CES: Cisco Says Videoscape Platform Still Top Priority


A year ago at the Consumer Electronics Show, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers introduced Videoscape, a home entertainment platform for service providers, describing it as a key part of the networking giant's video strategy.

Since then, Cisco has undergone a major restructuring and discontinued several product lines. Enrique Rodriguez, head of Cisco's Service Provider Video Technology Group, left the company last August. Yet Videoscape is still alive and kicking.

In fact, although Chambers is giving CES a miss this year, Videoscape remains a top priority for Cisco, which still believes that video will eventually be as lucrative as VoIP, said Kip Compton, vice president of strategy and product management in Cisco's Service Provider Video division, in an interview Tuesday at CES.

"Videoscape is our biggest bet in video. Throughout this process [of restructuring], the focus on Videoscape has actually increased, just by virtue of the fact that we got out of a lot of other businesses, like Flip cameras," Compton said.

Videoscape uses a combination of software and hardware and combines digital television, online video content, and social media. It's built on the technology Cisco gained from its $6.9 billion acquisition of Scientific Atlanta in 2005.

At CES, Cisco is talking about how it's using the cloud to allow service providers deliver their content to devices other than televisions, such as smartphones and tablets, through the Videoscape platform.

One new addition is the 9800 Series multi-screen gateway, a set-top box that can handle IP content and connectivity as well as traditional MPEG-2 QAM, the technology that most service providers use today to deliver digital television.

The 9800 Series lets users watch and record six video streams simultaneously, and comes with ample storage and a powerful processor that can deliver high definition and 3D content. And because it can process IP content, the 9800 Series is deisgned to be future proof, according to Compton.

"It's essentially a better DVR set-top than they're buying today," he said.

The multi-screen gateway can also bring the content, either from the QAM or IP side, into the home network, where it can then be transmitted to PCs and devices, said Compton.

"Operators can take the high definition signals that are already on their cable platform, translate them and put them onto the home network in a format that devices like the iPad can play," he said. "This means that operators can bring these other devices into the mix without putting additional load onto the network. "

Cisco is also adding new capabilities for on demand and live television to its adaptive bit rate (ABR) digital media processing and video encoding portfolio. Cisco picked up a big chunk of this technology in its $95 million acquisition of Inlet Technologies last February, and customers like MLB.tv and the NFL use it to deliver video services, Compton said.

Another new offering, Videoscape Voyager Virtual, is software that connects to the legacy MPEG-2 set-top boxes that service providers already have in consumers' homes to the cloud, allowing these devices to handle IP video and applications.

"We're using the set-top boxes as a very thin client from an IP perspective," said Compton.

For modern set-top boxes, Cisco is offering Videoscape Voyager, which adds a full Web stack and allows service providers to take advantage of cloud services, including social media applications, programming guides and Internet video.

"A lot of this is about service providers trying to figure out how to get that content to consumer on a lot more devices than just their television set," said Compton.

That's easier said than done, though. Compton said that while service providers are on board with Videoscape, some are still unclear about how to handle the challenges involved in moving to the platform. These are the customers Cisco is aiming for with the Videoscape improvements.

"They need help in getting there," he said. "They're running large businesses with millions of subscribers running on a technology that's not really IP based, and which doesn't really interface with new Web technologies.

Despite the slow uptake with some service providers, Cisco is still bullish on Videoscape, and realized all along that it's a long term play that would take years to fully develop, said Compton said.

"We work with enough large service providers to know that their networks don't change overnight, and there's billions in capital investment they've already made that needs to be leveraged," he said.

"Service providers are in a great position to deliver video services. If you look at amount of bandwidth needed to deliver live television to 100 million people, the public Internet is probably not ready for that, for many reasons."