When such a chip as Zenverge’s ZN200—dedicated to transcoding—is paired with an SoC used in a “headed” cable set-top box (directly connected to a TV via HDMI or another connector), it enables multi-screen viewing (on smartphones, tablets, and others) of video originally compressed in MPEG-2, modulated in QAM, and delivered to set-tops. Ideally, such a set-up will enable the gradual transition of a cable operator’s service away from digital-broadcast video to IPTV over DOCSIS—potentially at minimum cost and with no interruption for customers.
The ZN200 can also pair with a core chip used in a so-called “headless” media home gateway (not directly connected to a TV), allowing the residential gateway to simultaneously support both thin clients (connected to TV) and “unmanaged” IP-based clients (such as tablets and smartphones). Such a headless media home gateway becomes “a single gateway for data, voice and video,” delivers content via MOCA or WiFi to any IP-connected devices, and brings “huge cost savings” to service operators, said Tony Masterson, chief technology officer at Zenverge.
Zenverge, however, isn’t alone in the growing transcoding chip market.
IHS analyst Froehlich noted that ViXS (Toronto, Canda) is the other
major “new” entrant to the set-top box space. Separately, Magnum Semi
has the old LSI Logic transcoding business, and their DXT line should be
applicable to this market,” he added.
How Zenverge's ZN200 is connected to the rest of the system
Meanwhile, Cavium and a
few others appear to also have an angle on the transcoding market.
Froehlich, however, believes that Cavium is concentrating on the
related, low-latency Miracast market, instead of set-top boxes.
Miracasat is a peer-to-peer wireless screencast technology based on
Wi-Fi, allowing consumers with tablets, for example, to “mirror” live
programs from a home cable box.
Zenverge appears to have a head start. The company’s ZN200 is already on
the market in the TiVo Stream box--now available at Best Buy, while
the chip is also in the Arris XG5 headless gateway for Comcast, which
was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. “We
are winning every single opportunity we know about” in the emerging
category of transcoder chips inside set-top boxes and media home
gateways, claimed Mobini.
"the simple and elegant solution is to eliminate those broadcast QAM/MPEG-2 channels entirely."
Simple and elegeant yes, but also expensive. Replace all the edge QAMs in every neighborhood as well as replace every subscriber's STB. That's billions of dollars worth of simple & elegant.
What they need is an econmically viable transition plan that shifts the network allocation to less QAM/MPEG2 and more DOCSIS/IP without bankrupting the company. Perhaps Zenverge's transcoding strategy can be part of such a plan. If so, I expect it will happen more in the headless gateway realm rather than in the STB realm.
Cable companies don't need anything they don't already have, Junko, other than reconfiguring their existing infrastructure to more IP and less one-way streams. That's my point. (Also DrQuine's point.)
If you're going to have to install new STBs anyway, to make use of this Zenverge scheme, why not instead install STBs in which most or all of the 6 MHz channels on the cable can be allocated to Internet broadband access? That being done, now the cable company can offer more Internet bandwidth to their customers, and more, or even all, of their TV content over IP. Which they are already doing anyway, for access to tablets and smartphones.
In other words, nothing new needs to be invented. Just reapportion what you already have.
It seems to me that Zenverge would have more appeal to the satellite TV companies, where the two-way Internet pipes are far more difficult to provide.
There are many paths cable companies can take to eventually get to all IP infrastructure. I think a "transcoding" at home option Zenverge is offering is an interesting one.
Actually, a real story is how Zenverge managed to sneak into the STB market -- traditionally a stronghold of Broadcom and STMicroelectronics.
If things are transitioning to "headless" media home gateway architecture as Zenverge claims, what cable guys will need is not an overly complicated STB, but just a thin client and a MHG integrated with a residential gateway. That transition, in my opinion, is interesting to watch.
Since most cable providers are already offering broadcast and Internet to consumers along the same residential coax, shifting the balance between them would seem to be a very manageable task. It would be much more of a problem if the two could not coexist in the same wire or if devices didn't already exist to split the feeds at the residential end.
I'm sure that Zenverge wants to appeal to the traditional cable company architecture and cost structure, making the existing cableco broadcast channel(cable broadcast, that is) QAM/MPEG-2 streams relevant to IP devices. But honestly, the simple and elegant solution is to eliminate those broadcast QAM/MPEG-2 channels entirely, and convert the cableco PON networks to two-way IP pipes more effectively and completely.
For instance, instead of retaining the vast majority of the PON's 6 MHz channels for one-way broadcast QAM/MPEG-2 TV streams, you distribute these 6 MHz channels to individual households in each PON neighborhood, as their IP broadband link. Making much more efficient use of the PON's capacity to provide two-way IP pipes.
Having done that, each household would have enough capacity to watch two, three, maybe more, HDTV streams that are IP encapsulated. For those live events that "everyone" wants to watch simultaneously, the cableco can deliver the streams as IP multicast, within the confines of their network, to save on unicast sessions.
The Zenverge solution could be a short-term transitional solution maybe, although I'm not even sure how necessary it is today. I thought a lot of cable companies were already providing IP streams for their customers "anywhere/anytime." Seems to me that there are no show-stopper technical obstacles anymore, in this regard. The only obstacles are that the cablecos want to retain their tiered bundles and pricing structure. And even there, ultimately they could do this over an all-IP network anyway.
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