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Motorola Takes HD Encoding to (the) Starz

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On the heels of the HBO announcement earlier this month, there’s more news now that Starz Entertainment will use a Motorola encoding system for its upcoming new HD channels (Starz Comedy, Starz Edge and Starz Kids & Family). Specifically, the technology will support Starz’s planned migration from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4.

Why go MPEG-4? Roughly speaking, MPEG-4 compression uses around half the bandwidth of MPEG-2 coded signals. Motorola also thinks that the recent sharp increase in consumer demand for HD programming and the rapid increase in the maturity of MPEG-4 technology are leading programmers to evaluate the option more seriously. In other words, we may very well see more announcements on MPEG-4 migration in the near future.

11 Responses

  1. So, how is this going to work on the last mile? It seems that most STBs in the field only handle MPEG-2, and basically all CableCARD CE devices – except for TiVos – are also limited to MPEG-2.

    While this can save bandwidth in the distribution channels, it does mean a transcoding to MPEG-2 for the last mile. Which can cause artifacts as you never get a perfect conversion between formats. And the real bandwidth limitations seem to be that last mile, getting all the content to the homes.

    Replacing all the STBs seems cost prohibitive, and they can’t use MPEG-4 until there is no one stuck on MPEG-2 – unless they simulcast, but that would make the bandwidth problem worse in the interim. And that doesn’t even touch on CableCARD receivers – how will they deal with making the signal incompatible with the FCC and Congress already a bit grumpy about SDV and other issues?

  2. Starz is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Media, which is also the new owner of DirecTV. Hence, this news is no big surprise.

    DirecTV and Dish Network can pass the MPEG-4 feeds as is.

    Some providers like Verizon FiOS will place orders for new MPEG-4 equipment by the end of the year, for delivery in 2009. Others like Comcast and Time Warner need to make that transition at some point, but replacing millions of boxes is a costly proposition. The longer they wait, the greater the cost.

    I’m rather surprised cable companies didn’t see this coming sooner. Comcast and Time Warner could have easily requested a CableCard design from Motorola with MPEG-4 to kill two birds with one stone. In fact, Motorola offered to add MPEG-4 to the design for a premium, but cable providers were not interested. Motorola isn’t expected to have a cable STB or DVR with MPEG-4 supporting DCAS before 2H 2008.

    In the interim, all cable providers will be forced to do a lossy transcode to MPEG-2. If MPEG-4 channel distribution becomes increasingly common, satellite providers could have a leg up on cable providers in PQ, at least for the channels originating in that format.

    And as you note, even after the new MPEG4-capable cable STBs do become available, it will be a long time before most customers will have them.

  3. I wish you writers would make (or more accurately, learn) the distinction between MPEG-4 Part 2 (DivX) and MPEG-4 Part 10 (AVC/H.264). This article refers to MPEG-4 Part 10.

  4. […] Motorola Takes HD Encoding to (the) Starz Connected Home 2 Go wonder if E* will benefit from this in the near […]

  5. […] MPEG4 for Starz Category: Uncategorized Motorola Takes HD Encoding to (the) Starz ? Connected Home 2 Go […]

  6. […] Read | Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments […]

  7. Megazone- You’re right that cable operators aren’t going to see much bandwidth relief from MPEG-4 in the near future.

    bfdtv- “Some providers like Verizon FiOS will place orders for new MPEG-4 equipment by the end of the year, for delivery in 2009.” Verizon wants everything and the kitchen sink when it purchases new set-tops, but the much bigger concern near-term is the CableCard deadline in July of ’08. That deadline could push a lot of other things lower down on the priority list.

    “I’m rather surprised cable companies didn’t see this coming sooner.” No doubt cable companies saw this coming but figured they could afford to wait. Comcast wasn’t first out with a DVR, but it hurt the company very little in the long-run.

  8. […] AVC encoding system for Showtime’s Smithsonian HD content. This follows on the heels of the Starz and HBO announcements. Anyone see a trend? Not the Motorola part, although that’s important to […]

  9. […] cable industry is already beginning to use MPEG-4 for content distribution to the head end, but service to the home is still MPEG-2. The problem with switching to MPEG-4 is, […]

  10. […] regarding new programmer customers. Starting last year with HBO, Motorola has racked up Starz, Showtime, and FOX as users of its satellite receivers and encoding equipment. According to […]

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