back to article TV transport tech, part 2: From sofa to server at the touch of a button

These days telly addicts are spoilt for choice with a wealth of services on offer, but what’s behind it all? To find out, The Register was given exclusive access to Virgin Media’s Central Headend – the mothership of its TV services across the UK. Part one covered receiving and redistributing content from disparate sources to …

  1. ukgnome
    Thumb Down

    I'm Sorry

    I tried my best to get through the whole first article and failed.

    Today I managed just page one.

    I love the detail, and appreciate the work that has gone into it, but this needed to be a mini series and not a magnum opus.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm Sorry

  2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Nice article(s) - always interesting to learn about the backend and everything that goes into these services. Does explain some of the directions that VM are taking and how the industry is moving.

    Now if they could just provide a tivo box that wasn't a piece of shite I'd greatly appreciate it... a user interface that feels carefully designed to be as unintuitive as possible that is randomly unresponsive or fast so double button presses followed by loading up of an idiotic amount of resources for a service that you didn't mean to enter. To cap it all, no effing RGB / Component video output. I don't watch (broadcast) TV very often at all and tivo is putting me off watching even the little amount that I do watch. I really don't know how I haven't ripped the thing out and thrown it out of a window yet. Some people love it of course, but not me or my family.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      I thought the Virgin box was slow and annoying too. But then I stayed at my Mum's house for a week, and she's got Talk Talk [cue sinister music]. I don't know what they've done to their Youview boxes, but it's probably criminal...

      They're not slow, snails are slow. What are ice ages? They must have known this, because they've even added something to the programming, so that after you've waited for five minutes, a little message pops up to tell you 'just finishing'. About 10 minutes later, something usually happens. I wonder if they found a job lot of old 286s? Maybe Z80s?

  3. Zog The Undeniable

    I've got 13 channels of...on the TV to choose from

    The big problem is that there's nothing on worth watching. Sometimes my TV doesn't even get turned on for a week, apart from maybe to watch a DVD. Programming seems to be wall-to-wall reality pap and soaps, with desperately unfunny comedy like Miranda. Used to have Sky but the frequency and length of advert breaks (on pay TV!) drove me up the wall, aside from the rapacious cost.

    I could happily live without a licence, if it weren't for my kids visiting.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Interesting to see it from this side

    After thirty-odd years in the BBC providing the programme making facilities and infrastructure.

    One thing that wasn't mentioned - what about adverts?

    And yes, I do agree with Zog - there isn't enough stuff by a *long* way to fill all these channels with anything watchable. Perhaps two channels, three hours a day...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is that really a bunch of Harmonic ProMedia transcoders ?? All the piccies on their website have "Harmonic" labels on them.

    It looks very suspiciously like a stack of 1U SuperMicro servers to me. Like what I have.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My guess a standard server with the application installed. No difference than you saying it's a bunch of Citrix or VMWare servers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yep, it's a fair cop. I should have looked at the product spec a bit closer:

        "Available as software only or as optimized hardware appliance"

    2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      It probably is a rebadged Supermicro just with a sub vendor logo slapped on.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “For instance, with the BBC, we receive a metadata feed for all the assets it’s going to make available on iPlayer," says Hennessy. "We integrate that so you can see that asset has become available on the electronic programming guide. So rather than go just into iPlayer – which might not always be the way you want to find your content – you can look at your broadcast schedule, go back in time and pick the asset you want to catch up and it directly launches the BBCiPlayer app. Clever stuff.”

    So rather than go just into iPlayer – which might not always be the way you want to find your content

    It is never the way I want to find content, VM have a good interface to search for content, once iPlayer takes over the buttons are swapped around so up and down are opposite, and the interface looks crap.

    BBC make the programs, leave the distribution to those who know best.

    1. Down not across Silver badge

      you can look at your broadcast schedule, go back in time and pick the asset you want to catch up and it directly launches the BBCiPlayer app. Clever stuff.”

      Erm. No. If you didn't have to suffer the horrible iPlayer, and would just stream the BBC stuff natively that would be clever stuff.

  7. samwisethecat
    Paris Hilton

    Porn for Geeks part 2

    Maybe a bit more nudity in the next one? - Maybe some kit with the lid off showing the *bare* bones....

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Preferences downside

    "“The Central Mind has the ability to take what you’re defining as your preferences and, on the back of that, make recommendations around shows, films and box sets that can be presented to customers to drive a more personalised experience."

    Something to bear in mind the next time you (purely by accident of course) watch Hot Babes at 1 in the morning, thinking your wife won't find out

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Preferences downside

      "Something to bear in mind the next time you (purely by accident of course) watch Hot Babes at 1 in the morning, thinking your wife won't find out"

      Just downvote it three times (the max) and make sure everything more, erm, innocent, is upvoted at least once. Or so I've been told.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Preferences downside

        I'd have thought watching something all the way through, and the TiVo would know you had, would be considered a definite upvote by the content supplier, possibly trumping your three down votes. Despite your down votes, the content supplier would know there is a good chance you would watch similar content to Hot Babes and the associated adverts too. The adverts being what they really want to deliver.

        Anoymous in case the other half is reading.

  9. Mintyboy

    Brilliant Write Ups

    Loved the write ups, love the in depth details on how they deliver the content, even though I only have their Fibre Broadband.

    Well done more articles like this please - have a beer you need it after the write up unless you used a transcription service in which case a Beer Wine for the typist.

  10. dotdavid

    "The increasing use of Over The Top (OTT) services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video hasn’t escaped their notice. Apparently, it is causing disquiet at industry conferences with its "core shaving" impact on earnings from operator offerings"

    Ah that would explain the £1.50/month increase on broadband-only packages then.

    I guess with all that backwards-compatibility cablecos like Virgin will never be able to be quite "dumb pipes", but there's a reason these OTT services are getting popular, and I suspect it's because the cablecos' TV and VoD services just aren't up to scratch.

  11. The Quiet One

    I have had TiVo for a couple of years and I honestly don't get why so many people these days have Sky TV. The functionality of the Virgin TiVo Interface is fantastic, it's easy to use, but allows you to be really granular with how you set things up in ways that Sky users just cannot comprehend.

    On a hardware level, the larger disk sizes is great as on Sky i found myself filling up the drive all the time and having 3 tuners is absolutely brilliant. I would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat.

  12. captain veg

    Oh the irony

    Android devices served by Microsoft kit. Is that even allowed by the licence terms?


  13. Down not across Silver badge

    Thank you

    Thank you for the very interesting 2 part series. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Nice of VM to be fairly open about how it all works.

  14. sorry, what?

    Latency on the return path

    So, the article says (clearly taking the VM techie's word for it):

    "Even if there is a lot of simultaneous return path activity – the capacity management, monitoring and design of this system is robust enough to avoid any latency concerns"

    I don't think I can agree with that. It frequently takes my VM Tivo box several seconds to send that pause message to the VoD servers, but worse it takes these real time seconds to start playing again when fast forwarding in the VoD service often resulting in, say, missing 30 seconds of the programme you want to see or lots more farting around trying to get back to that point and fighting the laggy experience.

    I have really enjoyed these two articles, probably because I'm a technically competent user of their service. Doesn't mean that I can accept all I'm being told though!

  15. Christian Berger

    It's depressing to see how much effort they put into DRM...

    ... and how much effort it takes to remove that DRM again on the customer side. All of that would be so much simpler if it wasn't for idiotic DRM which neither protects content nor helps anybody in any way.

    If you want to see what's streaming without such idiocy, look at the streaming at the Chaos Communication Congress in late December. There they have a fairly well scaling streaming infrastructure which is simpler and works more reliable... unless the network there fails.

  16. Aghios Vasilis tou Stalingrad

    Are the cable guys experts at this?

    At least they understand the goal:

    “There will come a time fairly soon when we'll be using the power of a range of technologies and say that our entertainment experience looks like this: a truly personalised service that recognises you and your device, understands what you like, makes recommendations accordingly and maximises viewing across screens and locations.

    "Content rights aside, ultimately it won't matter what device you're going to consume this entertainment experience on, or where – we will get the smarts right in the network, in the home and in the app software. We'll be able to take what was initially one asset and turn it into the right format for those endpoints, whether it’s smaller form factors such as a tablet or on really big 1080p or 4K TVs.

    Do you really think that cable has the skills and capital to field a fully integrated solution? Hint, it's a virtualized "blade-per-viewer" service and there are a few retail, social media and search companies that do.

    BTW, great to see that the old SEAC BLM gets an occasional trade reference.

  17. goldcd


    I think that took me 5 mins to setup.

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