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Why Cable Network Operators Need Better STBs

The arrival of innovative high-powered multimedia consumer devices -- such as the Apple iPad tablet -- is raising consumer UI expectations and driving cable network operators to demand more sophisticated set-top boxes (STBs) from equipment suppliers.

This emerging trend will have a significant impact on the legacy STB sector over the next several years, according to the latest market study by Heavy Reading.

"The STB, the primary cable component inside millions of U.S. homes, is morphing, expanding, and extending itself with new features and functionality," notes Craig Leddy, research analyst at Heavy Reading. "By utilizing the best capabilities of each device platform, a cable MSO can tailor its services to meet individual customer interests."

The new range of options is stretching and redefining the traditional meaning of the set-top box, Leddy says. "Emerging devices are helping cable to serve multiple screens and add more interactive and on-demand features to video content," he explains.

The result could be a bounty of new cable capabilities that will retain customers -- in the face of satellite and telco pay-TV competition, plus new low-cost over-the-top video offerings -- and hopefully produce some new value-added revenue opportunities.

Key findings of the Heavy Reading market study include:

- Cable is redefining the STB by embracing new devices to meet its in-home video needs.

- Never before have MSOs had so many options for devices and capabilities, including next-generation STBs, DTAs, and broadband-connected devices.

- Comcast's demo of an Apple iPad app that extends the functionality of conventional STBs is likely to spark more efforts to meld STBs with other end-user devices.

- MSOs are curtailing spending on leased STBs and seeking next-gen architectures to handle multiple video formats.

- The STB market is likely to become fragmented as MSOs use different devices for unique customer needs.

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