ActiveVideo CloudTV GuideCast: Delivering User Interfaces from the Cloud

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1 ActiveVideo CloudTV GuideCast: Delivering User Interfaces from the Cloud With the rise of modern smartphones and tablets, consumers can search for, browse, and view video content through slick, web-based user interfaces. Meanwhile, the screen that s the centerpiece of most consumers video experiences the family TV seems stuck in a time warp. Cable operators have more valuable content to offer their subscribers than ever before, but they re presenting that content through set-top box (STB) user interfaces that feel increasingly outdated. And it s not just appearance; functionality is also lagging behind. Consumers want simple, universal search and useful content recommendations. And, they want an intuitive, engaging user experience that extends consistently across all of the devices they use. These capabilities will not only make subscribers happier and more loyal, they will generate new revenues by connecting them more quickly with monetizable content and services. Unfortunately, evolving cable TV to provide state-of-the-art multi-screen user experiences is an enormous challenge. How can cable providers deliver more advanced features and UIs, across as many devices as possible, quickly, and at the lowest possible cost? The answer is in the cloud. ActiveVideo CloudTV GuideCast unleashes the user experience from device dependencies, letting cable operators render a state-of-the-art HTML5 user interface in the cloud, and deliver a consistent, branded TV experience to any device or screen. As a cloud-based platform built on ActiveVideo s CloudTV H5 technology, CloudTV GuideCast lets cable providers deliver these new experiences extremely quickly, at web scale, and at a lower total cost of ownership than conventional software systems. Extending the User Experience leads to Fragmentation Most service providers today view the extension of pay TV user experience to every device and screen subscribers want to use as a basic business requirement. Indeed, some people believe this is already a reality. But it s not. Even among the most aggressive cable operators, most have not yet managed to bring their experience to the broad base of devices their subscribers use. The reason: the very devices that are meant to connect. The unprecedented proliferation of mediacapable devices is slowing the progression, creating fragmented development environments and fractured user experiences. Consider: Each different type of consumer device connected devices, smart TVs, Blu-Ray players, over-the-top (OTT) streaming media players, gaming consoles, etc. requires its own native app. Netflix, for example, has hundreds of unique versions for all the devices it supports and requires a huge staff of engineers to maintain them. BBC s iplayer has more than 600 plus unique versions for all of the devices it supports! 2014 ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. 1

2 This level of device fragmentation creates significant challenges for cable operators, resulting in: High operational costs: Creating and maintaining hundreds of versions of software to account for each service (linear, on-demand, online) and interface for each different device represents a monumental operational effort. As the number of devices grows each year, those costs grow as well. Fractured user experience: As operators rely on different development environments to support each different platform, it becomes more difficult to create a consistent, branded experience for subscribers across all managed and unmanaged devices. Growing gap between TV and other screens: Deployed STBs and software typically cannot support modern UIs, but can t be simply thrown out and replaced. Even as operators roll out services like network-based DVR and casual gaming that should be readily monetized, the lack of features on legacy STB software (universal search, recommendations, advanced advertising) impedes real revenue growth. Slow pace of innovation: Fragmentation also hinders a cable operator s ability to be responsive to changing market and customer demands. While OTT competitors operate on timescales of days, cable operators rolling out next-generation video experiences need several months or even years. ActiveVideo CloudTV GuideCast ActiveVideo CloudTV GuideCast addresses these challenges by virtualizing the customer premise equipment (CPE) device. The ActiveVideo CloudTV H5 core software technology platform enables cable providers to virtualize CPE functions by removing the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) dependency on the CPE device and delivering pay-tv services and user experiences from the cloud at web scale. CloudTV GuideCast uses the CloudTV H5 software technology, a patented cloud rendering technology that eliminates the need to either develop separate UIs and guides for each different device, or to hobble the user experience to suit the limitations of older deployed STBs. Instead, cable providers can create a single, universal user experience and render it in the cloud using HTML5. They can then deliver that user experience to any device STB, connected TV, etc. as an interactive MPEG video stream. Figure 1. Advanced User Experience, on Any Device, from the Cloud With CloudTV GuideCast, cable providers can: Reduce complexity and costs: CloudTV GuideCast migrates UI development to the cloud, letting cable operators write their application once and deploy it everywhere across all STBs, connected TVs, gaming consoles, and other consumer devices. Accelerate innovation: By moving the UI to the cloud, cable providers can develop, test, and roll out new services much more quickly. They can be much more proactive and responsive to market demand continually creating new customer experiences and rapidly extending them to subscribers ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. 2

3 Unlock new revenues: CloudTV GuideCast lets cable operators bring a state-of-the-art UI to the TV and other devices, allowing them to monetize revenue-generating services across more screens. Delivering more features and a better user experience also improves subscriber loyalty and reduces churn. Scale new services efficiently: ActiveVideo has developed new video innovations in the underlying CloudTV H5 Platform to deliver superior scalability with minimal network impact. A single CloudTV H5 server can support thousands of devices simultaneously and reduce the total amount of bandwidth required in the video delivery network, even as cable providers deliver more advanced experiences. CloudTV GuideCast Platform Architecture In today s modern tablets and streaming media players, the most dynamic UIs are built using HTML5 technology. To bring HTML5 to the STB, however, service providers have traditionally needed clients capable of running a modern web browser something that millions of deployed cable STBs can t do. CloudTV GuideCast offers a better option: migrate the user interface to the cloud, and remove dependencies on the STB entirely. By rendering rich HTML5 functions in the cloud, cable operators need not limit the TV user experience to the capabilities of an aging STB and software environment. As long as an STB can decode MPEG, it can provide a state-of-theart interactive user experience. Figure 2. CloudTV GuideCast Architecture CloudTV GuideCast uses the following elements of the CloudTV H5 core software technology: Stitcher: The Stitcher is the heart of the CloudTV H5 platform. It combines an application engine, streaming engine, and a key session manager to control and deliver the entire user experience from the cloud. Stitcher executes and renders HTML5 applications and generates MPEG-2 and H.264-compliant video streams on a per-client basis. CloudTV Nano Clients: CloudTV Nano is a family of clients that enable the delivery of advanced, uniform TV experiences from the CloudTV Stitcher to a wide cross-section of digital set-top boxes (STBs) and connected devices, and even to the millions of first-generation digital STBs in the field today. These lightweight clients dubbed CloudTV Nano Lite, CloudTV Nanoware and CloudTV Nano, are downloaded to or pre-installed on any digital STB or consumer device. They primarily send user remote control key presses upstream, overcoming the resource limitations in any STB by shifting most UI processing to the data center ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. 3

4 Session Manager: The Session Manager provides all session management and control functions required to initiate, maintain and terminate CloudTV sessions to any CloudTV Client. It is also the integration point into any external control and management systems such as bandwidth, subscriber and systems administration systems. Transcoder: The Transcoder provides the capability to incorporate one or more video elements into HTML5 applications by ingesting and transcoding video in common formats from any source into a stitchable format for use by the Stitcher. Insight: The Insight Data Collector receives and gathers all CloudTV session-related and custom HTML5 usage event metrics. It interfaces with upstream data warehousing and reporting systems that can be used to perform detailed usage analysis for any CloudTV H5 application. CloudTV GuideCast Delivering the Guide from the Cloud Today s cable STB guide software systems provide a variety of functions for every interaction a subscriber has with the service, such as: Full-screen menus and program guides, usually with picture-in-graphics Partial-screen menus and guides that are overlaid on full-screen video Info bar graphics that display information about the program when a user changes channels or hits Info DVR menus and playback VOD catalogs, menus and playback Caller ID Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages With CloudTV GuideCast, most of these guide functions move to the cloud, and are delivered to the client STB as an interactive MPEG video stream over any QAM or IP network. For cable operators, ActiveVideo has mechanisms to deliver rich cloud-based services over QAM access networks with or without bandwidth and latency limitations. In cable networks, full-screen guide functions (i.e., the electronic programming guide [EPG], Main Menu or the video ondemand catalog menu) are rendered in the cloud and delivered to the STB as an interactive MPEG bitstream over the video QAM network. Guide functions that render partial-screen user interfaces displayed over full-screen video (i.e., info bar, quick menu, progress bar, etc.) can be handled in one of two ways: They can be processed in the cloud via a mechanism called Dual-Path Rendering (see below), or, using a hybrid cloud/local method called Hybrid Rendering (also described below), they can be implemented within CloudTV Nano Clients. Which approach a cable provider uses typically depends on the out-of-band (OOB)/return-path/control network. In low-bandwidth OOB networks, the CloudTV Nanoware client is used with the Hybrid Rendering approach, while in highbandwidth OOB networks, either CloudTV Nanoware or CloudTV Nano clients can be used. CloudTV Nano clients employ the Dual-Path Rendering platform innovation to efficiently deliver some guide elements over the OOB network (see below). In both methods, the Cloud TV Nano client replaces the existing STB middleware software and interfaces directly with the STB operating system via available application programming interfaces (APIs) and drivers. Hybrid Rendering with CloudTV Nanoware The Hybrid Rendering method, implemented with ActiveVideo s CloudTV Nanoware client, is ideal for low-bandwidth OOB access networks. (Although cable operators can also use CloudTV Nanoware in high-bandwidth OOB networks if they choose.) The main benefit of this method is to reduce the impact of full-screen CloudTV sessions within the video QAM network. It is especially effective when full-screen experiences account for a small fraction of the user experience, and the duration of use is fairly short (for example, environments where less than 20 percent of all guide usage is full-screen, and each use is less than two minutes). In this method, full-screen UIs are rendered in the cloud and sent to the STB via the video QAM, and partial-screen functions and UI elements are executed and rendered locally on the STB by the CloudTV Nanoware client. In this model, the CloudTV Nanoware client replaces the existing guide software on the client device. It captures partialscreen events generated by the user (i.e., info bar, channel change, etc.) and renders the UI graphics over any full-screen video. CloudTV Nanoware clients are optimized to transition smoothly between cloud-rendered full-screen guide functions and locally rendered partial-screen functions, so the user never notices a difference ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. 4

5 An added benefit of this implementation is an extra degree of resiliency in the system. If the network connection to the cloud were ever to fail, the subscriber would still retain all video services and all partial-screen guide experiences through the client STB. Figure 3: Hybrid Rendering using CloudTV Nanoware Dual-Path Rendering Dual-Path Rendering is one of the key innovations of the CloudTV H5 platform, allowing cable operators to simultaneously deliver any full-screen guide user interface and any partial-screen guide user interface from the cloud. This solution is ideal for cable operators using DOCSIS technology, which can support higher-bandwidth OOB communications in the access network. In this model, both the QAM video and OOB paths deliver elements of the UI. The video path delivers full-resolution MPEG, while the OOB path delivers the graphic images template (PNG, JPG, GIF, etc.) that make up the rest of the UI. Figure 4. Dual-Path Rendering Boosting Scalability and Reducing Network Impact While the basic functions of a guide can easily be ported into HTML5 and executed in the cloud, service providers are naturally concerned about the impact this might have on their network, and the scalability of the platform to satisfy high simultaneous usage. ActiveVideo has conducted exhaustive analysis and modeling of concurrent usage, in the lab as well as in live deployments in some of the largest cable systems in the world, to assure that cable providers can deliver advanced interactive UIs at scale without negatively impacting the infrastructure ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. 5

6 In addition to the Dual-Path Rendering innovation and Hybrid Rendering methods described previously, CloudTV GuideCast includes several new CloudTV H5 innovations that dramatically improve the scalability and bandwidth efficiency of the system. These include: Render Layers: Using this innovation, which is based on the Render Layers API within Webkit, the platform can now render and deliver rich user interfaces with smooth animations while reducing bitrate spikes by up to 50 percent and CPU resources by up to 25 percent. This reduces the amount of video network bandwidth consumed and allows an increase to the number of simultaneous sessions from the same server footprint. Smart Multiplexing: Typically, the CloudTV platform would negotiate and request bandwidth from an existing QAM Bandwidth Resource Manager (SRM) for each CloudTV session. Most QAMs require that bandwidth allocation requests are for Constant Bitrate (CBR) MPEG bitstreams. This means that the total number of sessions is limited by the fixed QAM capacity. However, typical CloudTV sessions are Variable Bitrate (VBR) MPEG streams, which means that there is significant probability that each CloudTV session will only utilize a fraction of the allocated bandwidth. With Smart Multiplexing, the CloudTV H5 platform will either request the maximum allowed or some pre-defined amount of bandwidth (such that it is capable of supporting multiple simultaneous CloudTV sessions) across one or more QAMs, and automatically manage and control the cumulative streaming bandwidth through them. Smart Multiplexing therefore allows each Stitcher to take into account the nature of the VBR UI streams and maximize use of the entire available QAM bandwidth capacity. If the cumulative bitrate of all the sessions exceeds the bandwidth capacity, the Stitcher will adjust the output bitrates and delay delivery of a small amount of video data from all bitstreams. Ultimately, this means that the platform can now deliver as much as 10 times the number of CloudTV sessions without exceeding the existing QAM network capacity. CloudTV Nano Lite, Nano, and NanoWare Clients: The latest generation of CloudTV clients, the Nano and NanoWare clients, incorporate all of the functionality of the previous-generation ActiveVideo client, with added capabilities to support Dual-Path Rendering or Hybrid Rendering functionality, as well as more advanced full-screen and partialscreen interface functions. CloudTV Nano clients make it easy to extend cable video services to over-the-top consumer devices. All of these modular clients accelerate implementation and deployment by allowing cable providers to easily extend common capabilities across all connected devices. Deliver Tomorrow s Cable TV Experience Today Yesterday s STB-based UIs have served cable operators well for many years, but cable customers are clamoring for an upgrade. As subscribers continue to enjoy more advanced experiences on their personal electronic devices, gaming consoles, and other gadgets, they wonder why they can t have the same experiences on the TV and why they can t port their cable TV experience to more devices. CloudTV GuideCast eliminates the barriers to delivering dynamic, state-of-the-art user experiences on the STB and every other screen or device. By unleasing the UI from device dependencies, CloudTV can help cable operators improve customer loyalty, lower operating costs, unlock new revenue-generating services, and radically accelerate the pace of innovation. The future of cable TV is now, and it s in the cloud. To find out more, visit ActiveVideo Networks, Inc. 6

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