More on OCAP

OCAP Developers ConferenceThis year brought the first OCAP Developer’s Conference, which finished at noon today. As you can see from the photo, it turned out to be a standing-room-only event, attracting more than 300 attendees. Cable industry vet and tech expert Leslie Ellis was kind enough to share a few highlights from yesterday with me.

After a two-hour primer on OCAP (highlighted previously), the first panel featured four operators: Mike Hayashi, Time Warner; Chris Bowick, Cox; Arthur Orduña, Advance/Newhouse (Bright House Networks); and James Mumma, Comcast. Cox has OCAP in two markets now, with plans for five systems by year’s end and a national footprint by the first half of ’08. Time Warner Cable’s set-tops will be OCAP or OCAP-capable by July 1, ’07 and they will hopefully be in trial by year-end; Brighthouse is in a similar position. Comcast is ramping up to support an 80% footprint by year-end ’08, with trials up in Denver, CO; Union, NJ; and parts of Boston, MA.

Some of the OCAP applications that are on the table so far include: ordering & changing cable services, email, bill payment, games, caller ID on TV, voting/polling capabilities in live TV, the ability to rewind live TV to the beginning of a show without having remembered to record it on your DVR.

Several sessions looked at applications development, from design to delivery. One interesting term was used: squeezeback, which which refers to what happens when an interactive application changes the size of the video currently displaying on the TV screen. For example, one might try to determine whether to do a squeezeback or an overlay in such a situation.

Some design tips were offered. When new content pops up on-screen, developers should be cautious with the transparency of the pop-up, since such transparency, although very elegant looking, is very processor-intensive. It pays to keep load times down as much as possible; while an instantaneous response is not necessarily realistic, there are compromises that can be made such as removing heavy graphics from the content. Developers were cautioned to keep it simple. As Comcast’s Gerard Kunkel warned, “The more interesting you think you’re making it by adding features – chances are that you’re making it more complicated for the consumer.”

A panel offering a business and deployment overview of OCAP, gave a glimpse of the complexity of OCAP rollout, courtesy of Cox’s Steve Calzone. He began by saying, “I will talk about the highly technical nature of the onramp to OCAP.”

He then proceeded: “You have the headend, including VOD and out-of-band, servers, multicasters, point-to-point asynchronous messaging, then the back office components in billing systems and load balancers and XMOL translation, and the on-demand assets identification interfaces.” In light of all this, he offered this advice: “Minimize complexity.”

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