Videotex redux: Thirdspace brings data to TV

Thirdspace - a company owned by Alcatel and Oracle - believes its copper wire-based multimedia services will allow telcos to claw back some of the income they are losing to cable and satellite companies.

Thirdspace — a company owned by Alcatel and Oracle — believes its copper wire-based multimedia services will allow telcos to claw back some of the income they are losing to cable and satellite companies.

Thirdspace plans to deliver a range of services, including digital broadcast television and video-on-demand, over existing copper cables. Thirdspace representatives recently demonstrated the video-over-IP DSL service to Telecom, Clear and TelstraSaturn.

The company’s services will enable telcos to become “full service providers”, says South-East Asia key account director Tony Lau.

Based on a server “pod” incorporating Sun and SGI hardware, Oracle video server software and specially built components, the Thirdspace iTV (interactive TV) service is capable of providing television, video on demand, email and internet access through a standard TV and set-top box. Unlike most video-on-demand offerings, Thirdspace iTV allows the viewer to rewind, stop-frame and fast-forward like a video player.

Web pages are reformatted by the Thirdspace system to be readable at TV-viewing distance, and images cannot always be magnified correspondingly. Currently, the system does not support full Java and JavaScript, though this will come in the near future, says Thirdspace technical consultant Jon Mitchell.

The set-top box is a thinner client than other typical boxes — usually containing only video-client software and the web browser, Mitchell says. Everything else is done at the server.

One server pod can support up to 1000 users, he says, though the practical aspects of that support will depend on what each user is doing at the time.

Thirdspace also claims an advantage over other online video systems in the facility to tailor content to the user’s personal taste, forewarning through its “electronic programme guide” of items of particular interest due to be broadcast.

The system is even capable of capturing such content and storing it for later viewing, so TV as well as video can be timeshifted. This, says Lau, should reduce the conflict between a “personalised” delivery and the group viewing role of the household TV screen.

Ironically, the pitch to Telecom comes just as it is finally dismantling the pole-mounted coaxial cables in Wellington erected for its own previous iTV venture FirstMedia. This was discontinued in 1998, with Telecom saying it realised there was more promise in DSL technology - but no equivalent DSL service has yet emerged. The $1m dismantling exercise is happening in response to Wellingtonians complaining about obstruction of their view. Auckland’s FirstMedia cables are underground.

TelstraSaturn, of course, already has a successful TV, telephone and internet service over coaxial and fibre cable.The company is interested in seeing Thirdspace just as a pertinent industry development, as companies often do, says spokesman Quentin Bright; this signals no intention to use the technology.

“And we’re not interested in DSL,” he adds, reflecting the company’s cable orientation. “We’re interested in video over IP.”

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