Japan's J:COM thinks outside the (set top) box
Japanese cable network J:COM used cloud technology to provide a completely new VOD experience to its subscribers without having to update its set top boxes. Neal Romanek reports
J:COM, aka Jupiter Telecommunications, is one of Japan's largest multi-channel operators. Recently the company employed ActiveVideo, a joint venture of Arris and Charter Communications, to revamp its VOD offerings with a new cloud virtualised user interface.
ActiveVideo’s Cloud TV gives J:COM’s subscribers a web-like video-on-demand experiences using their existing set-top boxes. With ActiveVideo’s Cloud TV GuideCast platform, pay-TV operators can add to current STB functionality by offering data straight from the cloud. The HTML5 user interface operating in the cloud can operate independently of set top box CPU speeds, memory size and graphics capabilities.
The resulting J:COM user experience includes greater responsiveness, a larger, improved display, and the ability to personalise searches. The browser-based environment allows J:COM to quickly update the user experience and to be far more agile in making content available and adding new services. Most importantly, it allows the user experience to be completely overhauled without having to send out new set top boxes.
As we all know, internet technology doesn’t stand still
GuideCast delivers its output as an interactive MPEG video stream to any cable QAM or IP STB that is supported by a downloadable or preinstalled client with a CloudTV Nano module.
“The user interface is the customer’s point of entry to our on-demand library,” said Masaaki Agaya, general manager, service planning division for J:COM. “The power of the cloud has enabled us to offer our subscribers a next-generation UX that overnight is opening the door to engaging new viewing experiences on the same familiar set-top boxes.”
Outside the box
ActiveVideo was founded in the early 1990’s. Back then, before anyone ever heard of the cloud technology, the company created a remote UI server technology. Over time the technology evolved to become Cloud TV. Cloud TV is the most widely deployed server technology for rendering TV user experience in the cloud. The first major deployment of Cloud TV was in 2008.
Jeff Miller, president and CEO of ActiveVideo, describes the platform: “Cloud TV is basically an HTML 5 rendering system. It runs virtualised server farms which take most of the functionality that would be required in a set top box and instead runs it in the cloud.
“What most operators like about rendering in the cloud is that it doesn’t require a new device, and they can just use what they already have,” Miller explains. “The first big advantage is that most devices manufactured a few years ago didn’t support browsers in the box. If you want to run a modern user experience that is browser-based, it can be effectively impossible to run it in the hardware you have. But by using our remote cloud browser technology you can use those old devices.
"But even when a device is modern and is able to run a browser in the box, you run into other problems with versioning and updates of that browser," he continues. "As we all know, internet technology doesn’t stand still. We update software all the time on our laptops and PC’s, and still, those devices become obsolete in just a few years. And a set-top box may not be replaced for seven to ten years - or more. It doesn’t take long for software technology to exceed the capability of the device in the home, no matter when it was shipped.
"Everyone knows that consumers don’t like to have to call the cable company and have them come into their home and replace their hardware. But now we can update at the speed of the internet.”
J:COM is using the new cloud capabilities to reimagine its VOD interface and enable expedited content discovery, which it believes is a key factor in driving on-demand viewing.
“We virtualised the rendering of the VOD UI system which will allow J:COM customers to find VOD content more easily. It’s a much more modern experience. And by virtualising, no box is required, which was important for J:COM because they were able to reach most of their footprint of users without having to do a major update of all their devices.”