UK Digital TV Trial Results In – It Went Well

UK Digital TV Trial Results In - It Went WellThe long-awaited results from the Welsh Digital TV trial were published today.

The trial ran in the carefully chosen sites of Ferryside and Llansteffan, two Welsh villages either side of the River Towy (Google map, Geograph photo). The main reasons, it’s cut off as it’s surrounded by mountains and the sea.

The project started back in May 2004 with a roadshow that alerted the local residents to the intentions of the trial and to show them the range of equipment that they could choose.

Following the positive acceptance of the trial, the equipment was selected and installed and setup by residents. They were offered one of five Set Top Boxes and 2 PVR’s as replacements for their video recorders. The big difference between this trial and the full UK rollout, was that the equipment was supplied to them free of charge – something the UK government has refused to consider for the country at large.

The TV transmitter sat on the Ferryside of the River Towy serving the 475 homes and 1,200 residents that lived in both locations. The population was more elderly, retired and ill that the average UK population. Nearly 30% of the population of Ferryside were over 60.

UK Digital TV Trial Results In - It Went WellThe digital signal was switched on in November 2004, running simultaneously with current analogue for three month.

The big day of tension was on 30 March 2005 when the analogue signal was switched off. Digital-Lifestyles spoke to key members of the team during this time and learnt that it had gone remarkably smoothly, much to everyone’s delight.

The summary of the results from the 64 page document are as follows.

UK Digital TV Trial Results In - It Went WellTransmission and Coverage – No one lost their TV service during the trial. Only three homes, which were previously in poor reception areas, could not receive the digital service and these were given a digital satellite service. Broadband was introduced during the trial and is seen as an alternative form of delivery to satellite.

Consumer Experience – Not everyone was able to install the equipment themselves but the majority of those who had trouble were able to fix problems with guidance over the phone.

Remote Control – The elderly hit problems handling additional remotes, especially those with many buttons – their preference being remotes with three functions – on/off, volume and channel change.

Aerials and Connectivity – This is where the majority of problems occurred. Digital TV needs a quality signal to work and nearly a quarter (22%) of the household had problems. Set-Top aerials (Do they still exist?) had problems, which wasn’t really a surprise.

UK Digital TV Trial Results In - It Went WellContent – Having an EPG went down well with the residents, particular when they used it to record programs on their PVR. The trialists also enthused about the ability to receive extra TV channels – after all the major benefit to consumer if the expanded choice they will be given.

The total cost of the trial was a little short of 1 million pounds. The UK Government put up £565,000 and the broadcasters the rest, £300,000.

Many organisation worked hard to bring the trial to a successful outcome including Intellect, the trade association for the UK IT, Telecommunications and Electronics industries in the UK.

There’s going to be a lot of people letting out a sign of relief that this trial went well, and not just in the UK. Those involved feel there have been some real lessons learnt here. The harsh reality is that there a world of difference between a controlled trial in two villages in the Wales and a full scale rollout over the UK.

Digital Switchover Technical Trial at Ferryside and Llansteffan Report PDF (1.68mb)

Moxi II Media Deal Between Digeo And Samsung

Samsung And Digeo Agree Cable TV Box DealSamsung have jumped into bed with Digeo – a leading provider of media center software and services – and announced a deal to produce the next-generation Moxi II Media Center product family.

The companies are claiming that the new family of Samsung Home Media Center products will rival the features of personal computers designed for living room entertainment centres.

The Moxi II Media Center, scheduled for release in the autumn, will combine the functions of an advanced video recorder, jukebox, photo viewer and Internet telephone in a single unit (although cable providers will determine the exact feature set).

The boxes will sport four TV tuners (for recording multiple shows at once and/or feeding multiple live TV streams to satellite Moxi Mini boxes around the house) with enough onboard storage to record up to 40 hours of high definition programming.

There’s also support for Voice over IP for making and receiving calls (Moxi’s current Moxi Telephone app can only manage and receive calls).

Samsung And Digeo Agree Cable TV Box DealUS cable companies Charter Communications and Adelphia are set to be the first two cable companies to start dishing out the boxes to customers.

“We are pleased to be bringing powerful media center technologies to market with Digeo,” purred Gee Sung Choi, president of Digital Media Division for Samsung Electronics.

“Our Home Media Center solution launching this fall will be our marquee cable product, setting new standards for operators by delivering unprecedented, highly valued media center services and applications throughout the home.”

The new units will use the sci-fi sounding Digeo X-Stream chip set, a smart little fella that incorporates a chip that integrates several functions previously handled by multiple chips.

Samsung And Digeo Agree Cable TV Box DealThe cost-reducing chip will also offer improved graphics performance with Digeo cranking up the speed of the microprocessor from 733 megahertz to 1 gigahertz.

“The first product … is the first in this family,” said Michael Markman, Digeo’s senior director of marketing. “But the architecture, the design will allow for much further growth.”

Cable box makers face mighty mean competition from PC companies knocking out entertainment PCs running Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition. The latest PC models also support multiple-room viewing as well as HDTV.


TiVo Software For Comcast In Strategic Partnership

Comcast and TiVo join in Strategic PartnershipTiVo has signed a multiyear deal to make a version of its personal video recorder software available to customers of Comcast Cable, currently the King Kong of largest cable operators in the US.

The deal is the first of the partnerships the struggling pioneer hopes to forge with cable operators and will result in Comcast and TiVo working together in peace and harmony to develop a version of the TiVo service to be made available on Comcast’s current DVR platform.

The new service will be marketed with the TiVo brand, and is expected to be slipping out on Comcast’s DVR products in a majority of Comcast markets in mid-to-late 2006.

This long-term, non-exclusive partnership will provide Comcast customers with the opportunity to choose the TiVo service with features like Season Pass and WishList, available as an additional option.

If all goes to plan, the service will showcase TiVo’s home networking, multimedia, and broadband capabilities.

“We are focused on providing our customers with a 21st Century television experience,” said Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation. “TiVo has revolutionized the way consumers watch and access home entertainment. By partnering with TiVo, we are continuing to deliver technology that enables our customers to watch what they want when they want on TV. This agreement also reflects our commitment to work with leading technology providers to offer customers more value and choice in their home entertainment experience. Customers love the ease and convenience of our current DVR service, and we look forward to working with TiVo to enhance that service and offer customers the best-in-class DVR experience.”

Steve Burke, the president of Comcast Cable and COO of Comcast, added, “The strong TiVo brand, the clear track record of customer loyalty it has and its cutting-edge features make this a terrific partnership and exciting new product for Comcast.”

Tom Rogers, the vice chairman of TiVo, noted, “It is very important that TiVo has found a way to work with the nation’s largest cable operator on a cooperative basis to develop a state-of-the-art TiVo service, fully integrated with a cable set-top box, that will make TiVo available to millions of cable viewers. … This is a real milestone for TiVo and for the cable industry, but most importantly it is a milestone for television viewers.”

Analysts are hailing the agreement as a lifeline for the Californian-based company, whose shares jumped 75 percent, or US$2.87 (e2.14/£1.50), to close at US$6.70 (e5/£3.50) in Tuesday trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Although TiVo currently boasts more than 3 million subscribers it has struggled to find a business strategy that would increase its subscriber base and withstand gnawing competition from generic DVRs offered directly by big cable companies.

In the quarter that ended Jan. 31, TiVo lost a thumping great $33.7 million, substantially heftier than the $12.4 million loss in the same period a year earlier.

Comcast and TiVo join in Strategic Partnership The Comcast deal means that TiVo will have to adapt its software to work on Comcast’s existing DVR platform. This will enable TiVo to blast out the advertising it sells as interactive video clips in their onscreen menu to Comcast subscribers.

Comcast will continue to market its own DVR, with new customers getting a dual-tuner DVR, letting viewers record two shows at once and high-definition television; TiVo offers such features only to DirecTV satellite customers.

Comcast subscribers who plump for the TiVo service will get funky features such as “Suggestions,” which recommends shows based on past viewing habits, and the ability to schedule recordings over the Internet.

The agreement gives TiVo access to Comcast’s 21.5 million cable customers, including 8.6 million digital cable customers who can take advantage of DVRs


New UK VOD Gets All Clear from EU

European regulators have approved a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company, Columbia Pictures (a division of Japanese electronics giant Sony), and the UK’s ON Demand Group to provide a video-on-demand service in Britain and Ireland. The new venture will be called MovieCo and will give UK cable network operators an alternative to procure video content other than BSkyB, which is currently the dominant player on this market.

The MovieCo joint venture will offer films to customers of Britain and Ireland’s two biggest cable companies, Telewest and NTL. According to the EU statement, it ‘will provide an open platform to which movie content providers will have access on a non-discriminatory basis, therefore enabling them to make films available by way of video-on-demand directly to customers.’ The deal is also likely to help improve Hollywood’s leverage with BSkyB, as the satellite TV company renegotiates with individual studios over the rights to films for its stable of movie channels. Sky offers its movie channels to cable customers as well as its own satellite subscribers.

The new service will allow viewers to pick from a wide selection of movies to watch whenever they want. The technology is expected to be a key weapon for cable and telecommunications providers in their battle against satellite firms. Companies including BT Group and France Telecom’s Wanadoo also have video-on-demand platforms in the works. Video Networks’ HomeChoice already offers video-on-demand to areas of London.

More importantly, MovieCo will add legitimacy to the concept of on-demand movie downloads to PCs. The business has been in a state of flux because of piracy on popular peer-to-peer networks (P2P) and concerns over the quality of digital movies. To boot, the sector is also under constant scrutiny of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which is making good on its threat to sue file-swappers. The trade association has been busy in the US issuing subpoenas to ISPs demanding the identities of subscribers using P2P applications to upload and download copyrighted works.

The Walt Disney Company
Columbia Pictures (Sony)
ON Demand Group

Comcast turns on Microsoft’s TV software

Microsoft’s new TV software, which includes an interactive programme guide (IPG), will support advanced digital cable services, including the launch of dual-tuner digital video recorders to 1 million customers. The move is expected to further attract consumers to video-on-demand (VOD) services.

The announcement is the first major US deployment of Microsoft’s Foundation Edition software. With the launch of dual-tuner DVRs supported by Foundation Edition, Comcast customers will be able to record their favourite programmes digitally using an on-screen interface that Microsoft says is easier to use and navigate compared to the TV Guide Interactive software which dominates the US cable market. Viewers also can pause and rewind live television broadcasts, build a customised list of recordings by using the DVR’s repeat-recording capability to record multiple episodes of favourite shows, as well as record high-definition television (HDTV) broadcasts.

As part of the change, for an extra monthly premium, Comcast will start offering set-top cable boxes with built-in digital recording capabilities and hard disks for storing recorded television – effectively giving the cable box the same functions as stand-alone devices such as TiVo. The price for existing digital-cable customers will be an additional $9.95 per month on top of their current bill. For current high-definition subscribers, the price to upgrade to the digital recording box will be $4.95 per month.

Microsoft TV Foundation Edition software will be available immediately on new advanced digital set-top boxes with dual-tuner DVR technology. The software will be automatically downloaded in phases to all other set-top boxes in Washington state over Comcast’s digital network in the next few months.

“Comcast is a leader in providing new products on our unparalleled two-way digital platform, and we are always looking at new ways to bring our customers more value, choice and control,” said Len Rozek, senior vice president of Comcast’s Washington market. “The Microsoft software will help our customers get an amazing cable television experience. As Comcast continues to roll out advanced video products – such as VOD, HDTV and DVRs – it’s crucial to deliver a user experience that allows customers to easily navigate the many choices they have to find what they want, when they want it.”

Foundation Edition 1.7 helps cable companies maximise revenues by providing a better, more integrated customer experience and better merchandising opportunities for premium TV offerings and managed content services. It gives multiple service operators the opportunity to up-sell new and existing services, whilst striving to improve consumer satisfaction and retention. It also provides consumers with easy access to interactive games and information portals such as local weather, sports and news.

Enhancements to the software include a ‘smart’ progress bar that appears during playback and shows how much of the programme remains and how much buffer space is left, a channel mapping feature that lets you record a series even when it moves from one channel to another, and smart series options that let you record a specific number of episodes, skip rebroadcast episodes and reruns, set priorities for programs in case episodes conflict, and input the start and end times of programs. In addition, buffering lets viewers record the entire show they’re watching even if they don’t start recording until halfway through the program. Knowing Microsoft, there’s also the opportunity somewhere down the road for Media Center PCs to connect to Comcast video services, as well. And if the company manages to strike a deal with other digital TV providers, such as BSkyB, most of us will have Microsoft software in our living rooms as well as our workplaces.

TV-B-Gone – Rid your world of unwanted TV

Think of all the waiting rooms where you have had to endure mindless soaps, the bars where you have been silenced into submission by a cocktail of football or MTV – depending on which end you sit.  If you have ever wished for a gizmo that would quell the cacophony then your wish has been granted.

A gadget cunningly disguised as a car alarm remote clandestinely switches off television sets by the simple press of a button now exists.  Get your hands on one of these and going for a pint could yet again become the social event that it was fifty years ago – before the art of conversation was subsumed by wide-eyed silence punctuated by disjointed roars.

The gadget with the moral dimension has a name with a biblical ring – TV-B-Gone, and like the parting of the Red Sea it will silence the attention sapping scourge in any public area. When activated, the universal remote control with a mission will spend about a minute flashing out 209 different codes to turn off televisions, attacking the most popular brands first. There is an American-Asian model and a European one, using different codes.

TV-B-Gone’s inventor Mitch Altman, who was recently interviewed by Steven Bodzin for Wired, already has a pretty impressive track record.  He wrote an Apple video game in 1977, which became a military training module, worked on virtual reality systems in VPL in the 1980’s, and more recently patented hard-drive controllers developed in his Silicon Valley data-storage maker company, 3Ware.

TV-B-Gone has just gone on sale so perhaps unwanted ambient TV may become a thing of the past, a social pariah we will tell our grandchildren about.  Question is are the TV manufacturers going to fight back?  Or, will it be the start of a whole new battle of wits like that between the computer security industry and the hackers, spammers and virus writers?


Microsoft Announces Plans for Your Digital Living Room and 22 New Security Flaws in Windows Products

Microsoft began the latest phase of its big push for consumers’ digital lives by unveiling Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 (MCE) and a host of products designed to work alongside it.

Bill G and Queen Latifah demonstrated the most recent features in MCE at an event in Los Angeles, highlighting integration with Windows Media Player 10 and a compatibility with a range of new hardware devices.

To coincide with the do, Microsoft’s main press release describes a hypothetical family and how they might use digital media across the day – from recording TV programmes via their web browser to broadcasting music around the home using a Media Centre Extender.

The company also announced 22 new security holes in its Windows range whilst issuing an update to address them. One of the new flaws managed to affect Macintosh OSX users.

By promoting MCE as a digital hub, the company hopes to show consumers that they can view, share and store their movies, music and pictures around the home and on the move. To reinforce their view of the future, the company also announced a number of devices from partners like HP, Dell and Creative Labs.

Music is a very important part of MS’s plans, with Windows Media 10 and MSN Music receiving another PR boost. Amongst the devices promoted by MS were new Digital Audio Receivers from Dlink, Roku and MoniFi which are designed to play digital music from a central source in any room of the house. Creative, Gateway, iRiver and other also announced new digital media players for the Christmas season, with capabilities ranging from simple music to full video playback.

Will Poole, senior vice president for the Windows Client division at Microsoft said in a statement: “For years, many in the consumer electronics industry have viewed digital entertainment as a field of dreams: if you provide consumers with a solution, they’ll build it into a larger experience – regardless of cost or complexity. Windows XP Media Centre PC and all of these other devices and services make it possible, for the first time, for the average consumer to enjoy digital entertainment anywhere, anytime and in any way.”

Microsoft’s Media experience

Instat: Digital Set-top Box and PC TV Tuner Market US$3.8 billion in 2008

In-Stat/MDR are projecting that the worldwide market for digital tuners in set-top boxes and PC TV cards will be worth US$3.8 billion (€3.12 billion) by 2008.

PC TV cards are growing rapidly in popularity, due to PCs being more readily accepted as the entertainment centre of households. Many lifestyle PCs are being sold with cards preinstalled and preconfigured – and even if a PC doesn’t ship with one, the installation of a decent card will enable the owner to turn their PC into a fully functional PVR.

Consumers now expect their PC to be able to satisfy all of their entertainment needs, and television is an important aspect of this. A home entertainment computer without digital television will not be acceptable for much longer.

Motherboard manufacturers are also getting in on the act, and are producing boards with integrated tuners. Motherboards have always demonstrated a trend for integration – many features which previously required an expansion card, like 5.1 sound, RAID arrays, graphics accelerators and Bluetooth, are now built into some boards.

In-Stat predict that international growth (i.e. non-US) will be key, and that Europe will continue to lead the market for some time. Lifestyle PCs are remarkably popular in Europe, with many major brands such as Sony, HP and Shuttle doing well out of products aimed specifically it the entertainment niche. Asia is rapidly climbing into second place – will there be a time when Asia becomes the world’s largest entertainment market?



Five May Buy Flextech

Jane Lightning, speaking at a Royal Television Society event last night, dropped an unsubtle hint that Five are considering buying Flextech, the content arm of Telewest.

While the rest of the industry is still speculating about the proposed merger with Channel 4, Lightning, Five’s chief executive said “Flextech could be one of the options we are looking at.”

Well, it either is one of the options they’re looking at or it isn’t. I’ll fetch my deerstalker, pipe and magnifying glass for a second and say that they most definitely are looking at it, otherwise she wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place. Oh, and it’s rumoured that Five execs paid a visit to Bill Huff, the fund manager who holds 20% of Telewest, in March.

Flextech would bring Bravo, Challenge, Living, Trouble and the half of UKTV that isn’t owned by BBC Worldwide.

With C4, Sony US and Disney also sniffing after Flextech, they’d better get a move on.

Telewest are keen to sell the company to get out of debt and concentrate on its upcoming marriage to NTL, and are looking for about UK£750 million (€1.1 billion) for it.


ITV to Invest More in Digital Brands

Good news if you’re over 35 and/or like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – the UK independent broadcaster, ITV is to invest UK£36 million in its two digital channels, ITV2 and ITV3, by scrapping its plans for a children’s channel and choosing instead to focus on News and its digital offerings.

This means that ITV2 has its programme making budget doubled to UK£24 million, and ITV3 gets UK£13 million for its launch later this year.

ITV2 is going to use that extra cash to buy in American imports to compete with Channel 4 and Sky – so rather than attract an audience with original programming it’s going to buy in the content that the others channels show in the hope that it will somehow wrestle views away from them.

By making the investment, ITV hope to triple their total revenues to UK£150 million (€225 million) by 2007. Net advertising revenues are up 4.9% over this period last year, but viewer share continues to fall.