Motorola Mobility's Larry Robinson on the move to video gateways over DVRs

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Larry Robinson, Corporate VP & General Manager of Home Devices, Motorola Mobility

Larry Robinson, Motorola Mobility

Robinson

At the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI) demonstrated how it will replace traditional DVRs with home video gateways that can shuttle video to gaming consoles, tablet computers, and thin client IP set-tops. Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and other distributors are expected to deploy gateway devices later this year. While rolling out gateway devices could help cable operators reduce costs and reduce energy consumption in subscriber homes, operators face new challenges in supporting the devices, such as delivering video securely to an Xbox 360 console. Gateway devices were the focus of this FierceCable interview with Larry Robinson, Corporate VP and General Manager of Home Devices at Motorola.

FierceCable: When could we expect your U.S. customers to deploy gateway devices in subscriber homes?

Larry Robinson: Our DCX-3600, which is our video gateway targeted at our cable customers, we plan to start shipping that in the middle of this year. I can't comment specifically to individual operator deployment plans, but we're working to make that available as quickly as we can to assist them in that migration to IP.

FC: How much could an operator save if he deploys a gateway device and IP set-tops compared to having multiple DVRs in a home?

LR: The architecture is going to lower cost IP clients. I'd say the other benefit of the architecture is you begin to connect other IP capable devices in the home that may or not be operator supplied--things like game consoles, tablets, etc. I do think the (capital expenditures) model does change on a go forward basis.

FC: Do you look at a device like an Xbox 360 or a connected TV as competition for Motorola?

LR: No. The overall pie is getting larger. I think the number of devices that are going to be capable of consuming operator provided content is going up exponentially. Fundamentally we view the role of the set-top evolving from the architecture of yesterday, where a single TV with a box connected to it going to one that is more video gateway centric where you still need a device to connect an operator's network to a home, but then you still have a variety of devices in the home that are consuming that content, some of which will continue to be set-tops for a lot of TVs, but also a lot of other devices. I view it as exponential growth in terms of devices that are capable of consuming that content.

FC: How much of a challenge is it for your cable operator customers to allow their subscribers to use a device like the Xbox to decrypt cable programming?

LR: There are a number of things that come into play. From a Motorola Mobility perspective, we're looking to provide the technology to make that make that problem a little easier. I think there are certainly issues that need to be dealt with in terms of having the right format for the video content that is distributed as well as the right security. Our secure media solution is one that helps address some of the security challenges that exist. And when I look at the DCX-3600, some of the integrated transcoding capabilities to make sure that content is consumable by the consumer electronics device that's within that home network. There are definitely some challenges to deal with but there's a great opportunity for everybody in the ecosystem to take care of those devices.

FC: Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH) is deploying a multiroom DVR capable of recording a half dozen shows simultaneously. Will that force your cable customers to deploy DVRs and gateways with similar features?

LR: We're continuing to see the capabilities and the service offerings evolve on both (cable and satellite) sides. The gateway is capable of recording six shows concurrently. I think that architecture will continue to increase the functionality that they're ultimately able to provide their subscribers.

FC: Dish and TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) also have DVRs that can store 2 terabytes of data. Would you look to offer more storage than that?

LR: The DCX-3600 is intended to come out with 1 terabyte--not that 2 (TB) isn't able to be supported. I think it's a continual tradeoff between what's the optimal storage size versus cost and the ability to add external storage as well to satisfy consumers' needs. The other piece is, if you look at the architecture that the device is deployed, what capabilities exist in the network for video-on-demand type services. Do you need to store everything locally? There's no doubt that storage is a very important topic, and as a consumer you can probably never have enough.

FC: How will the deployment of gateway devices impact power consumption in cable homes?

LR: When you start looking at more typical households that have multiple set-tops and DVRs, we're seeing power consumption being reduced by as much as 60 percent in a typical home by this migration to a whole home ecosystem. That's based on if you have three DVRs in a home. We think from a heavy usage standpoint--and more devices require more set-tops to be connected--this whole home architecture tied to a video gateway is more compelling from an energy standpoint, but also from a capability standpoint.

FC:  NCTA has said that 90 percent of the new set-tops that MSOs will deploy by 2013 will be Energy Star 3.0 compliant. But that doesn't mean that cable operators will replace a DCT-2000 or other legacy set-tops, does it?

LR: I don't think it does. There's definitely a transitional period. It's obviously difficult to replace all of that. Ultimately it is a cable operator question in terms of their exact strategy. We are working closely with CableLabs as part of that initiative to assist in the working group activities to help drive that initiative in terms of additional things that can be done above and beyond the improvements that have been made to date.

FC: Of all the set-tops you have available, what are the most popular devices that you'll ship this year?

LR: This year from a cable perspective, what we call our DCX-3501, the dual-tuner HD DVR is certainly a very popular model, as well as our DCX-3200 platform, which is our high-definition set-top.

FC: Are those Energy Star compliant?

LR: The 3200 isn't currently. The 3601 is.

FC: What are you spending most of your time on these days?

Robinson: Fundamentally we're really driving the evolution of TV and the smarter, simpler home. That's where we're focused. We're leveraging the connectivity that exists within homes, and continues to grow, to not only further develop the entertainment offering and this drive toward the video gateway and a multiscreen environment. That provides all sorts of other opportunities on things like connected home gateways where we can leverage our 4Home asset in terms of home monitoring, really focused on making consumers lives easier through our solutions.