Home Analysis User Experience Charter moves device intelligence from edge to the cloud

Charter moves device intelligence from edge to the cloud

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Charter Communications outlines one of its TV packages on its website

Charter Communications, the fourth largest cable operator in the U.S., is putting its faith in a cloud user interface where the UI ‘page’ representation demanded by a consumer (e.g. the linear programme listing, or the cover art and title description within VOD store, etc.) is ‘stitched together’ and rendered using compute power in a datacenter, then encoded into an MPEG stream and delivered to a set-top as if it was a television channel. It means that all set-top boxes on the Charter network can display the operator’s new advanced user interface and programme guide rather than just the new generation of Worldbox gateways and clients that the operator announced at CES 2015. All a set-top box requires is a tuner and decoder, so as Charter explained in Las Vegas, the processing power on the STB becomes irrelevant in terms of UI delivery.

Charter is using ActiveVideo technology for the cloud UI and to demonstrate how the new ‘Spectrum Guide’ user interface can be used with legacy devices, the company gave a demonstration with the guide running on the new Worldbox alongside a six-year-old and 11-year-old set-top box from its network. These boxes may be old “but they are still capable devices”, the operator declared, and Charter has avoided the need to choose between swapping out set-top boxes or limiting its advanced UI to a subset of its customer base at a time when Pay TV operators are under pressure to improve the user experience, due to competition from CE devices and online services. You get the same look-and-feel on each device. Spectrum Guide includes intuitive search and discovery capabilities and attractive graphics including, among other things, TV and movie poster art. The UI could also be customized for each user.

Charter outlined the benefits of the cloud UI as part of a wider look at the Worldbox platform, which is being described as a “breakthrough next-generation video solution”, and a “cloud-based video solution.” Cisco is the other key vendor the cable operator cited; the company will supply a substantial share of the volume of ‘Worldbox’ devices and Charter is also using Cisco’s cloud-based content security suite, which includes downloadable security solution (DCAS) for set-top boxes and a seamless digital rights management (DRM) solution to support video services on a range of IP devices. Cisco will continue to supply CableCARD boxes until Charter migrates all current and acquired systems to the downloadable security solution. 

The downloadable security solution uses an open approach to enable porting to customer premise equipment (CPE) from different vendors. It interoperates with proprietary CA implementations that are in-situ and so enables an efficient roll-out across an entire cable operator footprint including different video network architectures. Charter expects to deploy downloadable security to its current systems this year and then expand the approach to acquired systems. Downloadable security opens the door to new CPE vendors to work with Charter as well as its existing suppliers. “Charter is currently working with vendors towards manufacturing compatible boxes for the retail market as well, with the expectation that these devices will function in other cable systems using downloadable security solution,” the cable operator said in a statement.

Charter will offer both an HD-only and an HD-DVR ‘Worldbox’ featuring dual IP/QAM capabilities, configurable up to 16 tuners, a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem, 1 Gig of RAM, high-powered USB to enable future applications and a terabyte of storage on the HD-DVR. This platform can act as a thin client that can be updated via cloud software. Together with the cloud UI, this confirms the trend for platform operators to start moving intelligence out of end devices. Tom Rutledge, President and CEO of Charter Communications, said his company’s vision for its future network architecture “is one where the network’s intelligence is located in the cloud rather than in devices at the edge,”. “Cisco shares this vision,” he added. John Chambers, Cisco’s Chairman and CEO, said: “Charter’s new video solution, featuring cloud-driven video experiences offered across many devices, will be a huge win for Charter subscribers.” 


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