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  1. How Can Cable Maintain Video Quality Supremacy?

    By Dan Dodson and Michael Rogombe-Williams, IBB Consulting Cable video competition has expanded to include over-the-top (OTT) providers like Sling, Hulu and Netflix, and hybrids like Layer 3 as some of these players begin to offer linear services. Cable is responding with new and improved user interfaces, and better content. But in every competitive market, a central question exists: Does cable really have a quality advantage that's worth the price premium? Features and content are tenuous fronts on which to battle. OTT operators have access to the same content, are acquiring exclusive deals and in many ways are freer to develop new features. Cable is not going to win in a price competition and would rather not have to compete on that front. But one critical area of differentiation where it can maintain a competitive edge is the quality of video it delivers. Cable operators can control destiny with video quality Operators not only control content processing end to end, but also the pipes. This provides the opportunity to monitor and correct every part of the delivery process. However, as Internet pipes get faster and faster, they may be big and quick enough to allow any OTT provider to offer superior 4K quality. So what best practices can the cable industry leverage to ensure a competitive edge on video quality? IBB Consulting surveyed five top North American cable operators about how they are approaching delivery of the best quality video. In these discussions, we took a deep dive into how they are ingesting video, processing it and ensuring that it reaches subscribers intact. Ingest is moving closer to the source Cable operators that distribute video to millions of subscribers are successfully centralizing and "gold-plating" ingest operations. Large operators are able to leverage national scale to absorb the associated costs. Until recently, best practices in video ingest meant establishing national headends where national feeds could be received via satellite or fed via fiber to the operator's encode site using mezzanine streams (20 Mpbs or so). At these centralized facilities, video is re-encoded and multiplexed into set-top box-ready multi-program transport streams (MPTSs) or single-program transport streams (SPTSs). These streams use MPEG-2 transport protocols to send video over quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) through the hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) plant. Recently, operators have negotiated with programmers to place encoders at the programmer's point of presence where uncompressed inputs can be fed directly into an encoder. This improves quality by allowing the video to be compressed only once instead of two or three times. It also saves costs by requiring that only the relatively low bit rate final video feed be transmitted from the programmer to the operator's network. Some operators are moving to simplify video operations from managing two streams per channel (QAM and IP) back to just one. IP video devices require an adaptive bitrate (ABR) feed that provides multiple profiles of video encoded with MPEG-4 at varying bitrates (i.e., profiles) and then broken up into 2- to 3-second video fragments (i.e., files). Video is delivered over QAM in MPEG-2 transport streams. The best practice for ensuring video operations are simplified is to ingest the video once in MPEG-4 and into all of the needed profiles. Where MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 over MPEG-2 transport stream is required, MPEG-4 source is converted at the edge and delivered through the edge QAM. Ingest quality monitoring is "gold-plated" As new channels or encoders are added to lineups, outputs are carefully evaluated and engineered using specialized tools and "expert" eyes to yield the best trade-off between quality and available bandwidth. Reducing the number of encoding points throughout the delivery system also means fewer failure and monitoring points. Some operators use an economy of scale approach to combine all ingest in just a few redundant locations, which makes the ROI for monitoring at each stage of video ingest and processing, even for ad insertion, more compelling. Gold-plated monitoring is accomplished using deep frame inspection monitors such as those available from Cheetah or Tektronix. These monitors analyze video signals before and after compression. This allows operators to immediately detect loss of video in the feed and abnormalities in both the signal from programmer or with the encode equipment. Delivery to edge monitoring is widespread Video MPTSs and SPTSs for both HD and SD content are distributed through an operator's backbone and regional network. Typically, they are carried via IP multicasts that efficiently traverse routers to regional headends where they are either fed directly into edge QAMs or receive additional processing for ad insertion. Alternatively, at least one major operator uses anycast into edge QAMs to protect against issues related to IP address re-provisioning, network configuration changes and convergence-related latency issues potentially interrupting signal flow to the edge. Additional monitoring is used along this delivery path to verify that the MPEG video signal carried in the MPTS or SPTS is healthy. Light frame inspection equipment, typically using products such as IneoQuest, are used to monitor the video and report missing MPEG frames to the relevant video network operations center (NOC). Some operators use "crawler"-like tools to perform occasional deeper inspections. This is an added layer of quality monitoring that can cost-effectively provide deep inspection of video frames closer to the edge. Customer perception monitoring is more challenging Some operators have placed equipment at the end of the line to monitor video quality in a round robin fashion. Others do periodic "customer panel" comparisons of competitive video providers to assess general quality levels. However, most cable operators rely on set-top box signal measurements and customer-reported troubles to identify and troubleshoot last-mile video quality issues. Also, there is no widely accepted standard for video quality that an operator might use to compare its own signal to that of a competitor's. It is reasonable to consider that if there were, whether it would have currency in the eyes of customers. Could such a standard provide a basis for competition in the industry? Encoders and other signal processing devices are calibrated with the help of industry consortiums such as CableLabs. Could they be the key to the development of such standards? A video quality standard that is measurable across cable and OTT video would allow facilities-based operators create a defensible position in the battle to keep premium customers. A look ahead As operators seek to maintain an edge in delivery of the best quality video, two trends are driving opportunities in quality monitoring. Consumers are viewing more time-shifted content (VOD and DVR). Conceptually, time-shifting allows operators to do more to improve ingest quality than they can with existing real-time video encoding. Encode errors could be detected and repaired. Additional compute power and time could be applied to the encode process. Another trend is the move to IP and specifically ABR. While this is not a new occurrence, the benefit is that once a video stream is converted to a series of video fragment files, it's straightforward for a video player in a set-top box to report whether it missed a fragment or not. Operators have a strong handle on efficiently delivering the best quality video for a range of content and from a range of sources. Moving forward, it will be important to maintain a focus on the underlying network's reliability in delivering quality to help maintain a competitive edge. Dan Dodson is a fellow and Michael Rogombe-Williams is a principal with IBB Consulting .

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    Mon, 7 Nov 2016

  2. SVA Releases Open Caching, QoE Guidelines

    At its quarterly member meeting in New York, the Streaming Video Alliance released its Open Caching Systems Functional Requirements ...

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    Thu, 12 May 2016

  3. IneoQuest se vuelve virtual

    IneoQuest Technologies ha lanzado tres de sus productos de garantía de calidad de vídeo en formatos virtuales escalables, para su uso en las redes construidas en torno a la función de virtualización de red (NFV) y los principios de redes definidas por software (SDN).

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    Wed, 24 Feb 2016

  4. IneoQuest Goes Virtual

    IneoQuest Technologies has released three of its video quality assurance products in scalable virtualized formats, for use in networks built ...

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    Fri, 19 Feb 2016

  1. BTR Cable-Tec Expo Executive Interview - IneoQuest

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    Wed, 21 Oct 2015

  2. IneoQuest Targets Video Quality

    At the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans, IneoQuest Technologies will be showcasing its latest test and measurement tools for both ...

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    Fri, 9 Oct 2015

  3. IneoQuest Technologies Expedus DVA IP 4.0

    The Expedus DVA IP, release 4.0, measures both QoS and QoE parameters for linear multicast IP and OTT/ABR streaming networks. It ...

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    Sun, 27 Sep 2015

  4. KDG Taps IneoQuest for Online Video Metrics

    German cable operator Kabel Deutschland has deployed IneoQuest Technologies ' Audience Measurement Platform for Adaptive ...

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    Mon, 13 Jul 2015

  5. IneoQuest , Anritsu Partner to Improve Customer Experience

    IneoQuest says it will integrate its behavioral video analytics solution, the Audience Measurement Platform (AMP), with Anritsu's customer...

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    Tue, 2 Jun 2015

  6. IneoQuest to Show Mobile Video Analytics

    At Mobile World Congress 2015, IneoQuest Technologies will showcase a video customer experience management (vCEM) solution that ...

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    Thu, 19 Feb 2015

  7. IneoQuest Video Analytics Talk to Subs' Devices

    IneoQuest Technologies announced the release of its Endpoint Analytics SDK, intended to give video service providers real-time visibility ...

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    Mon, 2 Feb 2015

  8. IneoQuest Shows Analytics, Monitoring

    IneoQuest Technologies is featuring its solutions for Monetizing the Video Experience at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver, including its ...

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    Mon, 22 Sep 2014

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Webcasts

2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy...

October 12, 2016
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Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as co...

Date:September 22, 2016
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Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point sho...

Date:August 25, 2016
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4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

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