Archives For CableCARD

For about a year, and as directed by Congress, the FCC has been working on their (our) National Broadband Plan. With the goal of ensuring access while maximizing usage and potential. Whatever that may mean. But hopefully does not include Chatroulette. As you might imagine of a government report, the newly released National Broadband Plan covers a lot of territory. So instead of reading each of the 376 pages, take a look at DSLReports for some consumer-centric highlights. You might also want to hit Engadget for a few corporate responses. However, given our general focus here, I wanted to address the cable-co…

Section 4.13 discusses the current CableCARD landscape and associated challenges. Specifically, they address the SDV hurt fest, pricing obfuscation, “installation” hoop jumping, and CableCARD certification burden. And the FCC would like to see this all cleaned up by the fall. This year. It’s certainly a goal we can get behind. But, yeah, good luck with that.

Section 4.12 proposes more open access to a cable operator’s programming and services. In fact, they’re backing the “gateway” concept, suggested by TiVo and others in the CE space, opening the cable-co’s network to all manner of devices. Which certainly sounds more appealing than mandated cable-co UIs pushed down via tru2way (not long for this world?). Here’s what the FCC would like to see from a gateway device by 12/31/12:

  • Should use open, published standards for discovering, signaling, authenticating and communicating with retail devices.
  • Should allow retail devices to access all MVPD content and services to which a customer has subscribed and to display the content and services without restrictions or requirements on the device’s user interface or functions and without degradation in quality (e.g., due to transcoding).
  • Should not require restrictive licensing, disclosure or certification. Any criterion should apply equally to retail and operator-supplied devices. Any intellectual property should be available to all parties at a low cost and on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.
  • Should pass video content through to retail devices with existing copy protection flags from the MVPD.

Of course, THE cable industry doesn’t quite see eye to eye on all points. As they’ve got a business to protect. And seem to suggest that IPTV and satellite television services should be held to similar standards. (Agreed.) We can also thank the NCTA for the title of this post. As it’s a direct quote. I don’t have a problem specifically with CardCARD technology but, as implemented, this ineffective regime needs to be overthrown.

TiVo-Premiere

After a few months of unintended leaks and 3 1/2 years since third generation hardware was introduced, the TiVo Series 4 Premiere has arrived. As with TiVo’s HD line, which is being cleared out, the Premiere will ship (next month) in two SKUs: A base model with 45 hours of HD storage (320GB) at $300. And a higher tier THX certified “XL” unit, containing a terabyte of storage (150 hrs of HD), for $500. Service fees are unchanged. As you’d expect, the Premiere sports significantly beefed up processing power and, also as expected, finally realizes TiVo’s new HD UI.

Additionally, the Premiere represents a savvy reboot of TiVo marketing. With, perhaps, a little help from their friends. Now that “DVR” functionality has essentially been commoditized, TiVo’s pitching the Premiere as a “cable box.”  That also provides video, web, and music content. Basically, “One Box” to rule them all.

So that’s what the TiVo Premiere is.

However, given TiVo’s inaugural role and leadership in space, not to mention the tens of millions spent annually on R&D, I have to say I’m somewhat underwhelmed. I get why they didn’t go the tru2way route, given the cable industry’s inability to roll out as planned and requirement to implement an inferior, secondary interface. But where’s the improved whole-home DVR experience (like Moxi), additional tuners, Blu-ray player, social media apps (like FiOS), DLNA, user personalization (like Sezmi), etc?

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s dive into the Premiere specifics…

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Over the years, I’ve experienced more CableCARD installs than most. As I frequently rotate devices and have lived something of a gypsy lifestyle since unloading our home (along with our projector) and given bi-coastal employment. The vast majority of installs have been problematic. When the Comcast or Cox Communication techs bother to show. I even had to get in touch with my (previous) local franchising authority (Montgomery County, MD) at one point. Which is both good and bad… Fortunately, I know how to get things taken care of. On the other hand, why did getting a timely CableCARD install require filing a report? Plus, in most situations, I still firmly believe a CableCARD install shouldn’t require a truck roll — even if pairing is required. Let me pick up the card at their office and give me a number to call to read off my STB numbers for pairing. Saving the savvy some time (while preserving my PTO).

However, having moved to Cox’s switched digital video (SDV) ecosystem, a truck roll ($30/tv) is probably still required. As their Cisco/SA tuning adapters have been extremely flakey. Last summer, my first tech was a no show and the second installer arrived several hours later to get two TiVo units going. It took him, Cox’s ninja CableCARD tech, over 2 hours of continual tuning adapter and TiVo reboots along with multiple calls back to the office to get everything going properly. (Followed by months of my own regular device reboots to reclaim those switched stations, which randomly vanished and magically reappeared a few days later.) So my expectations were pretty low yesterday, when reactivating a loaner Moxi HD DVR for testing the Moxi Mate DVR extender’s new live TV streaming functionality (which overcomes TiVo’s biggest limitation in our household).

The Cox installer had never seen a Moxi HD DVR before, and had many Moxi versus TiVo questions for me, but showed no fear in getting it running. I appreciated his methodical approach — pairing and verifying the CableCARD before tackling the SDV tuning adapter. Amazingly, he was in and out in 35 minutes. With ZERO Moxi and ZERO tuning adapter reboots. (Plus, he wore booties over his shoes and wouldn’t take a tip.) So, either Moxi is better at CableCARD technology than TiVo or those tuning adapters have received some sort of firmware update. Maybe both. Regardless, this gives me (tru2way) hope and kudos to Cox for a flawless install.

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hauppauge-media-mvp-hd-6

I sat down for a nice chat with the Hauppauge folks earlier this afternoon. Where I learned they’ll be launching the MediaMVP-HD next month for $149. This device resides in the same space as Western Digital’s HD WD TV, in allowing you to playback a variety of local media via USB storage or the network (UPnP, Windows share). The MediaMVP-HD is also an Internet-connected device with several services, such as YouTube (displayed below), in development. Speaking of Internet-connected, while the initial rev of this device requires a hardline, Hauppauge intends to bring support for 802.11 to the line. And, obviously, unlike the MediaMVP this replaces, high def is supported (including 1080p).

Also, very interesting, Hauppauge has confirmed they’re working on a CableCARD device…! As someone who’s followed CableCARD technology for a some time, I salute these guys. (And other smaller companies, like Ceton and Silicon Dust, going down this path.) The tech and integration are non-trivial and certification runs a cool $250k.  Stay tuned.

Click to enlarge:

ceton-cabecard

I’ve just received word that Ceton will be unveiling a low profile, PCI Express “Quad-Tuner” card at CES. Strike that. Steve Ballmer will be unveiling the Ceton card. During Microsoft’s opening CES keynote tomorrow evening! The $399 PC accessory is expected to ship in Q1 and enables simultaneous tuning of four live channels of digital cable via one multistream CableCARD. (We don’t yet know how many tuners the new CableCARD HDHomeRun offers.) While more tuners are better, without a holistic whole-home approach their full potential won’t be tapped. But given the pressure encouragement I’ve received from various directions to attend Microsoft’s keynote, I suspect they’ll have more to say in this space. Hopefully something which includes the resurrection of the Media Center Extender and the introduction of a headless Windows Media Center component running on WHS. And I’ve heard recurring whispers of new/more “IPTV” initiatives. Will the Xbox 360 finally see some television services in the US? Stay tuned…

hdhomerun-cablecard

We’ve been hearing of something exciting coming from SiliconDust, the company that brought us the popular HDHomeRun network dual tuner product (a favorite of mine), and it looks like this is the week we’ll be getting the details on it. Over on the SiliconDust forums, the company revealed (screenshot above) they’ll be announcing a new CableCARD HDHomeRun product! The official announcement with all of the details (timing, pricing, number of tuners) will come at CES later this week. The recent elimination of the CableLabs certification requirement for the PC makes CableCard more accessible to all Windows 7 Media Center users. Add to that the ongoing development of a plugin to bring CableCard to SageTV users and it’s exciting to even more HTPC enthusiasts.

Check out more of Brent’s reflections on tech, gadgets, software and media at Brent Evans Geek Tonic.

qioxte

Being enrolled in auto-pay, I rarely see a cable bill. However, now that Dexter and Californication have come to an end for the year, I took a look at my latest statement before canceling Showtime ($16/mo) earlier this week. When I moved over the summer, from a Comcast region to Cox, I gave up several HD channels. Which the Cox PDF indicates I should now be reclaiming:

Cox Communications is excited to provide 13 new HD channels between December 16-31, 2009. The new channels are: msnbc HD on ch. 777, BET HD on 736, ABC Family HD on 774, Disney HD on 775, HBO2 HD on 787, More Max HD on 788, TMC HD on 789, Encore HD on 790, Tennis Channel HD on 784, Investigation Discovery HD on 792, BBC America HD on 778, Starz Edge HD on 791 and Disney XD HD on 776.

I’ll gladly take MSNBC and BBC America in HD (again). Although, this probably means more switched digital video. Accompanied by more periodic CableCARD/SDV Tuning Adapter switched station blackouts. And I’m stuck with Cox for better or for worse… as I get zero OTA ATSC reception at my current location. (Satellite and FiOS TV aren’t available to me either.) However, also in my statement is the first mainstream consumer cable-co discussion, that I can recall, of clear QAM. Which gives me hope. Although, at this point, it seems unlikely TiVo will ever provide manual clear QAM mapping capabilities.

We will also be moving ShopNBC from analog to digital service and it will remain on digital ch. 29. A digital receiver or Clear QAM tuner will be required to view ShopNBC.

Lastly, Cox reinforces the limitations of retail CableCARD devices that haven’t been retrofitted for use with SDV tuning adapters (think CableCARD televisions). But I’d probably choose to forgo the extra programming in lieu of that horrid SARA DVR experience.

Consumer-owner devices equipped with a CableCARD may require a digital set top receiver in order to receive all programming options offered by Cox digital cable.