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Starz Align(s) for MPEG-4, and Switched Digital Video

The news is out that the Starz network is making its move toward MPEG-4. It won’t happen all at once, but the programmer is planning to use MPEG-4 compression with its HD channels starting this summer. Like HBO, Starz is using the Motorola DSR-6050 receiver/transcoder, which supports both MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 outputs.

Obviously there’s a benefit to programmers in moving to a more advanced compression scheme (better quality video), but it’s been widely discussed that cable operators can’t take advantage of the bandwidth savings that come with MPEG-4 until they have a large number of MPEG-4 set-tops in the field.

As it turns out, that’s not entirely true.

In theory, an entire service group of subscribers would need to have MPEG-4 set-tops in order for a cable operator to stream a channel in MPEG-4. But by using a switched digital video (SDV) platform, operators could selectively send out MPEG-4 streams only when the subscribers requesting that content had MPEG-4 set-tops. In other words, operators could recoup even more bandwidth over straight SDV by using MPEG-4 compression in a switched environment.

Motorola’s John Schlack presented a paper on this topic at The Cable Show. If anyone’s interested in more detail, drop me a line at marisilbey (at) comcast.net.