Update Logic, a Southborough, Mass.-based firm that can fix problems in digital TV sets by sending software patches over the airwaves, has reached a sweeping agreement with the cable industry to support its technology over cable wires. After a successful field trial with several major cable operators and TV-set manufacturers, last week Update Logic signed a nonexclusive agreement with cable tech consortium CableLabs to enable its “in-band” distribution of software updates over cable networks.
The agreement could help spur adoption of digital cable-ready TV sets, which allow subscribers to enjoy premium and on-demand programming without a set-top box, by enabling manufacturers to remotely update their software to fix problems or support new applications.
Update Logic’s UpdateTV product is designed to use the digital broadcast spectrum to deliver software patches from set makers, eliminating the cost of sending a technician to a viewer’s home or mailing an update on a USB drive or flash-memory card.
USING THE MPEG-2 STREAM
The system is based on the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s (ATSC) A/97 standard, the Software Data Download Service, which defines specifications for downloading software to terminal devices using an MPEG-2 transport stream.
Since it’s based on A/97, UpdateTV is also compatible with CableLab’s OpenCable Common Download (OCAP) spec and can deliver updates to OCAP-compliant devices that hook directly to a cable connection.
Update Logic aims to license its system to set manufacturers, which would install a small software client during manufacture to allow their sets to receive updates.
The company is currently negotiating with several major manufacturers, says Patrick Sansonetti, Update Logic VP of sales and marketing, and expects the service to be available in mid 2007, when that year’s TV-set models start to ship.
To deliver the software fixes over the air, the company has secured a slice of DTV spectrum from roughly 200 PBS stations through National Datacast, a PBS subsidiary that aggregates spectrum for datacasting applications.
A DTV set receiving over-the-air signals will automatically get the updates. Through the CableLabs agreement, says Sansonetti, cable operators will now also pass through UpdateTV’s program- identifier data (PID) without stripping it out. That may require some operators to make a 15-minute modification to their digital cherry-picking devices.
FIELD TRIALS COMMENCE
According to Sansonetti, Update Logic tested the system with Insight in Indianapolis, Cox and Time Warner in San Diego, and Comcast in Denver and Boston, all markets where Update Logic has functional data servers at PBS stations. Four manufacturers—Sony, Hitachi, Sharp and Samsung—participated in the field trial.
“They integrated our technology into their devices,” Sansonetti says, “and most went to two or three markets.”
Jud Cary, deputy general counsel for CableLabs, says the field trials were successful and the UpdateTV system “very easy to implement” by cable operators. “For them,” he says, “there’s not a whole lot to do, as most of the bits are passed through anyway.”
Dallas Clement, senior VP of strategy and development for Cox, concurs, noting that UpdateTV provides consumer-electronics manufacturers with a path to the TV that doesn’t rely on cable or require cable operators to add anything to their existing data carousels.
The company is still working on technology that will allow its updates to be passed through a digital set-top box to a DTV set. That is how the majority of such sets are used, although digital-cable-ready sets that use a removable “CableCARD” PCM/CIA card for conditional-access functionality are expected to grow in popularity. So far, fewer than 200,000 CableCARDs have been deployed.
Update Logic may also be getting some competition in the software-patch market. In a preview of Gemstar-TV Guide’s latest electronic program guides in New York, Gemstar-TV Guide On Screen President Thomas Carson said his company, which also leases spectrum from PBS stations, is interested in providing set makers with “firmware” update capabilities alongside its core business of licensing electronic program guide software.
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