Tag Archives: hbo

Satellite first, FTTH (much) later

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Not all crazy ideas are crazy.

Netflix is talking about delivering ultra high definition content to its subscribers, using the 4K video format currently under development. Real time streaming of 4K content will require something like a 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps connection. Or it could be downloaded, over time, to in-home hard drives at slower speeds.

Either way, it would strain existing networks. A gigabit is only possible with fiber. In theory, cable modem service can support 100 Mbps speeds, but only for a very limited number of homes in a given area and only intermittently over long periods of time. Just supporting a constant 10 Mbps stream for a day or two is problematic.

That’s why any nationwide 4K content distribution is likely to first come via satellite.

HBO, for example, could make a satellite stream of 4K content available to a national market of 120 million homes today, for more or less the same cost as deploying that service via a cable or FTTH system that serves a town of 20,000 homes. Even if you factor in the cost of the satellite capacity, it’s still in the same ballpark as building a small FTTH system.

Satellite companies, such as DirecTv and DISH, were the first and most aggressive HDTV content providers in the late 1990s. They made satellite broadcasting’s economies of scale work to their advantage. As more homes bought HDTV sets, the balance starting tipping toward cable companies and they upgraded plant, so they could provide HDTV within their systems, first on a broadcast basis and then, as HDTV penetration grew, as an on demand service.

Eventually online companies, like Netflix, got into the HDTV game. But only because demand for megabit-class Internet service grew to the point where it could be deployed to and adopted by the majority of U.S. homes. HDTV was only one of many factors driving that demand.

It will take ten to fifteen years for the price of 4K technology to drop and consumer adoption to rise to current HDTV levels. At that point, it will be a demand driver for FTTH networks. In the meantime, look to satellite companies to lead.

HBO legend sees a long road to 4K television

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Zitter didn’t just look into the future, he made it.

Bob Zitter, HBO’s revered chief technology officer, retires this month, ending more than thirty years at the cutting edge of television technology. In a valedictory keynote at the TV Connect conference in London, Zitter expressed near-term skepticism about the future of 3D and 4K television technology, but held out long term hope.

HBO tried offering 3D content, but Zitter said they never believed in it. The stumbling block is the need to wear special glasses, something consumers don’t want to do at home. “3D with glasses is dead“, he said, according to reporting by Television Business International and others at the event.

Screen size will limit any future market for 4K technology, an ultra-high definition format that doubles both the horizontal and vertical pixel count, he thinks. In order for resolution that fine to make a difference, the screen needs to be in the 60 to 70-inch range. Some consumers have enough room in their homes, but most don’t. Given current technology.

And that’s the key. Thin screen technology – think wallpaper or paneling – would change the equation if it’s ever developed. So would using 4K technology to eliminate the need for 3D glasses, according to Zitter. It’s not happening anytime soon. Despite showcasing demo units, glass-less 3D is ten years out on Samsung’s road map.

It’ll take ten to fifteen years to fully bake ultra-HD technology and move it into the market. That was the HDTV experience. Along with HBO and others, the company I was with in the 1990s – U.S. Satellite Broadcasting – tested and promoted HDTV for years before equipment prices dropped and consumers started buying it in volume.

Netflix’s public embrace of 4K notwithstanding, HBO is better positioned to capitalize on it when the time comes. As a satellite-based distributor, HBO can plausibly deliver the necessary 100 Mbps-minimum real time streams to a national audience, albeit on a broadcast basis.

Now, who was the guy who put HBO into the direct-to-home business? And pioneered the technology? Yeah. Bob Zitter.