We have been reporting on Active Video Networks (they don’t like to use AVN as it also stands for “Adult Video News, the “trade news” for the US porn industry!) since we met with the company in January 2010 in the Hilton at CES. The company has a cloud-based approach to services for TV services providers or even set makers. The architecture uses remote servers to run “virtual STBs” in the cloud and simply send back to the viewer as a video stream. This has a big advantage in that a very, very simple STB or SmartTV can be used in the home, with all the intelligence in the rack, an appealing solution for companies that want to avoid upgrades in their STBs.
The company previously got a design win with Dutch provider, Ziggo. As a result of the adoption and roll out of the project, the company has had more experience in peak concurrency and latency issues and said that it has found that the peak loads on its servers have been less than expected. As a result, it is confident that it can offer great economies of scale. A single server rack in a data centre, using the firm’s video technology combined with Intel Quick Sync Video, running on GPU hardware in the servers, can now support up to 1 million users and this means a capex of less than $1 per subscriber. The company has also nominated Kontron of Germany as its strategic hardware partner.
In terms of latency, the company told us that 500ms response time is good enough for video purposes (although faster response would improve gaming). CA issues can be simpler to manage when they are controlled in the cloud.
There has been a development in more sophisticated applications to go beyond VOD and EPGs. Brands are developing new interactive advertisements that can run on the sophisticated hardware in the cloud. We looked at an example from a cosmetic company and we could see how this could be more interesting for a consumer than a standard “linear” advert. Using the cloud means the kind of guaranteed presentation quality that premium brands are looking for.
MSOs also like the better quality that they can deliver. For example, UPC Hungary has been working to deliver YouTube content at much higher quality from the data centre and giving users a better experience than trying to watch the same content using a traditional client. The YouTube content can also be integrated into the EPG at the head end and the result of this is that 50% of viewers are trying the content.
Another feature of keeping the STB in the cloud is that EPGs can have multiple video streams so that even if there are a large number of channels being shown, live video for each can be displayed as this is easier to do in a datacentre than on an STB at a network endpoint. Further, the EPG can use real time information from all the users on the server to collate “most popular” streams. The technology can also be used to support “Virtual Tivo” boxes in the cloud.
ActiveVideo is now a member of RDK for support of this platform.
The next big roll out for ActiveVideo is with Charter in the US which is rolling out a cloud-based EPG in 2015. Charter is the third largest cable supplier in the US and has ownership or management of over 8 million video users in the US.
Finally, we heard that there is a new deal with HBO for the Go service. A typical VOD service has around 300 titles, according to ActiveVideo, but the deal with HBO allows access to 6,000 titles. MSOs using the cloud system can deliver these titles to TVs or other client devices to have a very powerful VOD offering.