Cable’s 3DTV World Firsts
by Leslie Ellis // November 30 2009
In case you missed it (I did), the home team achieved two world’s firsts last month, when it comes to getting 3D content into consumer homes.
Both occurred during the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, in a tucked-away CableLabs corner tagged the “3D Pavilion.”
World’s first #1: Sending and displaying two 3DTV channels and 3D-VOD, delivered simultaneously over Comcast’s plant. The 3D signal was live for three days (the duration of the Expo) and was decoded by existing set-tops.
Up until then, 3D vendors brought their own demos, tricked out to make their gear look as good as possible.
The material was 3D-encoded at the Comcast Media Center, using the “over-under” method. That means squeezing the right eye and left eye frames on top of one another, within the same digital channel. An assortment of compression rates and resolutions were sampled – some 720p / 60 frames, some 1080p / 24 frames.
World’s first #2: Connecting multiple brands of 3DTVs to the same signal, at the same time. Or, put another way, the coexistence of passive and shutter glasses, on the same 3D signal.
Here’s why that matters: Different brands of 3DTVs use different types of eyewear – both “active” (shuttered) glasses, and “passive” (polarized) glasses. Up until now, confusion reigned about whether the same incoming signal could feed TVs that use different types of glasses.
Answer: Apparently so. The demonstration made clear that 3D signals don’t require special formatting for one type of eyewear vs. another. The 3D-TVs can resolve those differences internally.
Closing observation: The amount of progress in 3DTV for home use, even since the SMPTE 3D and Digital Cinema deep-dive in April, is astonishing. What looked to be a “five years out” thing suddenly seems much, much more imminent. The technical kinks are clearly being resolved.
What’s needed now (in a huge oversimplification): 3D content.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.
Why the Transition to IPv6 Is So Tricky
by Leslie Ellis // November 09 2009
For such a nerdy, network-y name, IPv6 rides with some pretty colorful language. Without it, for instance, the global Internet faces “IP address exhaustion.” With it, we could theoretically affix an IP address to “every atom on the surface of Earth.”
But getting to IPv6 (from IPv4) won’t be trivial, engineers said over and over during the recent SCTE Cable Tec Expo. (And in engineer-speak, “non-trivial” is several shades darker than “really challenging.”)
Here’s the situation: We’re running out of IP addresses, and pretty much everything needs one. Bad news for any TV, PC or handheld screen craving an Internet connection.
Two entities are the keepers of Internet Protocol addresses: IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers. IANA runs dry by the end of next year; ARIN in 2012.
That’s why it’s good that so many IPv6 addresses are on deck – except for the largess of getting backbone, access and in-home networks ready for them. Turns out that the coexistence of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses is … well … non-trivial.
From a consumer perspective, if the bits moving to or from a screen affixed to an IPv6 addresses smack into any gear the route that only knows IPv4, whatever that consumer was looking at won’t load right, at least the first time. It’ll seem like a slowdown, or a glitch, and it will happen on the day you hit every red light on the way to work, while feeling like you’re getting a cold.
For the caretakers of broadband, going to IPv6 requires careful planning and phasing. (This particular point is consistently bracketed in “I can’t emphasize this enough” admonitions from the engineers working on it.)
The transition itself can go down in at least three ways. Safest, from a consumer perspective, is “dual stacking,” which means gear that speaks both v4 and v6.
Or, there’s tunneling, also known as encapsulation, which sidelines into terminology like “6to4,” “ISATAP,” and “Teredo.” All describe different was of making the new stuff look and act like the old stuff.
Also an option: Network address translation, or NAT, which does the opposite – it translates v4 addresses into v6 addresses.
Other, more tactical considerations: Getting the actual IPv6 address allocations; deciding where to start transitioning – core, or edge; picking routing protocols; prepping all back-office functions; and making sure all bases are covered — so that the new, v6 stuff doesn’t put the existing, v4 stuff at risk.
Bottom line, and to quote Comcast’s John Brzozowski, chief IPv6 architect and principle engineer: “This is no one-man show. Everyone in your company has something to do with the success of your v6 program.”
Best get on it.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.
Update: Today (11/10/09) I heard from Marissa, on behalf of ARIN. She asks to clarify two points:
“In actuality, the IANA, operated by ICANN and is the central global entity that oversees global IP address allocation. ARIN is one of 5 Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) which receives IP addresses from the IANA. IANA delegates the allocation of IP addresses to RIRs in large blocks. The RIRs sub-allocate smaller blocks directly to Internet ISPs and network operators within their respective regions – ARIN’s region is the United States, Canada and many Caribbean and North Atlantic islands.
She also points out that IANA and ARIN “could” run dry in the timeframes suggested within the column. The “could” indicates that the RIRs “are not sure of an exact date, or even year.”
Thanks for the update, Marissa.
by Leslie Ellis // November 02 2009
In the blur of last week’s mash-up of cable events, the lingo landscape bulged with EBIF, pronounced “ee-biff.” The Enhanced Binary Interchange Format. (Say that three times fast.)
EBIF refresher: Five or so years ago, U.S. cable got wiggy about a U.K. interactive TV staple that allowed viewers to participate with programs by “pressing red” whenever a “red button” appeared on the screen.
Work commenced at CableLabs to fast-track a way of doing “program synchronous” interactivity here, so that viewers could, say, click to vote a player off a reality show, or click to dive into the on-demand warehouse to pull up additional titles of an episodic show, or see longer-form versions of an ad.
A driving goal was ubiquity. Nobody wanted another interactive plan that worked only on a small subset of deployed set-top boxes. That body of work began to be called “ETV,” for “Enhanced TV.” The technology behind it was the enhanced binary interchange format (EBIF).
Somewhere in there, Canoe was born, and took the lead on the ad-centric applicability. That work will become reality yet this year, Canoe people said last week.
Comcast executives are similarly headlong into EBIF, which is good news – because if consumers are exposed only to EBIF triggers that lead exclusively to ads, they could easily “learn,” incorrectly, that clickable things on the TV screen are ads, so why bother.
The word from Comcast: Eleven million set-tops will be EBIF-enabled by year-end; shloads more next year. Applications will be launched in three categories: Content-based (a better way of saying “program synchronous”), widget-oriented (meaning not tied to a particular show), and guide extensions.
That last one was news to me. It makes sense, especially for expediency: Stop spending a year or more on enhancements, including testing a big, monolithic code footprint to work right on a huge and mixed base of deployed boxes. Instead, launch smaller features individually, and quickly, using EBIF.
Example: A “remind/record” app, which lets consumers ask to be reminded to watch favored programs. The “remind” part is aimed at people who don’t use a digital video recorder – you’re watching TV on one channel, and are reminded that you wanted to watch a different channel at that time.
This is one of those intuitive things, like Time Warner Cable’s “Start Over,” that just makes sense for TV. Case in point: Comcast placed the “remind/record” app on an ad for Lifetime’s Project Runway in its San Francisco market for four days; 2,600 people hit it.
I don’t know any Runway fans who wouldn’t dive at a chance to get a reminder (of anything) from Tim Gunn. The whole thing makes it tempting to call 2010 “the year of EBIF.” Someone should probably just say it.