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Comcast’s IP Set-Top Club Expands

Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Evolution Digital LLC are among the latest vendors to obtain licenses for Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)’s reference design kit (RDK), a bundle of software for hybrid QAM/IP and IP-only set-top boxes, Light Reading Cable has learned.

The RDK aims to cut the product cycle on set-top boxes from two years to a year or even less. It includes the CableLabs reference implementation of tru2way middleware and community-sourced components such as the Gstreamer media playback platform and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) Qt windowing framework, and is baked into set-top chips from sources such as Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Entropic Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ENTR).

The promise of faster deployment cycles and a more open environment for applications that relies on a cloud-based architecture has also drawn interest from other major MSOs that are moving ahead with IP video migrations, including Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Charter Communications Inc. (See Comcast’s Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction .)

Arris got into the set-top game in 2009 via its $20 million acquisition of Paul Allen’s Digeo Inc. While most of its deals for Arris’s Moxi video gateway so far have involved small- and mid-sized operators, adapting its boxes for the RDK could make its set-top products more attractive to larger MSOs, including Comcast, its largest customer. (See Arris Digs Digeo .)

“We have a development program underway to offer RDK-based systems to customers who choose that path,” says an Arris spokesman, who didn’t reveal product timing. He says Arris will continue to develop and support boxes running the vendor’s own Moxi middleware and user interface (UI), and continue to integrate middleware and UIs from third parties such as NDS (now part of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)).

Evolution, meanwhile, has catered to Tier 2/3 providers but sees the RDK as an opportunity to win business with the Tier 1s. Evolution has yet to launch any RDK products, but it’s responding to some proposals that would involve implementing it in IP-only video client devices, says Brent Smith, the company’s president.

How quickly Evolution moves forward will depend on how soon the chips with the RDK become available. “We don’t control the chip itself. We build the box around it,” Smith says.

Evolution also intends to see how the RDK concept could be applied outside the U.S. for cable operators that use the Digital Video Broadcasting Project platform and are likewise preparing to make the leap to IP video. (We’ll have more about that strategy in a future story.)

“The RDK concept offers a way that levels the playing field in terms of the mechanics of delivering an IP service,” Smith says.

Announced RDK licensees include Broadcom, Entropic, Silicon & Software Systems Ltd. (S3) , Motorola Mobility, itaas Inc. and Tata Elxsi Ltd. (See Tata Elxsi Licenses Comcast’s RDK and Motorola Still Tight With Comcast .)

Pace plc and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) have not been announced as licensees, but they did work together on the X1, the first box to use the RDK software bundle. (See Where Will Comcast’s X1 Land Next? )

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