CES 2012: S3 Group Tests for VOD Providers, Plots Expansion

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The fractured streaming video landscape has been a boon for several businesses. S3 Group is finding a niche with testing: It offers rigorous high-level testing of set-top boxes and tablets, ensuring that video-on-demand providers can flawlessly deliver content to their customers.

S3 CEO John O’Brien is visiting CES to talk to existing customers, potential customers, and the occasional member of the press. Multiscreen delivery and the increasing number of set-top boxes and tablets means more testing than ever is needed to ensure that VOD systems perform as required. Even a small software update requires thousands of tests to make sure the system doesn’t break down. S3 takes what can be a draining manual task, where an employee cycles through thousands of tests for each device, and automates the process with a system called StormTest. It sells StormTest systems to pay TV providers, with a 16-device test system starting in the range of $100,000.

While setting up an S3 system is a complex undertaking, often requiring months to set up the thousands of tests required, O’Brien says it reduces testing time by 80 percent.

From its demo suite at CES, S3 is showing a four-device test system set with a TiVO DVR, two set-top boxes, and an Apple iPad. The system uses compact IR blasters to mimic the actions of a device’s remote. Getting the system to work with a touchpad interface was a challenge, O’Brien said. The solution was custom software that binds itself to the operator’s application and mimics human touches. Besides testing the individual devices, the S3 system tests their interactivity, as homes today often have a main connected device and satellite devices that connect to it directly.

“We’re constantly trying to innovate and anticipate new problems our customers are trying to crack,” says O’Brien.

The graphical StormTest system is written so that novice users can learn it and create tests by themselves. S3 currently has 31 customers around the world, with roughly 30 percent in the U.S., 50 percent in Europe, and others in Africa, the Mid-East, and China. It’s currently looking to expand into Latin America and Southeast Asia. The BBC is a recent customer, using S3 to test the iPlayer on a variety of devices. Irdeto uses it to test its conditional access system.

Device and platform testing is actually a new area for S3, which was created to provide consulting for set-top box development. StormTest grew out of a perceived need for high-level automated testing.

“It’s that complexity that has to be managed in some way, and we’ve approached it from the test and validation side,” says O’Brien.

With connected TVs on the rise, S3 is now working on a solution that will let StormTest work with them. The challenge here is that there’s no easy way to get video out of the TVs, as there is with set-top boxes. S3’s engineers have been working for six months on a system that can capture on-screen video, as a human eye does. O’Brien hopes to have a solution on the market by mid-2012.

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