Charter shows new hybrid "Worldbox"

Charter shows new hybrid “Worldbox”

by - Steven Hawley, special to CED

Charter Communications demonstrated its new QAM-IP hybrid WorldBox set-top box, a new cloud-based electronic program guide and user experience called Spectrum, and multiscreen delivery, at a Cisco reception at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show.

The Broadcom-based WorldBox is equipped with a coax connector used for MPEG-2 video over QAM now or for IP video in the future.  It also has a DOCSIS-3 network interface, an Ethernet connection, and USB ports front and back. As a purely HD solution, the WorldBox has only HDMI video-out.  A new remote control is RF based, not IR.

Charter executives noted that although Cisco was directly involved in the design and software integration, the philosophy behind both the WorldBox and Spectrum are to enable Charter to be less dependent on individual vendors.  If Charter wanted to accommodate security other than Cisco’s VideoGuard platform, or recommendation using an engine other than TiVo’s Digitalsmiths system, the solution has the flexibility to do so.

Each item listed in the Spectrum guide identifies the channel, the network, and displays a thumbnail-sized live video feed.  Movies are also available on-demand or through a transactional video store. The mobile app can be used both to view the experience on tablets and smartphones and to control the TV.  A proof-of-concept demonstration was also shown on a Roku box.

Charter is using ActiveVideo’s Cloud TV platform, which renders the entire user experience server-side, including the EPG video thumbnails, and delivers it as an MPEG stream. Because Spectrum is CPE-agnostic, Charter can support millions of existing set-tops: they demoed the same video and navigation experience side-by-side on the WorldBox, on eleven year-old Scientific Atlanta 3250 set-top boxes with a quarter of the power of the WorldBox, and on six year-old S-A 4640s. If the Comcast-TWC merger occurs, the experience would also be portable to systems that Charter would acquire as part of that transaction.

Other than stating that it would be available more broadly in 2015, Charter did not disclose when the WorldBox-Spectrum combo would be offered system-wide, but company officials said that its Dallas-Fort Worth (TX) trial has had no significant issues in achieving scale as the number of consumers increases there.   The trial passed the 50,000 user mark last summer.

Steven Hawley is principal analyst and consultant for tvstrategies

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