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Delayed gratification holding the industry back

One of the many dichotomies discussed at this years’ Connected Home Summit in London ran something along the lines of ‘why must consumers undergo a negative experience before they can experience a positive one?’ 

 Indeed, all too often, consumers have to go through the pain of setting up a complex pieceof new kit before they can begin to enjoy many of the life-enhancing qualities. When they spend a sizeable chunk of their salary on a HD, super-size flat screen TV, they have a right to expect that all they need to do is plug it in and switch it on when they get it home.

Competition in this industry may be fierce, but consideration must be given to the consumer who needs to master the new product before they can begin to enjoy it. The manufacturer with the most consumer-friendly out-of-the-box user experience will gain the most.

By the same token, service providers have to ensure the set-up user experience is simple and problem free for the subscriber, a task that is becoming more complex as TV goes beyond the set top to other devices connected over a home network.  The device that can be used with their service will be linked to their brand regardless of whether they have supplied them or not. Remote device management tools and customer self-help tools such as Motorola EDGE are a great help in improving the customer experience and reduce support costs. And there are cost savings too – for instance, user-friendly set top boxes that can be self-installed by the customer, represents massive savings in deployment costs for the service provider.

Until the industry as a whole takes this issue on board, companies that pass on that complexity are delaying gratification not only for the consumer, but for themselves,too.

Your Online DTA Tutorial

From somewhere in the vast Motorola video archive, a friend and colleague forwarded me this online video tutorial for setting up your Digital Transport Adapter. (Sometimes called a Digital Terminal Adapter) It’s a bit on the cheesy side, but if you’ve still got analog TVs in a digital cable system, this video offers a quick guide for getting up and running with digital-to-analog conversion. Great for you, and better yet if you’ve got relatives with a DTA dilemma and don’t want to act as family tech support.

TriCounty Telecom Goes All-Digital

This is one of the best Motorola videos I’ve seen in a while. The four-minute short embedded above details one small, rural pay-TV provider’s conversion to an all-digital system. TriCounty Telecom was locked at 60 analog channels it could deliver to subscribers on its 400 MHz plant. (And I thought 550 MHz was low!) By going digital, TriCounty can now offer more than 400 channels, as well as DVR service, and soon whole-home DVR. The video here goes into specifics of the business case behind going all-digital, how TriCounty is using NAS-RAC to avoid the cost of maintaining its own Digital Access Controller, and the increased revenue the operator is seeing now that the transition is complete.

Favorite 2009 Wrap-Ups

No doubt we’ll see a flood of year-end and decade-end stories through the rest of this week, but already I have three wrap-up stories that top my list. Covering TV and technology, here are excerpts from three articles by Todd Spangler of Multichannel News, John Merli writing for TV Technology, and Robert Bianco of USA Today.

Top Cable Tech Trends of 2009, Todd Spangler

Out with the analog: Cable operators this year advanced their digital agendas to make room for more DOCSIS 3.0 and HD.

MSOs also pushed ahead on the wireless front, and it was the year interactive TV (finally) began to bloom for cable, even though Canoe’s initial crack at advanced advertising was a bust. Looking to the future, operators pondered the potential of IPTV, and at the tail end of 2009 we saw the first glimpses TV Everywhere–cable’s bid to extend the video-subscription model to the Internet.

A Landmark Year for Broadcast, John Merli

…David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, calls June 12, 2009 “the most significant date in the history of over-the-air television.” And the president of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, Mark Richer, said “now the real fun starts. No one should underestimate the power of a wireless one-to-many application distribution system. That system is ‘broadcasting…’”

The Decade in Television: Cable, the  Internet Become Players, Robert Bianc0

For TV, it was a decade of Lost and found.

At the broadcast networks, which saw their overall numbers drop by around 8 million viewers, it was 10 years of ratings decline. Yet if those viewers were lost to broadcast, they were found by cable — and what those viewers found was an ever-expanding range of choice.

But don’t cry for broadcast yet. They may be smaller fish, but they’re still by far the biggest in the electronic pond.

Tweaking TV: OTA, HD & Ultra HD

No matter how you get your TV signals, there are always ways to tweak the experience. Ten years ago I lived in a cabin in rural North Carolina where tweaking usually meant standing out on the porch to adjust the antenna on the low tin roof. For the most part, tweaking has grown more sophisticated, but as the NAB and CEA tell us, there’s still some antenna adjusting to do if you get over-the-air broadcasts. Since the digital transition, there are apparently still issues with VHF reception between channels two and thirteen. Ironically, one of the problems is interference with antennas from TV sets. A new industry/government tip sheet recommends that consumers place antennas far away from their actual sets and other electronic gadgets.

Meanwhile, if you’ve jumped into HD, getting the best picture gets a little more challenging. First you have to pick the right TV, then you have to pay attention to video source, resolution settings, etc. Once again a digital tip sheet created by the FCC and industry groups has some suggestions, but you can dive in a lot deeper by scouring expert sites. Find professional opinions at sites like CNET and PC Mag. Get the latest scoop at EngadgetHD. See quantitative analysis of mounds of data at Retrevo. Or go for the wisdom of the community over at gdgt.

Finally, if you think you’ve gotten a handle on HD, just wait, 3D and Ultra HD are on their way. The 3D concept is well-known, but if you’re curious about Ultra HD (not the Mark Cuban kind), it refers to image resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels or 7680 x 4320 pixels. A new In-Stat report suggests some Ultra HD content could start broadcasting as early as 2017, with 40% of North American homes having Ultra HD sets by 2025. Okay, that’s more than a few years down the road, but it pays to start looking ahead. The roaring twenties will be here again before we know it.

Comcast to Bring TV Everywhere in December

Comcast Fancast tv everywhere

Remember those dire predictions over the summer from folks saying we wouldn’t see a national roll-out of TV Everywhere until 2012 or 2014? Well, time for the experts to eat their hats. Several people are reporting on Twitter that Comcast just announced at the NewTeeVee Live conference that it will launch TV Everywhere for everyone next month. There will be no additional cost to Comcast subscribers, and apparently the on-demand content will be available on up to three devices.

A quick reminder of what’s behind the scenes with this news: Comcast has been bulking up on bandwidth over the last year, with more more than 34 million homes now passed with DOCSIS 3.0 service. The operator has also reclaimed spectrum by transitioning more analog channels over to digital. All of this was carefully planned just for the eventuality of TV Everywhere and other video demands. Welcome to the future.

DTA Waivers

Although digital terminal adapters (DTAs) have been out and about for more than a year, several manufacturers, including Motorola, have been lobbying to get new product versions approved for use by the FCC. The purpose of a DTA is to make it easier for operators to make the transition to all-digital broadcasting. For consumer holdouts, the DTA converts digital signals back to analog, allowing them to maintain older TVs and legacy analog service packages. However, the kicker with first-gen DTAs is that they had to avoid any use of conditional access technology, per the separable security mandate. That meant operators had to broadcast basic QAM channels in the clear – no encryption.

So what’s changed? As of yesterday, the FCC is now allowing some specific low-cost DTAs to include very basic conditional access technology. Among other companies, Motorola received a waiver to sell a DTA embedded with light security features. No doubt there are content providers who are pleased with this, given that encryption protects their content. Operators should also be pleased as the move helps them speed up their digital transition, which in turn helps them reclaim capacity from bandwidth-hungry analog channels.