can access photos, music and other content stored throughout the home. “The consumer has control back and forth between the set-top, the game console, the mobile handset and other devices,” Pogodalla says, adding that wide area convergence is now possible using certain browsers in conjunction with ADB set-tops to deliver social networking applications to the TV screen.
ADB recently enhanced its capabilities to support in-home convergence by becoming the first set-top manufacturer to be certified compliant with the latest version of the MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) home networking platform. The ADB-6882CDMX set-top is powered by the MoCA 1.1 chipset, which provides up to 175 megabits per second of application layer throughput for distributing multiple streams of HD video and IP content to up to 16 devices over existing coax.
ADB’s intensifying focus on providing pre-integrated solutions that leverage open standards interfaces in conjunction with proprietary implementations has led to the folding of its Osmosys middleware unit directly into the ADB set-top operations. “We have long had the Osmosys middleware stack going into other manufacturers’ devices,” Pogodalla says. “I’m not concerned that we need to be part of the middleware industry. Middleware is obviously part of the solution, but the key for us is how you integrate with middleware.”
The problem for service providers of all stripes is they need to get to a new level of consumer experience sooner than later, he adds. The democratization of the supply chain after years of monolithic control by a few suppliers followed by introduction of new standards like OCAP (OpenCable Applications Platform) has made for a “horrendous” task of “making everything stick together and work,” he asserts.
“That basic experience has to be put together,” he says. “We have to be certain that we deliver a good solution.”