Comcast Corp. opens up access to its cable set-top and software testing framework

Sharing the secrets of its success, Comcast Corp. has opened up access to its cable set-top and software testing framework. The Open Cable Automated Test Solution (OCATS or Open CATS) gives software testers and engineers a way to simulate real-world environments, ensuring set-tops and new set-top features are thoroughly examined without risking instability in an actual field deployment.

Painstaking manual testing process for television hardware and applications

Innovating new features and services for television demands thousands of hours of testing. Whether building a set-top box, creating an interactive guide feature, or developing a new video-on-demand service, every new component must be rigorously tested to ensure that it works well all the time. Comcast highlighted that until recently, testing for television hardware and applications was a painstaking manual process.
“That’s why we’re so excited about our latest contribution to the field of automated testing and its potential to help put better television products in the hands of consumers, faster than ever before,” said Chad Frederick, Principal Software Engineer in Technology in a recent blog post.

Open-source software testing tool

Comcast has made the decision to open-source the software that powers its testing platform, the Cable Automated Test Solution or ‘CATS.’ The newly available open-source tool, called OCATS (or Open CATS) enables anyone who builds set-top boxes or creates set-top box features (including programmers, distributors and device makers) to test their new products and services in a fast, automated environment.
Originally developed for Comcast’s own set-top boxes and interfaces, OCATS can work for virtually any device in the marketplace with a little configuration.
“We’ve been using the original version of CATS for some time now and are confident that OCATS will accelerate time to market and lower testing costs for those who choose to use it,” Frederick said.
“Making CATS available as open-source software was a natural extension of our commitment to engaging in the open-source community. We believe that providers will derive value out of OCATS, but also contribute important improvements that make the technology even stronger,” he concluded.

Benefits of OCATS include

Remote accessibility and scalability
OCATS provides companies a single framework for different video testing scenarios, including set-top manipulation, power/reboot, infrared, and video recording and playback. Using one flexible framework saves the time and expense of setting up different frameworks for each test. And automated testing makes it easier to spot defects earlier in the product lifecycle. OCATS empowers successful manual, semi-automated, or automated testing from anywhere in the world.
For example, suppose that a group in Los Angeles wants to test a new feature for the Chicago and Atlanta markets. Logging in to a web interface gives the test engineers full access to the OCATS test automation framework. They can test a wide variety of set-tops, using Java Swing; conduct stress tests on applications, networks, and protocols; simulate the effect of a new network protocol; and scale tests from a single desktop to a full-fledged lab environment or even a production field deployment.
The core CATS service APIs can be integrated with any language or automation framework. That means the companies that use OCATS can continue using existing tools and skillsets, such as HP Unified Functional Testing (previously QTP) or TestNG; OCATS also records test steps, making it easier to automate repetitive steps.
Open standards, shared source code
OCATS will evolve to keep pace with industry changes because the source code is open. The licensing agreement allows users to modify and use OCATS without any restrictions. Users can also write applications and tests for OCATS and distribute them freely.
Easier, faster innovation
Providing an automated test framework as a cloud service marks an industry first, and Comcast is excited about what it means to broadcasting. Mainly, the company expect OCATS to encourage innovation by making it simpler and faster to test new services and features. Ultimately this will be of benefit for broadcasters, distributors and anyone who watches television.