Cable challenged to keep pace with CE industry

Steve Donohue, FierceCableIt was only about seven years ago that Comcast and other U.S. cable operators began deploying the Motorola DCT 6208 set-top--an HD DVR that contained only one tuner.  Cable's first attempt at a DVR, designed to help cable operators catch up with the features TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) had begun offering viewers, was a dud. While subscribers no longer had to rely on VCRs to record programming, they couldn't watch one program while recording another, which was one of the key draws for TiVo.

Cable operators and technology vendors have come a long way in the last five years. The industry will trumpet advances in set-tops and multiplatform video delivery next week at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Atlanta. You won't find any single-tuner DVRs on the convention floor. Instead, there will be DVRs and gateway devices containing up to six tuners, such as the Moxi Gateway from Arris (Nasdaq: ARRS), which lets cable subscribers record up to six TV shows at the same time.

Cable technology is rapidly changing, and much of the transformation is being driven by the popularity of consumer electronics devices such as connected TVs from Samsung,  IP devices such as Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Xbox 360, tablet computers like as Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad and other mobile devices. Cable operators and technology vendors are working to find ways to deliver pay TV programming through any device in the home.

While cable operators are continuing to deploy advanced digital set-tops, much of the buzz in Atlanta will be on gateway devices that can deliver both cable channels and IP video to multiple set-tops, mobile devices and connected TVs.  SCTE has built an exhibit on Next Generation Video Architecture at the Expo that will feature products from more than a dozen vendors, including Arris, Cheetah Technologies, Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), Elemental Technologies, Harmonic, Ineoquest, JDSU, Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI), NDS, RGB Networks, Ruckus Wireless, SeaChange International (Nasdaq: SEAC) and Verivue.

Technology vendors in Atlanta will also be pitching cable operators products designed at encoding video for multiplatform delivery and testing and monitoring the quality of video that is being delivered through home networks and outside the home to IP devices.

The biggest challenge operators and technology vendors face is keeping pace with new products from CE vendors like connected TVs and tablets. Just as Motorola's single tuner DVR was quickly replaced by dual-tuner DVRs--and now gateway devices containing six tuners--the industry must focus on delivering pay TV content to connected TVs and tablets.

While cable operators and technology vendors at this year's Cable-Tec Expo will focus on delivering multiplatform content to new CE devices, look for CE companies themselves to take a more active role at next year's convention, which will be held in Orlando.--Steve