Monday, August 18, 2014

Moving Past CableCARD

Recent news has made it clear that it’s only a matter of time until CableCARD technology meets its ultimate demise. It’s an outdated technology that simply has not kept up with the times and is actually hindering the natural progression of the industry, which is increasingly leaning towards mobile.

While there was reason for CableCARD implementation in the first place, the industry’s technology has advanced and most MSOs are ready to move on. Security was one of the primary reasons CableCARD was introduced and there are currently a plethora of more effective offerings available. Downloadable conditional access solutions, for example, eliminate the need for CableCARDs while maintaining condition access (CA) independence and have been deployed for many years.

Two available solutions that utilize downloadable conditional access strategies are OMS and XCAS. Check out their respective merits below.

Open Media Security (OMS) – Already deployed in North America since 2010, OMS can support a variety of CA systems, however they must conform to the OMS Key Ladder. A key benefit of OMS is that it allows for multiple companies to provide solutions and maintains interoperability between CA and the STB. OMS is already proven an effective alternative to CableCARD.

Exchangeable Conditional Access Solution (XCAS) – Developed in Korea and deployed internationally by many service providers, CA systems and STB manufacturers, XCAS uses KLAD
technology and offers more flexibility than the OMS as well as some additional security, though            at the cost of some added complexity.

There are additional CA strategies that do not offer the benefit of being downloadable. One strategy involves Digital Transport Adapters (DTAs). DTAs have recently seen improvements to allow some interactivity but they are still much simpler and less powerful than STBs. DTAs are currently prohibited under the FCC’s Integration Ban but an active petition is seeking to change this.

There are many alternatives at the ready to be widely adopted once CableCARD requirements are officially removed, which is likely to happen in September when the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act of 2014, also known as STELA, goes before the Senate. The bottom line is that it’s time for CableCARD to go and for widespread adoption of other, more effective strategies, like OMS and XCAS, to take place.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Smart Pipe

We hear about cord cutting a lot, but the future holds a very different picture. While cable providers have primarily been about TV content delivery in the past, the critical aspect of TV delivery is the actual pipe they own that provides the service. We like to call this the smart pipe, and the cable operators are busy stepping into delivery of the "internet of things" services adding a lot of new value to their offerings. Home security and automation can all be tied together with this pipe which might include a special gateway for data storage and management. Wireless service in the house will all originate through this pipe, whether it's delivering cable content or other content services. The infrastructure that the cable company provides becomes a key part of every household, whether they watch much TV or not. Lucky for the cable providers, the numbers say we are watching even more video these days! (Notice I said video and not TV...on any device video is provided by a 'pipe'.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Could this be the End for CableCARD?

It’s not often that cable operators have disliked an initiative as much as they have CableCARD. Fortunately, several years after the FCC banned cable companies from including integrated security in consumer set-top boxes, the unbelievably long reign of CableCARD is likely coming to an end, pending Senate approval in September.

Late Tuesday, the House passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act of 2014, which aims to give satellite operators the power to import distant network signals when local affiliate stations aren't available and, some would argue most importantly, eliminates the requirement that cable operators separate security from set-tops in the form of a CableCARD.

Without facing the limitations brought on by CableCARD, cable operators will be able to drastically cut down on hardware costs and more fully support downloadable conditional access techniques. The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act of 2014 will also level the playful field between cable operators and satellite and telecom TV providers by removing burdens that only apply to operators.

It’s no secret how many within the cable industry feel about CableCARD and the House’s recent vote demonstrates its recognition that it is time for change. Though the House’s vote is a step in the right direction, the battle to end CableCARD isn’t quite over. The bill still needs Senate consideration and approval to become law and allow CableCARD to finally be put to pasture.

Check out the full story on the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act here from Light Reading.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Responsive Web Design

In the early days of the internet and websites when there was no such thing as broadband (or at least for the many), it was really important to focus on optimizing HTML. But as the internet pipes got bigger, optimization initiatives seemed to fall down in priority.

I see a direct parallel to computer processors and software programs. When memory and processing speed was at a minimum, software developers spent a lot of their time optimizing and minimizing their code.  As memory has become cheaper and processors faster, it seems as though programmers have mostly left this practice behind. It's pretty amazing that we now expect to have Gigabytes of highspeed Ram, and Terabyte drives laying around piling up with applications, videos and more. When we run out of storage and memory, we buy more, no need to keep our code neat and compact, or compress our files.

But things are really piling up out there. Video is a one of the biggest storage hogs, with 3D video and 4K requiring even more (although H.265 is helping out), that means even more storage and bandwidth requirements. And now we have to deliver to a huge variety of devices. But I digress...

The cable industry is hedging it's bets on HTML5 as the ubiquitous solution to next generation UI solutions. At least for now, most have gotten over the 'write once run everywhere' dream of HTML5, but many still think it will be the best choice for targeting multiple devices. This brings me back to the core principle; set-top-boxes and other consumer devices do not have unlimited memory. Entertainment is relying more heavily on wifi to delivery streaming content. The Internet of Things wants every device to talk with each other. So while bandwidth is getting better and memory cheaper, there is a population explosion of 'stuff' expecting to share the highway. And to the point, I am starting to see optimization seminars popping up again. Responsive Website Design is an important practice to deliver HTML5 to multiple devices. It's easy for anyone to write HTML5, but how about code that targets TVs, STBs, Tablets, and cellphones that have to constantly update metadata from myriad sources, and meet consumer expectations for quick interactivity and perfect video playback. Embedded HTML5 UIs can be designed to ensure excellent user experiences, but the target platforms and server architecture for data and video access need to be considered up front to ensure success. So as we embark with piling on of all these new capabilities such as 4K, and smart homes with remote camera security and we have multiple screen targets, understanding available methods for faster download and view are important to the overall design goals. I recently listened in on a presentation from Akamai by Guy Podjamy:
 Making Responsive Websites Fast that discussed some good ideas for improving performance. This kind of forethought when developing UIs for television is critical for achieving a successful outcome on all your device targets.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Alticast at 2014 RDK Tech Summit

Written by Mark Johnson, RDK Product Manager, Alticast

Alticast was invited to speak at the RDK Tech Summit in Atlanta GA this week. The training was geared towards developers implementing RDK solutions and was attended by operators and set-top box providers,  as well as system of a chip (SoC) and application developers from around the world.

Amir Nathoo, Principal Software Engineer at Alticast reviewed the RDK 2.0 RMF (RDK Media Framework) foundation and RMF Application components. He identified which components need to be customized to address different operator use cases, business rules and back office systems.
Mark Johnson RDK Product Manager discussed collaborative development tools and approaches.  He discussed how these tools are being used to help operators increase visibility, reduce duplicated effort and increase speed to market, while keeping current with the latest RDK releases.
The event was well attended and it was exciting to see the level of interest in RDK from numerous operators and diverse vendor community.