Despite Advances in STBs and OTT, Hybrid TV Is Still TBD

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 01, 2011

Google (News - Alert) got a lot of press recently when it finally came out with its Google TV. But, so far, the online search giant’s effort to marry traditional programming with Internet content for delivery via the television has been drawn criticism. According to reports Google TV suffers from spotty video quality and limited content due to efforts by the three major networks and Hulu (News - Alert) to block video on their websites from being accessed by Google TV devices.

This poor showing, of course, follows in the footsteps of the lackluster uptake of Apple (News - Alert) TV.

But despite these missteps, the dream of a world in which people can access both cable TV and Internet content and applications from their televisions –­ or, for that matter, from any screen they choose – remains alive and well. And service providers like the telcos and cablecos, which some believe are losing ground to more affordable over-the-top competitors, could be next to the plate.

Entone is among the company’s delivering products that can enable that.

For the cost of a typical set-top box, new Entone’s FusionTV solution will allow service providers to deliver HDTV to multiple TVs in home, whole home DVR, photo sharing, Internet music, the ability to discover and display end users’ rich media assets, place shifting (similar to what Slingbox allows) and social networking applications, says Steve McKay, Entone CEO. He adds that Entone is also bringing content from its partners, like on-demand HD movie service provider Vudu, along for the ride, so service providers don’t have to negotiate individual content deals to offer new services.

The IPTV (News - Alert) Edition of FusionTV – based on Entone’s recently announced WebVOD solution, which allows IPTV operators to offer web-based video on demand with a software download to Entone’s media hubs – targets telco operators that have not deployed IPTV in certain markets or at all. It also addresses network operators’ concerns that they will be relegated to offering dumb pipes as over-the-top services gain steam and as existing pay TV services wane.

“The operators are clearly under threat from the pure-play OTT services where more and more compelling content is available online and on-demand,” says Ameer Karim, vice president of Hybrid TV for Entone. “However, the operators also understand that consumers place great value on live TV, premium content, true HDTV programming, and the ability to record their favorite shows.”

The average U.S. consumer watches almost 160 hours of TV a month, more than ever before, according to a study Entone is quoting.

“The punch line to this is that the killer app of TV is still TV, and all these other services combined are not your primary input to TV, they’re what you’re doing when you’re not watching TV,” McKay says.

On the other hand, McKay adds, pay TV for the first time in 40 years experienced a drop in users, with a net loss of 216,000 subscribers. Analysts are unsure whether that’s attributable to the economy or is the beginning of a downward trend for traditional pay TV services.

FusionTV helps telcos and cablecos deliver IPTV services, and without the investment and time involved with having to build their own VoD infrastructure and negotiate content deals, McKay continues.

As of early December, Entone was in FusionTV consumer trials with six U.S. telcos, one of which is a tier 1 provider, two of which are tier 2 outfits, and three of which are tier 3 companies. McKay says he expects the first telco deployment based on FusionTV to launch commercially this quarter.

Once telcos (and cablecos, for which Entone is also offering the FusionTV solution) get a good amount of subscribers on their FusionTV-enabled hybrid services, McKay says, they could potentially sell and deliver advertising against all the content. While the advertising component isn’t something that’s baked in to the Entone solution, McKay says the company has planned for that eventuality and expects to partner with one or more ad serving companies that could run their services over the FusionTV platform.

John Gleiter, senior director of marketing for Broadcom (News - Alert), which sells a set-top box system on a chip, says that the cablecos are inching toward IPTV. Moving from existing broadcast technology to IP-based TV services; expanding bandwidth via adoption of DOCSIS 3.0; and new set-top technology from Broadcom, which last month unveiled a system-on-a-chip solution that delivers very high video in a much more efficient manner than is used today, he says, will help cablecos move closer to their vision of TV everywhere.

Broadcom’s new solution, the BCM7422, offers more than two times the performance of previous generation products, according to the company. The product, which does H.264/MPEG scalable video coding and multiview video coding to deliver 1080p60/50 and full-resolution HD 3DTV, will enable service providers to reduce the bandwidth requirements to send a video stream by about 40 percent. That’s capacity that can then be used by other video streams and applications.

The SoC, which will hit the market as part of set-top boxes from various vendors starting late this year, also has a 1.3gHz multi-threaded MIPS processor, offers 3D graphics acceleration, and supports MoCA and DLNA.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi