Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Interactive TV -- Ya Gotta See It

Interactive TV? We know you've heard it a million times. And in the end, the consumers will decide what they want. But this time, the cable industry seems to be ready. We went to the most recent cable show in Washington, DC and interactivity was everywhere--from the suburban home at the Broadband Nation exhibit to myriad demos on the show floor.

The difference now is that MSOs, technology vendors and content providers are all rallying around tru2way, a common software platform for building interactive applications. With tru2way, creators of interactive services will be able to "write" an interactive application once and have it run on any cable system that supports the specification.

Tru2way requires a fairly powerful set top box. Since the deployment of this new infrastructure will take some time, the industry defined a simplified data format for interactive applications, called EBIF ( Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format ) that can run on legacy boxes with more limited resources.

We believe that writing about interactive apps is no substitute for seeing them in action, so we shot over an hour of video and edited it into 15 segments that we've posted on You Tube and embedded in our report. The video segments are about Panasonic's tru2way, ADBs set-back box, AMDOCS tru2way Service Activation, NDS tru2way Unified User Interface, Alticast, Integra5 MediaFriends, itaas, Zodiac Interactive, TAG Networks (see these at for tru2way. See also for EBIF appications inclduding Starz, Biap and ActiveVideo.

Will this time be the magic charm? The time may finally be right for couch potatoes to spend part of their time interacting and not just blobbing!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Three Faces of "Digital"

The Digital Transition – What's All This "Digital" Stuff About?

There has been much confusion over the many things that are happening with respect to television when it comes to “digital” TV . This is entirely understandable since the word “digital” is being used to mean three different things. Here is a summary of the three meanings.

1. “US Digital Television Transition”: This relates to the way TV signals are broadcast over the air.

The US government decided to switch the way that free, over-the-air TV signals are broadcast from TV stations to TVs that receive their signals via antennas or “rabbit ears”. All TV stations now broadcast these over-the-air signals in a digital format, and the old analog format used for more than 60 years is being discontinued. The date for the government-mandated switchover had been set for February 17, 2009 but was recently extended to June 12, 2009.
a. Despite this date change, some broadcast stations have stuck with the earlier switch over date.
b. Consumers getting their TV signals from cable, satellite or telephone companies are not directly affected by this change. However, those service providers are making other changes that may result in changes in what a consumer receives.
c. Consumers without cable or satellite service can still receive TV over-the-air on their old analog sets by purchasing a converter box, for which the government has been issuing $40 credit coupons. The converter box decodes broadcast digital TV signals and converts them so they can be displayed on an analog TV set.

2. “Digital TV sets & HDTV sets”: This relates to the TV set itself.
“Digital” in front of the word TV (“DTV”) means that the TV set itself can process digital signals (ones and zeros). These sets provide better picture quality and can process additional information contained in the digital TV signal.

Nearly all digital TVs are high definition TVs (HDTVs) which means that they can display the highest-quality digital signals. These sets can display a wider picture (16x9 aspect ratio); all have built-in tuners to receive broadcast digital TV.

Some broadcast digital TV channels are in 16x9 “high definition” (HD) and others are in the familiar 4x3 “standard definition”. Digital TVs can display both types.

3. “Digital Cable Service”: This relates to cable companies using digital technology to provide many more TV channels in additional “digital service” tiers.
Cable companies have been making a gradual transition from analog to digital. Comcast’s “Digital” services currently include many analog channels, including the local broadcast stations that no longer broadcast analog signals. All cable operators have announced their intention to reduce the number of analog channels to make room for more HD channels.

Today’s digital TVs are not equipped to tune digital cable services directly – this requires a converter box from the cable provider. With a converter box, digital cable service can be received on both analog and digital TVs. If a consumer wants HD service from the cable provider, they are provided with a more powerful HDTV converter box and may need to subscribe to additional HDTV channels. Only a digital TV can display HD pictures.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An Opportunity To Help Someone

If you're looking for a blog entry about broadband, you can skip this one.

Yesterday, I read an article in the NY Times by Dexter Filkins, titled Afghan Girls, Scarred by Acid, Defy Terror, Embracing School . As a woman who went to Vassar in the days when it was still a women's college, I was particularly moved by the story of these girls, who, despite brutal intimidation, continue to pursue their education. I decided to write to the reporter and ask how I could help.

I have gotten a response from Mr. Filkins and am about to send a check to him, made out to the “Mirwais School Fund,” as explained in his email to me (below). I thought that some of my friends, relatives and colleagues might also be interested in contributing, which is the reason for letting you know about this. Here is the email from Dexter:

"Hi, thank you very much for writing about the girls at Mirwais School. They are a very inspiring bunch.

Thanks for offering to help. I’m happy to say that I have been deluged by letters from readers.
They don't really have banks to speak of here, and I'm not sure I would trust giving any money to the government. My address is below. I am in Kandahar, Afghanistan at the moment, so there is no bank account for the girls or the school. (I can do that when I get back to the U.S. later this month.)

If you feel like you can trust me, then make a check out to me­Dexter Filkins. Or, write it to the “Mirwais School Fund,” which I will set up when I get back to the U.S. later this month.
Until then I won’t cash any checks. Please specify what you would like done with the money­for the school, or for Shamsia, the burned girl. I can let you know how the money is spent and send you photos and updates. I am trying to find a plastic surgeon for Shamsia; I have already been contacted by a foundation in Switzerland that may be able to perform the surgery.

I don't really recommend sending stuff­school supplies, for instance. It is very difficult to move in and out of the area, as it is under siege by the Taliban. And the mail and roads and such like here are so bad---I just don't know how it could be pulled off with any degree of certainty.

If I cannot find anything worth while to spend your money on, I will send it back to you.

The girls need every cent, and I am sure they would be thrilled to know that someone from the outside world cares about them. It isn't often that any one of us can change a life, so I will take great care.

My address:

The New York Times
Attention: Dexter Fillkins
Foreign Desk
620 8th Ave.
New York, NY 10018

Thanks very much again.


I feel comfortable with the arrangement Dexter has suggested. You can learn more about him at and his acclaimed book at

If any of you are moved to send additional contributions to this fund and let me know you have done so, I will try to send additional contributions--not to match yours (I don't think I could manage that) but at least to add more to the fund.

Thanks for reading this and for your kind thoughts for the girls of the Mirwais School.

Vassar 1961 (yes-- I really am that old--but don't feel like it one bit.)