Tag Archives: Microsoft

IBC Report – Microsoft considers Canvas as possible Mediaroom feature

Microsoft is considering supporting the UK Canvas specification – backed by a BBC, ITV and BT joint venture – as a possible feature of its Mediaroom IPTV suite, but only if it is genuinely open.

The suggestion came from Ted Malone, senior director of product management for TV, video, music and platform business at Microsoft, when Connected TV met up with him at IBC.

“If it proceeds as an open approach,” said Malone, “we could add support as a feature of Mediaroom.” Malone said that Microsoft would be paying close attention to the Canvas specification, when it finally emerges, to see if it included any proprietary standards. If so, Microsoft would not consider it to be “an open format.”

Malone declined to comment on what role BT Vision might play within the Canvas venture (a source of considerable speculation at IBC) , but, since this incorporates Mediaroom technology, albeit in a limited implementation, it does suggest one way in which the hybrid concept could be extended to accommodate Canvas. That, of course, will depend on what technology elements the Canvas venture eventually decides to incorporate in its specification, and whether it gets regulatory approval.

Malone pointed out that Microsoft was itself in the process of refashioning Mediaroom to make it a more open platform: for instance, he said, the current Windows Media Player DRM used in its IPTV suite was viewed as having reached the end of its working-life. It would now be replaced by PlayReady, a next-generation DRM product which is already part of the Silverlight platform.

This would make it easier for a Mediaroom set-top box to stream protected video content to other devices in the home. “We’re looking to migrate all of our proprietary DRM [to PlayReady],” Malone said.

The move reflects increasing convergence between the Mediaroom product – intended for managed IPTV platforms – and Microsoft’s ‘over-the-top’ technologies. For instance, Mediaroom will be extended to support Silverlight itself as well as the PlayReady DRM it incorporates. It will also adopt Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming technology. This adapts the quality of the video stream in real time, based upon the consumer’s changing bandwidth and the performance of his or her device, to minimise buffering time and offer faster startup times.

“Mediaroom will embrace these and extend the reach of the Mediaroom service,” said Malone.

Connected TV views this as a natural progression: as the performance and reliability of consumers’ broadband links increases and offers a video experience more akin to that of a managed IPTV network, the need for Microsoft to support two entirely distinct product lines is disappearing.

Microsoft and Tesco partner for UK launch of downloadable ‘virtual DVDs’

We kick off our IBC blogging today with a story about a tie-up between UK supermarket giant Tesco and Microsoft in the UK, who announced this morning that they jointly plan to offer a service this autumn which would allow DVD and Blu-ray quality ‘virtual DVD’ copies of movies to be downloaded for replay on PCs and Macs.The new service, built on Microsoft Silverlight technology, will include interactive features and other add-ons which the partners claim will offer a viewing experience that “goes beyond other digital playback products in the marketplace.”

The basic idea itself is not entirely new, in that it only applies to Tesco customers purchasing certain home video titles from their stores. So in addition to watching them through their DVD players on the TV screen, they will also be able to download a digital copy to a PC elsewhere in the home.

What is new, arguably, is making the DVD ‘bonus’ features available in this way on downloadable content, closing the gap between what is available on a physical disk and a virtual copy. The other significant aspect of the deal is simply that it involves Tesco – one of the UK’s home video sell-through giants. They have enough market power to firmly embed such a service in the UK market, providing it appeals to their customers.

One might also suggest that – if what is being offered is really ‘Blu-ray’ quality in some cases (which will involve quite a lengthy download!) – the (unidentified) Hollywood majors backing the venture appear pretty confident about using a software-based DRM system such as Microsoft’s to protect digital versions of HD premium movie content.

Microsoft hopes to extend this Silverlight-based concept to other markets in due course.

At IBC, Connected TV will be meeting Gabriele Di Piazza, senior director for the Media & Entertainment business in the Communications Sector at Microsoft, to quiz him about the new service and other recent developments.

We plan to post live from the show.

VimpelCom’s ‘Beeline TV’ IPTV service launches in Russia with Microsoft Mediaroom

Russian telco VimpelCom, which tied up an agreement with Microsoft to deploy Mediaroom just under a year ago (see our previous post), has launched its Beeline TV service – the first implementation of Microsoft’s IPTV technology in the Russian/CIS market.

The move follows a successful commercial trial of the Microsoft platform by VimpelCom under the Corbina TV brand. Corbina Telecom is a subsidiary of VimpelCom.

Intriguingly, Microsoft’s original press release about the deal said the service would launch in ‘mid-2008′ – a statement we repeated at the time. Connected TV now assumes that was a typo! Otherwise, there’s been almost a year’s delay. Microsoft has now told Connected TV that a mid-2008 commercial launch had indeed been envisaged, and accepts there has effectively been a delay of nearly a year. Microsoft puts this down to the fact that it had agreed the trial with Corbina Telecom before its acquisition by VimpelCom.

Whatever the precise reasons for the delay, the deployment is a potentially major one for Microsoft: Beeline currently has in excess of 800,000 broadband subscribers in Russia, but the VimpelCom Group also has companies operating in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Armenia.

As of September 30, 2008, VimpelCom’s total number of active subscribers in Russia and the CIS was 57.8 million (including 45.1 million in Russia, 5.6 million in Kazakhstan, 3.1 million in Uzbekistan and 2.4 million in Ukraine).

Beeline TV subs will be able to access typical PVR functionality, some 3,000 on-demand programmes and movies, 125 channels (including 4 HD channels), as well as soccer matches from the Russian Premier League, Russian Championship and indoor Russian Championship.

Subscribers to the Beeline TV service will be offered the base package (100 channels) for 270 Rubles (€6.16) per month and the advanced package (125 Channels) for 495 Rubles (€11.29) per month with on-demand shows from 5-100 Rubles (€0.11-2.28).

IPTV World Forum: AT&T U-verse and the multi-room, multi-screen, networked future

Day Two of the IPTV World Forum began for Connected TV with a presentation from Griff Parry, director of on-demand at BSkyB, who (as Sky executives are always prone to at such events) ended his remarks by playing the audience a glossy promotional video. This showed how a typical multi-screen Sky household in 2012 might be consuming the pay-TV operator’s content.

Parry cautioned that some of the functionalities the promo displayed – which included amongst other features personalised EPGs for each family member, and the ability to pause a PVR-recorded programme in one room and pick it up from the same point in another – would not necessarily be available within a three-year time-frame, if at all.

Interesting, then, to contrast this take on the future from one of Europe’s leading TV technology innovators with a presentation to analysts at the end of the day from Franz Kurath, AT&T’s executive director of broadband content and converged services. This showed, among other things, that the ability to swap PVR content mid-play between different TV sets – a relatively distant possibility, according to the Sky presentation – was already a reality for US customers, through AT&T’s Microsoft Mediaroom-powered U-verse IPTV platform.

In addition, U-verse’s Total Home DVR allows up to 5 HD streams to be viewed simultaneously, said Kurath – two being consumed live, with three being streamed off the Total Home DVR. This box acts as the master, with standard U-verse receivers attached to other TV sets acting as ‘slaves’ – although the user experience on each TV set remains identical. The same recorded show can also be accessed, played back and controlled independently on up to 4 separate TV sets.

Such technology does not come cheap, of course. As Connected TV noted in a previous post, AT&T has twice had to scale back the U-verse project, increasing its spend on the rollout (to close to $5bn) while reducing its coverage. And though U-verse now has more than 1m subscribers enjoying its advanced features, AT&T admitted in its Q4 08 results that it now expects to reach its previously announced target of 30m homes passed, in 2011 – a year later than originally planned. Currently, it’s passing 17m.

Will the investment have been worth it? AT&T’s corporate line is vague, stating that it expects “U-verse services to become a multi-billion-dollar revenue opportunity over the next few years,” a phrase Kurath repeated almost word-for-word last night.

Certainly, the service appears to work well. Kurath noted that J.D. Power had accorded it the highest customer satisfaction levels for video service in those regions where it was available, and it has already received a number of awards – including 2009 Consumer Communications Service Product of the Year from Frost & Sullivan.

The comparison between BSkyB tomorrow and AT&T today is a little invidious, perhaps. AT&T enjoys late-mover advantage, allowing it to benefit from the latest technologies. BSkyB is much more constrained in what it is able to achieve given that it needs to address a legacy platform dating back to 1998, and not only a less mature broadband and networked home environment, but a less advanced HDTV one, too.

Another key difference, arguably, is that BSkyB is a dominant pay-TV operator. AT&T is not, competing against established digital satellite players in the form of DirecTV and Dish Network on the one hand and cable incumbents such as Comcast on the other. So as challenger AT&T needs state-of-the-art feature-sets such as those offered by the U-verse Total Home DVR to differentiate itself from the competition.

BSkyB can afford to be a little more relaxed, perhaps: neither Virgin Media’s cable platform nor BT Vision are about to offer such a rich multi-room feature-set any time soon.

(Declaration of interest: Microsoft Mediaroom sponsors the Connected TV blog)