Archives For CableCARD

windows7-media-center-engadget

Despite limited uptake, Microsoft’s very fine and mostly free Media Center experience will live to fight another day within Windows 8.

How limited is usage? Well we don’t have complete stats, but based on this Windows 7 sampling, I’d say significant engagement is well under 1% of installs. Of course, 1% of bazillions could be a significant number. From Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky,

Our opt-in usage telemetry shows that in July, Windows Media Center was launched by 6% of Windows 7 users globally with the heaviest usage in Russia, Mexico, and Brazil (frequency and time). However, most people are just looking around; only one quarter (25% of 6%) of these people used it for more than 10 minutes per session (individual averages)

In fact, while Media Center won’t be retired, Sinofsky goes on to categorize it as “low profile” and states it won’t be available in early Windows 8 builds due to engineering and business decisions. With this kind of backing, it’s really no surprise the Ciscos and HPs of the industry haven’t stepped up with new hardware extenders. But I’m hopeful the audience is significant enough for smaller companies like Silicon Dust, Hauppauge, or Ceton to stake a claim.

(via Ed Bott)

echostar-de52-cable-dvr

EchoStar continues to pitch US cable providers with a higher end set-top box solution. The company, generally known for its satellite television technology, first unveiled a CableCARD-powered tru2way DVR with Slingbox capabilities back in 2009. Despite what appears to be limited interest and uptake, EchoStar presses on and announced the Aria initiative earlier this summer. Amongst other elements, the Aria ecosystem consists of three cable box options … and a variant (DE52) of the top tier unit (HC-620DRS) may have just passed through the FCC. From the filing:

The Delta Cable box is an in home set top designed to be connected to a Tier 2 cable system and provide QAM, True 2-way, MoCa, Out of Band, and DOCSIS support. The set top box provides various A/V outputs along with Ethernet and USB I/O. The set top box is equipped with an internal hard drive for DVR functionality. It also has a daughter card built in which allows for content place shifting.

ZNF regular Chucky routinely proclaims that we live in the Golden Age of CableCARD. While I had my doubts in the FCC’s ability to enact reform, I stand corrected and believe that era has indeed arrived. Most large cable providers now provide CableCARDs with simplified pricing and without requiring a truck roll. Further, staff finally seems to understand what CableCARD is all about.

I’d break down the evolution of CableCARD into three distinct periods — after its rather lengthy gestation period. The first age featured a variety of single stream capable devices (’04 – ’06) including televisions from the likes of Samsung and a pair of retail Sony DVRs. Unfortunately, the manufacturers largely beat the cablecos, who were ill-prepared to support a product the vast majority of consumers knew nothing about.

Next was the period of great (retail) stagnation where TiVo and Windows Media Center were largely the only game in town. Although it was also during this second act that cablecos were forced to eat their dog food by utilizing CableCARDs within their own hardware – enabling the rank and file to actually begin learning something of the tech. Further, multistream M-Cards were introduced, to support  multiple simultaneous tuning, along with that awful SDV Tuning Adapter hack – to (partially) overcome a lack of two-way communications. Lastly, we also witnessed the birth and death of tru2way (as far as the retail marketplace is concerned).

And here we sit at the beginning of Act Three. As of 8/1, where acquiring and pairing a CableCARD is easy as pie. So the theory goes. And, in my experience this week, it truly was an efficient and painless process to pick up and successfully activate a new M-Card. I swung by the Verizon store in the mall, for a grand total of only 11 minutes, and registration at home was a mere 5 minute online procedure. No muss, no fuss. Unfortunately, there’s still a lack of consumer knowledge and, more importantly, a lack retail cable devices. Although some solid new offerings are arriving for Windows Media Center and the quad-tuning TiVo Premiere Elite is expected this fall. Yet, that’s really only two new platforms. I’m hopeful the CE manufacturers reevaluate their previous CableCARD abandonment in light of this new-found acquisition and activation ease. Yet that may require the realization of the AllVid home cable hub concept. Something I wouldn’t bank on. Surely no time soon. So this Golden Age of CableCARD may only be appreciated by a select few.

Ready to give those newly enacted, FCC mandated CableCARD self-install procedures a go? TiVo’s got a deal for you on refurbished Premiere DVR hardware. $50 gets you the hardware, $20 a month gets you the service. It’s not quite as good as their occasional $0 down promotions, but it doesn’t require that two year commitment. Something worth contemplating if you assume they’ve got Super Premiere hardware in the pipeline for 2012. Additionally, multi-room service discounts are in effect – dropping the monthly fee to $14.99 for existing subscribers.

The fine print: Continue Reading…

verizon-fiostv-cablecard1

Last year, the FCC ordered CableCARD reform. While I had doubts that change would arrive, and in a relatively timely fashion, at least one “cable” operator has gotten with the program. Beginning this past weekend, current and potential Verizon FiOS TV customers can now order CableCARDs online ($3.99/month) for their TiVo, Windows Media Center, or old school CableCARD-equipped HDTV. Further, Verizon also now provides an online widget and associated two page guide enabling customers to handle CableCARD pairing themselves. No technician visit required. Amen for progress.

verizon-fiostv-cablecard2

In my experience Verizon is the most CableCARD- and TiVo-friendly operator out there with personnel who clearly understand the technology and who don’t assume their customers are video pirates (compared to say Cox Communications). But TiVo Inc looks forward to 8/1/2011 – the date by which supposedly all cable operators get with the program and allow CableCARD self installs. Unfortunately, even if it comes to pass, the scourge of SDV will remain.

tivo-preview-front

While 2011 marks the first year in ages we failed to hit The Cable Show, we’ve fortunately got friends with boots on the ground. Who kindly went on a TiVo booth recon mission to bring us photographs of the brand new TiVo Premiere Q four tuner DVR and non-DVR TiVo Preview. Sadly, TiVo’s rep clearly stated that they have “no plans” to make this whole-home DVR hardware available to anyone but cable company partners (with RCN up first). However, I’ll continue to hold out hope that the Preview makes it to retail in some fashion later this year.

Netflix Shipping Center

GigaOm has proclaimed that Netflix streaming and the cable industry are clearly in competition – vying for the same eyeballs and the same dollars. Yet, I’m not seeing it. Sure, there’s some overlap… of on-demand television content and back catalog films. But amongst the vast majority of my peers, and within my household, Netflix provides suplemental entertainment. And most of us choose to carry on with pay television services. We may bitch and moan about price hikes, billing problems, or customer service letdowns. But premium television remains quite compelling. Without live news, sports, or current, first run movies Netflix will remain largely a supplemental service. Netflix knows this. In fact, the GigaOm crew cites CEO Reed Hastings regarding the cord cutting mythos, “It’s not happening, it’s not anything we are causing, cable and Netflix are complementary.”

As evidence, GigaOm suggests that cable companies RCN and Suddenlink neutered their TiVo deployments by removing the Netflix app: “The logic? Netflix could get people to ditch their premium channels and ignore cable VOD.” However, RCN is very clearly on the record in its desire to offer Netflix streaming and Suddenlink is would “gladly” consider it. This is purely a licensing issue involving Netflix, TiVo, distributors, and studios. Rather than threatened MSOs blocking the (perceived) competition. Amazon Video on Demand, of course, is another story entirely.

As for me, I’m streaming very little Netflix these days. I’ve either already seen the content or just don’t find it compelling. In fact, between Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and HBOGo, I’m considering dropping Netflix altogether. Unless, I upgrade to more (Blu-ray) discs per month – reverting back to physical media to catch newer releases at bargain prices.