Cable Technology Feature Article
Set-Top Cable Boxes Get Flexible
By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor
Consumers may not want to talk on Skype while watching their TV—a feature of the new Xfinity box released in late May by Comcast (News - Alert)—but that’s beside the point for set-top and system-on-a-chip (SoC) developer Entropic Communication, the company that created Xfinity in partnership with Comcast and Technicolor (News - Alert). The ability to rapidly test new features and see what sticks is the real story.
“This type of box allows new applications to be developed, deployed, tested,” said Entropic (News - Alert) co-founder and vice president of technology, Anton Monk, during a conversation at the 2012 Cable Show in Boston.
“There’s been a lot of hype about social media extensions,” Monk continued. “I think a lot has to be rolled out, tested, seen before we know what actually will be accepted. Do people really want to see a Twitter (News - Alert) feed on the side [of their TV screen]? I personally don’t, but I would not discount anything related to Twitter or Facebook.”
Maybe consumers want to know which of their friends has seen the latest Glee, or what people are saying on Twitter about the show; there’s no real way to know without trying various approaches in the market.
“I am not sure that anyone can say definitively that the time is now, or what type of applications,” Monk noted. “But what we’re offering is a platform for these apps to be developed quickly, deployed quickly, tested, and then rolled out on a larger scale.”
To prove his point, Monk demoed an application that automatically detects commercials and lets viewers interact with them in various ways.
“This is a very interesting example of a use case that takes advantage of rapid prototyping of applications,” Monk said. “That’s really one of the things that these open standards give you.”
Open standards are key. Taking a page from Web and mobile application development innovation, Entropic has moved its architecture toward a flexible, standards-based architecture that gives its set-top box technology room to grow and quickly evolve.
“What we’ve done in the past few years is put a lot of investment into leveraging and infrastructure and architecture that’s been proven to be very effective in massive deployments in the mobile market,” Monk explained. “In the mobile space, you have Android-type deployments that have leveraged ARM (News - Alert)-based architectures, open source architectures. Basically we took a look at that and said, ‘this is the right architecture.’ Open standards are the right architecture going forward. What we’ve done is leverage that across the board.”
As technology and consumer preference evolve, the boxes that use Entropic SoC architecture can adjust far faster than what used to be the norm. That’s necessary given uncertainty in the industry.
Maybe consumers will love the new Skype features built into the Comcast Xfinity box—or maybe they won’t. That’s not crucial for Entropic or the set-top boxes now coming to market. Rapid testing and rollout is the key, and Entropic is ready.
Edited by Brooke Neuman