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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.

7 Responses

  1. that’s interesting. didn’t realize that sdv could play a role in mpeg-4 deployment in this way. anyone actually doing this yet or is this still conceptual? Jeff

  2. Conceptual as far as I know, but it does make the mind bend in a new direction. I’m trying to think of other use cases now for SDV as a selective deployment platform. (SDP?)

  3. Mari,

    I’m not clear on how this would work. Okay, so some subset of the STBs in a neighbourhood are h.264 capable. And there’s some SDV channel that the MSO can send out in either MPEG-2 or h.264. If a single user with one of those h.264 STBs requests the channel, the MSO can send it out in h.264. Now imagine that somebody with an older STB requests the channel. What does the MSO do?

    – Add an MPEG-2 version of the channel to the network, meaning we’re now using 1.5X the bandwidth for this one channel. Does standard SDV even support this state where there are two versions of the same channel?

    – Force the h.264 consumers off the h.264 version of the channel onto the new MPEG-2 version. Does standard SDV even support this sort of thing?

  4. Glenn- I believe it force-tunes to an MPEG-2 version. I’m diving into the full technical paper now and will do another post when I get through it.

  5. […] A couple of savvy folks picked up on my near-throw-away reference earlier this month to the idea of using switched digital video as a tool for transitioning to MPEG-4. The basic concept is that operators could selectively broadcast MPEG-4 programming by offering it […]

  6. […] MPEG-4 Momentum Posted on July 31, 2008 by Mari Silbey Amidst the stats in today’s Motorola earnings announcement is a note about continued uptake of MPEG-4. In the past quarter Motorola added several new MPEG-4 customers including DirecTV, HBO Latin America and Starz. […]

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