South Korea ISP Plans to Launch Internet HDTV Streaming Service 

Beta Phase Gets Underway in October Using MatrixStream’s Distribution Support Technology

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Internet HDTV Streaming Service 
Internet HDTV Streaming Service 

South Korean ISP UBalance Co. Ltd. and technology supplier MatrixStream Technologies say they will launch a multichannel, streaming HDTV service over the public Internet early next year, following a beta deployment starting in October.

The UBalance service is targeted to consumer televisions and employs MatrixStream’s proprietary encoding, XMS streaming and set-top box technologies to get there. MatrixStream also has signed a similar agreement with an as yet unidentified, 5-million-subscriber ISP in the U.S. that will launch its own beta service within the next two months, says MatrixStream CEO Jack Chung.

Unlike emerging broadband video download platforms supporting services such as Amazon Unbox, NetFlix, Blockbuster/Movielink, Akimbo or Vudu.com, the MatrixStream platform is designed to support streaming of live linear TV programming and video-on-demand to TV set-top boxes. Through development of encoding refinements and its own set-top box with High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connector, MatrixStream claims to require as little as 3.5 megabit-per-second bandwidth to stream HD 1080p encoded videos or as little as 1.5 mbps to stream HD 720p encoded videos – all in the absence of network-based quality of service (QoS) controls.

Additionally, through development of its own streaming servers, set-top packet buffering system and operating middleware, MatrixStream claims to provide rapid channel changes and a rich graphical navigation interface. 

“UBalance doesn’t see much of a market for video to the PC,” Chung says. “They’re trying to do a cable-like system. Our companies see eye to eye: if you want to be a serious player, you have to be on the TV, and in this battle, if you don’t have high def, you’re already at a disadvantage.”

UBalance president In Sup Kwon projects that his company can sell “up to 10 million MatrixStream set-top boxes within three years,” thanks in large part to the fact that more than 90 percent of South Koreans enjoy a minimum 10-mbps Internet access. “MatrixStream offers UBalance a technically advanced, robust system that allows us to provide our clients superior quality and a cost differential that distinctively sets us apart from the competition,” which, Kwon adds, is intensifying in South Korea.

The MatrixStream solution will not work at under 1.5-mbps access speeds, nor will it work well across long distances with many Internet router hops, “so there is a limitation to our tech,” which the unnamed U.S. ISP customer will solve with regionalized server farms, Chung says.

Those limitations notwithstanding, he says, “ABC.com already is streaming video and even 720p HD over the public Internet. We just made the user experience better and made it possible to support live video to the TV. We don’t require multicast, nor do we require CBR [constant bit-rate transmission]. Multicast doesn’t tolerate bandwidth going up and down, but ours does through a very sophisticated buffering system to tolerate delay and jitter.”

According to Chung, UBalance had initially tried a video download-only service, purchasing some 7,000 set-top boxes from another vendor, but garnered few subscribers. UBalance (www.ubalance.co.kr) will eschew both the download-only model and the ad-supported, free-only Web TV model in favor of a combination of subscription, ad-supported and commerce services.

The service provider is developing a suite of interactive, television-based “T-commerce” services with applications named TV-Advergaming, TV-Betting, Interactive Advertising, T-Auction, T-Stock Trading, T-Ticket Booking, T-Shopping and T-Banking. “They also want to integrate VoIP, not for a primary line, but a tie-in to e-commerce,” Chung says. “Right now we’re focusing on the basics of the user experience.”

MediaStream created its own MediaMatrix Framework middleware that “defines what we call the UExperience from ground up,” Chung says. “We started with Windows CE 5 and it was insufficient, so we’ve had to do all the heavy lifting. Our DNA is Unix and Linux and the specifications are very similar to a Blu-Ray box. There’s no delay on anything. The user interface is alpha blended, allowing video to fade into background as the viewer is able to do a lot of things via graphics in foreground.” 

MatrixStream’s own business model is to partner with broadband network operators to enable them to compete with independent over-the-top Web media entrants like Joost and the soon-to-be launched NBC Universal-News Corp. co-venture Hulu. NTT in Japan and other broadband operators with large numbers of customers in Asia and Europe are testing the MatrixStream system, Chung says, but in the U.S., “where the showdown isn’t as urgent yet, we haven’t seen as much interest.”

He adds that in regions like the U.S., a MatrixStream-based Web video service could serve as “a backup solution to a main deployment” by an IPTV provider, enabling such a provider to reach pockets of population beyond the reach of IPTV headends. “This is a real streaming system,” he says. “We built a better mousetrap. We tuned encoders, came out with a whole new streaming system, including live programming streaming servers, with fast channel changing and picture-in-picture, and we developed our own set-top box.

“Players like Vudu and others are trying to bypass service providers and telcos, but the providers all know what’s coming down the pike, and some are trying to use deep packet inspection to block over-the-top P2P [peer-to-peer] traffic and relieve a big burden on the network,” he says. “They’ve spent so much on infrastructure, they should be able to monetize broadband value-added services. We’re telling the service providers, ‘Don’t be afraid of Joost and others. Utilize our tools’.”

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