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Cisco adds 'cloud DVR' to video offering for cable companies

At this year's CES, Cisco unveiled new functionality that will let cable operators roll out new services such as cloud-based TV recording.

Cisco Systems unveils new functionality for its Videoscape platform that allows cable operators and other TV providers to deliver TV Everywhere. CNET/Sarah Tew

Cisco Systems is adding new capabilities to its video software platform for TV service providers. The new functionality, unveiled at a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show Monday, will allow cable operators and other TV service providers to offer digital video recording from the cloud.

The new cloud-based DVR feature is part of Cisco's updated Videoscape Unity platform. The new software suite and service, which Cisco sells to cable operators and other TV service providers, aims to enable new functionality for paid TV customers. The idea is to allow viewers to access video content on more devices from anywhere. And the other objective is to allow viewers to interact with the programming via social networking sites, which can be integrated into the TV viewing experience.

As mentioned above, one of the key new functions is to move the DVR, which is typically a box that records movies and TV shows in your home, to the service provider's "cloud." This will allow video subscribers to record shows from any Internet connected device whether they're home or not. It also allows video subscribers to watch recorded programming on any Internet connected device. That will let viewers restart shows, catch up on past programs and play back their DVR from anywhere, on any screen. In theory, at least.

During the press conference Cisco's executives showed how this would work with an HTC Droid DNA smartphone. This phone has 1080p video capability. And during the demo, the company showed how Cisco's Videoscape Snowflake user interface looked the same on the phone as it does on the TV screen. And then they showed how using the UI, a subscriber could access a video from cloud-based DVR on the smartphone and view it right on the phone.

The Videoscape Unity features also broaden the TV Everywhere concept by allowing subscribers to watch premium live and on-demand video on any connected device, regardless of where the viewer is located. Cisco is also adding the Connected Video Gateway, intended to serve as a single entertainment hub to distribute video to any connected device in the home.

Cisco has shifted its strategy in the past year to focus more attention on its software business. Cisco created Videoscape Unity by integrating its existing Videoscape platform with technology and assets it bought last year from video software and security provider NDS. The new "platform" is comprised of software and hardware components for the cloud, network and client solutions.

Cloud DVRs make sense
The most interesting aspect of the Videoscape Unity is the cloud-based DVR, which makes a lot sense on several levels. Not only does it allow for more flexibility in terms of viewing and recording programs, but it could offer consumers much greater storage. It also increases the number of programs that can be recorded at once, and is also more efficient and cost effective for cable operators.

But the idea of cloud-based DVR hasn't been without controversy. The TV and movie industry sued cable operator Cablevision in 2007 for implementing what it called a "networked DVR." Cablevision won its lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2008. And it has already been offering customers the option to record and store content in the "cloud" instead of on individual boxes in the home.

Even with Cablevision's court victory, digital rights for video content remains a complicated issue. Some movie studios and TV networks have been reluctant to allow cable operators to offer services that allow the distribution of content on portable devices outside the home. While the Cisco Videoscape Unity platform is designed to allow more access to more devices from anywhere, it's up to the cable companies and other TV service providers to determine how they will implement the services.

For example, Cox Communications, which had an executive at the Cisco press conference, plans to use the Cisco Videoscape Unity platform. But the company has not yet announced a service that will include cloud-based DVR capability.

As part of its Videoscape Unity announcement, Cisco invited several of its customers -- including representatives from Cox, and BSkyB, as well as content providers from Liberty Global, Fox TV and -- to discuss the future of TV.

CNET's Casey Newton live-blogged the press conference at 2 p.m. PT. So you can follow along as the news is announced here:

CNET's live coverage of Cisco's 2013 CES press conference

Cisco streamed the event live. The company will replay the event starting at 3 p.m. PT.

Updated 2:54 p.m. PT: This story was updated with details from the press conference and links to archived coverage of the event.