TiVo and the CCI Byte

Dave Zatz —  September 27, 2009

tivo-cci-byte

As some of you may recall, I recently moved across the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia. In addition to picking up a new stand for our plasma, we also inherited a new cable provider. With a new set of challenges. I’ve mostly come to terms with that multi-hour CableCARD install ($30 per set) and general, ongoing switched digital video (SDV) tuning adapter flakiness in making the transition from Comcast to Cox Communications. The real frustration the last few weeks has been the near total loss of TiVo Multi-Room Viewing (MRV) and TiVoToGo due to my cable company’s misguided attempt at copy protection and TiVo’s technical implementation.

tivotogo-cci-byte

This isn’t a new issue. Just new to me. We’ve seen all sorts of blogosphere copy protection flareups and Alex over at TiVo Blog provided an even-handed description of the situation earlier this year. Basically, cable providers have the ability to selectively flag digital content to restrict DVR copying. It’s not THE broadcast flag, but it’s A broadcast flag. The “CCI Byte” value embedded within a broadcast determines what DVRs, such as TiVo, are permitted to do with the content. Anything other than a “Copy Freely” value will be prohibited from TiVoToGo or MRV copying, as you can see from TiVo’s support note on the topic:

0x00 – Copy freely – Content is not copy protected. This is the only CCI value that allows content to be transferred via multi-room viewing (MRV) or TiVoToGo™ transfers

0x01 – Copy No More – Internally, TiVo DVRs treat this the same as 0x02

0x02 – Copy Once – The DVR can make a recording, but can’t transfer it via MRV or TiVotoGo transfers.

0x03 – Copy Never – the content can be recorded and viewed for 90 minutes after transmission, and is not transferable. Content disappears from the Now Playing list after 90 minutes.

Where I, and many Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers, find themselves is a “Copy Once” purgatory. Pretty much anything beyond basic cable, think OTAs, can be recorded onto a TiVo but is prohibited from being transferred beyond that one unit. (This will also restrict Windows Media Center new-found DRM “freedom.”) TiVoToGo was an expendable service for me at this point – I rarely used it, other than periodically loading up on shows prior to a flight. But MRV has been a huge loss. The value of my TiVos has been greatly diminished. (Stay tuned for a followup post on that point).

As I see some inconsistencies in how the CCI Byte is being applied by Cox, I reached out to both TiVo and the cable industry (NCTA) for some backdoor assistance. However, both were dead ends. At least they knew what I was talking about. I seriously doubt the first tier phone agents would have any knowledge of this digital copy protection scheme (and supposedly there are only a few dozen CableCARD TiVos active in this Cox franchise.)

A better implementation for TiVo’s MRV, and what we see with Windows Media Center and Moxi in the retail space, is an extender model in which shows are streamed to another node in the home rather than copied to another device. Similar to what Verizon (FiOS TV) and AT&T (U-Verse) have also implemented within their whole-home DVR initiatives. End users get to watch what they’ve paid for, and the content owners need not worry about piracy. I’ve got no idea if the overly secretive TiVo, Inc. is retooling MRV to address this copy protection issue their end-users are struggling with. But, as a frustrated subscriber of both TiVo and Cox, I sure hope so.

22 responses to TiVo and the CCI Byte

  1. That sucks.

    Could you switch to Dish? Multiroom DVR is the reason I switched to Dish in 2004 and stuck with them until this year when FiOS passed my home. Even now, however, I feel like FiOS is underwhelming and not nearly as as good in terms of multiroom as Dish.

  2. I believe the reason why TiVo’s MRV copies the file is because it is more robust. This is necessary because TiVo realizes that many depend on WiFi which in most cases isn’t fast enough to stream HD. So the copy allows the user to use the feature even when the network connectivity is insufficient for streaming.

    I believe the next version of TiVo will use a new chip from Broadcom which includes MoCA. With MoCA, TiVo will be able to leverage the existing coax already connecting all the devices together for streaming the way the FiOS MRV implementation works. This chip also supports much better graphics than the current TiVo HD does.
    http://www.broadcom.com/press/release.php?id=s407354&industry_id=1

  3. I use slingbox and slingcatcher to watch TiVo recordings in an other room. It works very well.

  4. I’m currently in the process of trying to get TWC to change how they’ve implemented the cci byte. Like you, MRV and TTG is essentially useless (thanks to TWC).

    I’d love to see TiVo implement a streaming solution similar to what MCE has.

  5. CableCARDS are really dead AFAIC. I have TiVos and TiVo HDs but I will not buy another one. When the HDs break I will discontinue my cable TV service. Time to move on. This whole CableCARD “experiment” has been a disaster for viewers.

    Related: see my recent blog post http://rhftech.com/blog/2009/09/too-little-too-late-too-difficult-too-expensive/

  6. My wife and I bailed on cable a few months ago, using Hulu for most shows, and for networks like CBS who just don’t “get it” we watch the shows realtime. Hulu is great, but I really wish that content providers would get this through their heads…

    1) People want to be able to pick/choose what networks (and even shows) they want to watch. This could help the network by having us directly tell them what we want to watch, and help them target advertising accordingly.

    2) If we have a high-def set, we want to be able to watch high-def, even when streaming over the internet. Your typical cable connection can easily handle 720p. Using Silverlight’s “auto-sense” technology. providers could stream at the highest quality to those who can receive it and automatically send less bandwidth-intensive streams to those who can’t. This is similiar to what NetFlix does. I’d also like 5.1 sound — it’s not that difficult, guys…

    3) DONT LOCK DOWN VIDEO TO WORK WITH ONLY CERTAIN HARDARE. This is the dumbest thing ever. iTunes does this with their video purchases, and it’s why I will never buy anything from them until their policy changes. You must have a HDCP compliant monitor to watch the high-def video in true high-def. Dumb. If your hardware is capable of playing the high-def video, let it play the video! And don’t try stuff like “ohh, you’ve got your PC hooked up to a TV, we won’t allow it, or we will allow it with less resolution.” Stupid. Totally defeats the point.

    Leading to my final point (and tied into what Dave was saying):

    4) If you don’t get with it, people will find other ways to access the content. This happened with the music industry pretty hard, and they’re only now recovering. The movie/TV industry now needs to understand this lesson. Don’t add DRM. Don’t restrict video quality/audio quality for arbitrary reasons. If someone wants to pirate something, they’re going to. All protections are circumvented or broken at some point. Look at torrent sites and how many high-def movie rips there are, even with Blu-Ray’s supposed awesome protection. I just want to be able to watch a movie or TV show without having to jump through hoops.

  7. I all of a sudden had the same issue with Cablevision. I switched to Fios soon after, which so far hasn’t imposed the same restrictions. But before doing so, I sent the letter below to TiVo’s CEO, copying its general counsel. This was in May, and I have yet to receive a reply.

    Dear Mr. Rogers:

    I am a long-time TiVo user, dating back to 2001. Over the years I have purchased more and more TiVo units, and now own ten TiVo DVRs. I suspect that few people, if any, own more than I do.

    I am writing to you because in the last few weeks, my TiVos no longer permit multi-room viewing (MRV) for premium HD recordings. After a little research, I now know this arises from TiVo’s policies on digital signal copy protection. I have had my Series 3 TiVos for some time, but MRV has only been blocked in the last month or so. Perhaps my cable provider, Cablevision, did not encode the premium digital programs as copy protected until recently. MRV represents one of the most important TiVo features to me, so this was a very unwelcome development.

    It feels like TiVo is using a chainsaw here instead of a scalpel. To state my issue quite simply: I pay Cablevision monthly for the cable cards that enable me to receive the content in question on each of my HD-capable TiVos, so I should be able to transfer the shows to any of those TiVos via MRV. The inability to use MRV just forces me to record a show twice, on each of the TiVos in question. It does not stop a copyright infringement, because none could occur.

    TiVo has some of the best software programmers in the world. Why can’t it find a way to permit the MRV in such a situation? I have seen some advertising for Verizon’s Fios in which Verizon trumpets MRV functionality. I would be very surprised if they prevent their users from transferring some shows, but permit the transfer of others.

    I can understand that copyright holders would want to prevent transfers of the shows in question to a computer because once on a computer, an unscrupulous person likely could find a way to make recordings of the show and give it to his friends, post on-line or engage in other intellectual property theft. This concern, however, does not arise if the show is transferred to another TiVo (which already could have recorded the show when broadcast). The risk of intellectual property theft it is the same irrespective of which TiVo it is on.

    Last Friday, May 15, I spoke to Paul at TiVo corporate, who identified himself as a customer liaison. I went through this issue with him, and he said there was nothing he could do to help me, and there was no one else I could speak to about it. I found that very disheartening, and am hoping that this letter will prompt you to act.

    I purchased so many TiVos over the years because I fell in love with their functionality. When I moved to my house about five years ago, I spent a lot of money to wire the house with Ethernet just so I could utilize the MRV feature. With this development, I feel like my investment of thousands of dollars in wiring my house has been a huge waste of money. I am certain that TiVo can find a way to address copyright concerns when they exist, but permit full functionality of its product when no such issues exist, as is the case here.

    I also do not think this is just a matter of making your existing customers happy. If the cable providers who now market competing DVRs have better MRV functionality, this will make it harder for TiVo to attract new customers. And believe me, everyone will know about TiVo’s limitations.

  8. So if Tivo and other DVR software programmers changed the code so that if the program encounters a “Copy Once” CCI flag, allow it to actually copy it once off the device (for MRV viewing), would we be looking at a big lawsuit? Really it’s semantics at that point. I’d like to see Tivo with their new found sue-happy nuts go ahead and try it.

  9. @Nicholas

    “3) DONT LOCK DOWN VIDEO TO WORK WITH ONLY CERTAIN HARDARE…”

    +1

  10. Mike, I can’t go with DISH at the moment. And if I did go satellite, I’d wait for the next DirecTiVo and overpay for Sunday Ticket. Content is king.

    Ben, Agreed. Copying is more fault tolerant and maybe conceptually easier to understand. But it’s also a different technical process. TiVo should provide some clues as to their future plans. If i make the investment in Windows Media Center and extenders when that Ceton tuner hits, I won’t be interested in spending more money on new TiVo hardware.

    Petr, good suggestion with the Slingcatcher, one I’m testing. I’ll have a follow up post on some workarounds and my future DVR plans.

    Cypher, either their Macrovision license or CableLabs certification or some other similar thing prevents TiVo, Inc from ignoring the flag. And TiVo wouldn’t alienate their industry partners like that, that’s not how they roll.

  11. I have confirmed with a Cincinnati Bell representative that its FiOptics service will keep the flag set at copy freely unless otherwise mandated by the network.

  12. This is exactly why I ditched cable/satellite and went to OTA antenna and Netflix.

  13. I wonder how (or if) this relates to the problem we have been discussing in a TivoCommunity thread about the inability to transfer ANY recording from a TiVo HD to a Series2, even when the shows are not copy-protected; many of us have no shows at all in our Now-Playing-List when we try a MRV transfer.

    [http://www.tivocommunity.com/tivo-vb/showthread.php?p=7518744#post7518744]

  14. Reply to MichaelM (comment #14):

    Did you have to plug in an additional converter into your HD TiVo to get all the HD stations? This is the case with Cablevision. When you do that, TiVo (the company) acknowledges that this disrupts your ability to do MRV on a Series 2 box from the HD TiVo. I never got an explanation why, but switched to Fios, which doesn’t require the extra converter, and therefore doesn’t have the issue.

  15. I just noticed that Insight Communications started setting the flag on EVERY show on October 1. I’m so fed up with this. No one at Insight even knows what I’m talking about.

    I can’t wait for the multi-stream cable card PC tuners to come out…

  16. RE: Bill Stebbins

    The multi-stream cable card PC tuners will still need to implement the CCI Flag. The old way CCI Flag was implemented on pc tuners is they use to had to implement Copy Once even of they received copy freely from cable company. Now they can follow the CCI Flag that they receive.

  17. SouthPaw, but it’s less of an issue in the Media Center space if primarily using extenders around the home.

  18. Dave,

    I am experiencing the same issues you are. I just moved to Cox in NoVa, got an HD Tivo with tuning adapter, and now have the same problem that you wrote about regarding MRV and TTG. I don’t understand how Cox is doing it, because about 90% of the shows are copy protected, yet sometimes the same show on the same channel are set copy protected, while another episode of that same show is not.

    I am also experiencing the problem that MichaelM referred to – where my S3 HD Tivo can copy shows from my S2 SD Tivo, but it does not work the other way. The tuning adapter is somehow causing the problem that syas “The DVR has no recordings”, even though it has recordings that are copy protected and recordings that are not. Weird.

  19. “0×02 – Copy Once – The DVR can make a recording, but can’t transfer it via MRV or TiVotoGo transfers.”

    Maybe TIvo needs to interpret this as copy once after the first recording so that MRV could go to one other device after the original recording.

  20. I have run into the CCI byte issue with my TivoHD. The one channel I want to record locked down by the 0x03 CCI byte so it deletes the recording after 90 minutes.

    As per TivoHD…
    0×03 – Copy Never – the content can be recorded and viewed for 90 minutes after transmission, and is not transferable. Content disappears from the Now Playing list after 90 minutes.

    Does anyone know if I would run into the same issue if I switched to Moxi? I don’t know their DRMs

  21. And thus people will continue to download torrents for the content that they are cheated out of. Eventually the cable companies will wake up and find that all their customers quit and returned to OTV TV Viewing.