Amino targets legacy set top market with software only solution

Amino, the UK set top maker, turned cloud TV player, reckons it has identified a multi-billion dollar market by simply releasing its Enable set top software from its hardware origins, allowing it to play over multiple legacy set top environments.

It is much the same idea as others have had –  notably ActiveVideo, but the technical approach to the question is different – how can smaller Telcos and cable operators refresh their UI, and update the TV experience, without replacing the hardware in every set top? It dresses this up as a pathway to an all IP/Cloud future.

“As we move into the era of all IP/Cloud television and video, the massive barrier facing operators across the globe is the millions of legacy set-top boxes they are invested in,” says Donald McGarva, Amino’s CEO in a statement. The company says they have deals in the US, South America and Russia, and are already happy to list Cincinnati Bell and PCCW Media as customers.

We initially thought that the Enable software came out of Amino’s Entone acquisition, but the company says it is the software which is in most Amino set tops today and it has taken the past 10 years or so to perfect as a discrete IPTV client set top device. It has now been organized into software functions and a separate hardware abstraction layer. The software can even sit on a cable Home Gateway as well, and convert QAM delivery to IP to any other devices in the home, including an IPTV zapper box attached to a TV, giving smaller cable firms a route to multiscreen.

Last August Amino took this software to its first announced software only installation at PCCW for 4K, and said at the time it had already installed it on ZTE set tops at Cincinnati Bell.

ActiveVideo is famous for doing this with a tiny 200 kilobyte client on a device and all the work, including fresh UI stitching, being done in the cloud. The Amino client is substantially bigger than that and still renders the UI locally, but the idea is economically similar.

We think it is very similar to the way to the Polish software group Cubiware works, which TiVo acquired. Cubiware has been able to put TiVo service and other middleware onto existing set tops.

The Amino Enable software is written in easily understandable conventional programming languages, C and HTML 5.0, so that operators can make their own adjustments if they choose to. They can skin it or branding for instance and change the look and feel of the UI. It can also talk to a remote cloud for other services such as recommendation and search.

These are pretty fantastic reference accounts for Amino, and it says that it is not restricted to running on Linux based set tops, and can put its thin client on a Window CE device. This makes perfect sense, because in the US there are a variety of incumbent local telcos which took the irrational step of going down the Mediaroom route when it was run by Microsoft. Today that is up for sale at Ericsson and the platform appears right now to have no future, which could mean replacing all of those CE set tops. One of the issues with it hitting Mediaroom or Media First accounts as Ericsson now calls them, is that the hardware route of trust needed to be obtained as part of the original Mediaroom deal, and that was not always the case.

Pricing of course will reflect that this can be downloaded over the network and completely update those existing devices instead of leaving Mediaroom unsupported out in the field. For the operator this is irresistible, because it gets around a truck roll, and a device swap out and Amino is happy to shape deals as either Capex or Opex (upfront or software rental). Amino estimates that an operator can upgrade devices for as little as 20% of what new set tops would cost.

While this will not approach the revenue that Amino would get by installing brand new set tops, it will be highly profitable, and likely to lead to a hike in profits at the set top vendor. It says there are 7 to 8 million Enable devices out there already, and given that some of these are MPEG 2, H.264 and HEVC based, that could also lead to its own devices having refreshed software to add a modern UI and cloud services. What Amino hopes will happen is that where customers feel isolated with legacy middleware, they can jump ship to Amino using Enable on existing set tops, and then become the set top provider of choice for next generation hardware, and get two bites of the cherry.

“Every day I am in discussions with operators who are seeking to modernize their TV service with advanced applications such as Android TV and streaming video,” said Mark Evensen, Chief Technology Officer of Amino.  “In most cases, there is not a straight line from A to B because they want to maximise the value of their existing infrastructure.  Enable is the essential tool we use to launch next-generation applications and services simultaneously on legacy hardware, regardless of supplier, and the latest device platforms.”

Third party partners for Enable include set top makers like ZTE, Samsung, Hybroad, and Xavi.