Cross-Platform Solutions & Home Networking Hubs

Cover Story Article

Cross-Platform Solutions & Home Networking Hubs

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  February 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY Magazine.

 Vendors Grapple to Take Control of the Whole Home Experience

Americans love their TVs. They also love their computers, their smartphones, their tablets, and their movies and games. But wouldn’t it be nice if the different experiences and content consumers access on these various devices were more integrated? That’s exactly where we’re headed, and everyone from Cisco Systems Inc. to Microsoft (News - Alert) Corp. is moving on the opportunity.

Cisco moved forward on this front when it unveiled Videoscape last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. New elements of Videoscape include, in the home, the Videoscape media gateway for the integration of voice, linear and online video, high-speed data, Wi-Fi and network traffic routing; the Videoscape IP set-top box, engineered to support all video forms delivered to a TV, including pay TV, broadcast channels, premium channels, VoD and the Web; and Videoscape software clients that extend the Videoscape experiences to a wide variety of home and mobile devices, from connected TVs to tablets, smartphones and more. It also includes the Videoscape Media Suite, which offers full life-cycle content management so that service providers can efficiently and cost-effectively manage and publish content across multiple screens, and the Cisco Conductor for Videoscape, which orchestrates various services and subscriber-management functions across the cloud, the network and client devices. All of the above are part of Cisco's medianet architecture, and work in conjunction with its existing portfolio of network products.

John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco, which in late 2005 announced plans to buy major set-top box company Scientific Atlanta, emphasized how Videoscape will change the TV experience for consumers.

“Video will be the next voice,” he said, noting that by 2014 more than 90 percent of consumer Internet traffic will be video, and video will increase sevenfold.

Videoscape will address this new video trend and transform the TV experience that by allowing customers to access both the traditional content they’re used to; as well as subscription-based programming, including content from over-the-top providers; and DVD movies and programs, he said. In describing this, Cisco showed a TV screen with an interface categorizing the various content types (not unlike the Apple (News - Alert) TV interface) as well as a “friends feed” that displayed video messages from others as those messages arrived.

Chambers then demonstrated how a Cisco media gateway, which handles all kinds of traffic, including voice, and the recently unveiled Cisco umi, could allow him and a buddy to send one another video messages about college basketball and, if they wanted, to tie other video or data in with those communications.

“Mobility is going to be a huge part of it,” Chambers added.

He said Videoscape will make the user interface consistent across all user devices, including all of the above-mentioned things as well as gaming devices, etc. It also keeps all devices in sync so if, for example, a consumer gets a video message from a friend, that message will appear both on the user’s laptop, on his TV, and on his phone.

But the delivery of the integrated home communications experience will not be delivered by Cisco alone, Chambers emphasized. Rather, it will involve an ecosystem of partners, including service providers, he said, noting that Telstra (News - Alert) was in the audience at the Cisco press conference and is a Cisco service provider partner. However, Chambers didn’t comment on how, when or even whether Telstra is using or plans to use the Videoscape solutions.

“Service providers can do for the TV experience what mobile Internet did for the mobile phone,” he said.

Of course, it is Microsoft that provides the middleware for many of the leading telco TV deployments. But when it came to Steve Ballmer’s (News - Alert) speech at the Consumer Electronics Show, the Microsoft CEO instead talked about how the Xbox is positioned at the hub for home communications, and how Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 software bring mobility and other important functionality into the mix.

The Xbox launched a decade ago. That was followed by Xbox Live, which brought the cloud and social entertainment into the mix. Xbox LIVE now boasts 30 million members. Recently Microsoft introduced KINECT for Xbox 360, a product that allows gaming without the need for a remote control and which “opens the experience to the whole family,” he said. Ballmer noted that 8 million KINECT sensors have been sold. And a story quoting Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter says that in December the Xbox 360 saw a 91 pecent boost to 2.5 million units sold.

Ballmer at CES also revealed that this year Microsoft will go on to bring KINECT capabilities to Netflix and Hulu (News - Alert) on Xbox LIVE. That means users will be able to access and control that content by waving their hands and arms. Microsoft also demonstrated how the Zune store, which offers movies and music, lets customers order and manipulate their context without a controller, via body movement and/or voice commands.

Ballmer went on to reveal a new KINECT capability called avatarKINECT that presents an on-screen version of an individual and tracks the facial movements of that person so the avatar smiles, raises its eyebrows and makes other facial moves as the person does so. (Think Mii, but with facial expressions.) This spring avatarKINECT will be free for all Xbox LIVE gold members, he said.

Considering that the Xbox has evolved from a gaming platform to a device that can be used to access other content like movies and enable social networking, it is “becoming the hub of your living room,” he concluded.

Ballmer and other Microsoft presenters went on to talk about how the Windows 7 Phone, in addition to the great interface and usability features it offers, also now allows customers to enjoy Xbox LIVE on the go. He added that an update to Windows 7 Phone, which launched just two months ago, will be coming in the next few months and will include copy and paste functionality, offer performance improvements, and will be supported on Sprint and Verizon networks.

“Whatever device you use – now or in the future – Windows will be there,” he said.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi