Archives For CableCARD


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…


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.


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.

As you may have read earlier this month, the FCC went on the record in expressing their dissatisfaction with separable security CableCARD technology, related to industry openness and innovation. Something I’ve been harping on for ages. And there’s plenty of blame to go around. (Pot, meet kettle.) So the FCC has opened up the floor to commentary. Amongst the various players with a vested interest, Ben Drawbaugh alerted me that TiVo has just responded. Not only does TiVo slam the potential HDMI-only output limitation, they tell it like it is in regards to the cable industry’s “artificial and discriminatory restrictions” and point to CableLabs continued (tru2way) shortcomings:

Only the few manufacturers who have agreements with cable operators to deploy the cable industry’s proprietary “tru2way” middleware can create devices that access the full range of services currently offered by cable operators. Yet those tru2way products are forbidden by license from (1) providing any choice in user interface when accessing interactive services, and (2) including non-MVPD programming services, such as Internet-delivered content, in the user interface that displays the available cable programming. Deviations must be requested and often are refused. Tru2way thus prevents a device maker from offering a consumer the full range of options that her product is capable of providing, in a single integrated user interface. In order for manufacturers to create true “plug and play” video devices, these MVPD-imposed, unnecessary limitations need to be removed.

All in all, TiVo’s response is a good read. I hope other retail device manufacturers continue to reinforce these points, that the FCC is listening… and that they have the teeth to do something about it.

What’s next for TiVo?

Dave Zatz —  November 19, 2009


Over at EngadgetHD, Ben Drawbaugh lays out a case (and wishlist) for the imminent release of new stand-alone TiVo DVR hardware. Given the recent TiVo price drops, upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, and long gestation period since the last hardware refresh (Summer, 2007), it’s not an unreasonable proposition.

However, when it comes to tru2way, the cable industry as a whole isn’t quite there yet. CableCARD separable security was federally mandated, whereas the vision of a universal tru2way infrastructure is merely an unenforceable memorandum of understanding amongst many industry players. Who blew right on past their self-imposed deadline. So any new (imminent) stand-alone TiVo box would either need to forgo tru2way capabilities or remain operable in non-tru2way cable environments.

As far as CES is concerned, I get the sense that TiVo fears any big product announcement would be overshadowed amongst thousands of other companies vying for attention. In the years I’ve been attending, TiVo’s CES presence is usually understated — they’re tucked away off the show floor, in a back room conducting mostly invite-only briefings/meetings. Also, if TiVo isn’t prepared to begin shipping new hardware within a few weeks of a show product announcement, they’d potentially cannibalize TiVo HD sales while customers wait it out. And given timing of the new, super-powered Broadcom chip announcement, I don’t foresee it being implemented anytime soon. (Not that this is/was known to be a TiVo Series 4 component.)

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Over the weekend, Microsoft released the CableCARD firmware update for Windows 7 Media Center which relaxes DRM for recordings in a big way and adds support for SDV.  The package arrived as the “ATI Digital Cable Tuner firmware” — available to all of those with the ATI CableCARD tuners via Windows Update. Next, Microsoft also pushed out the Digital Cable Advisor  tool, which checks your computer to ensure it meets minimum hardware requirements for CableCARD viewing/recording. The Digital Cable Advisor, found in the Windows Media Center Extras Gallery, measures system CPU speed, RAM, graphics card support for hardware acceleration, and digital connection capabilities. If your PC meets the minimum requirements, it enables digital cable functionality on your PC. (CableCARD tuner and connection from your cable company required of course.) Once you have it all set up, you’ll be able to use your Windows 7 computer’s Media Center HTPC front-end to access cable TV, including premium content.

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

SARA, The Steampunk DVR OS?

Dave Zatz —  September 28, 2009


As I mentioned yesterday, the cessation of TiVo multi-room viewing (MRV) and ongoing SDV tuning adapter resync annoyances has me playing the field. Over the years, I’ve known a few people running Scientific Atlanta’s 8300HD line of DVRs. I haven’t used one in a couple years, but the issues that bothered me then are still in play on the unit I’ve rented from Cox. (Something like $26/mo including an additional outlet fee).

In many ways, SA’s SARA software sort of feels like a pre-TiVo, pre-ReplayTV DVR. Except those were the first. And you’d think the DVR experience would have evolved in some way over the last ten years. Yet the pixelated graphics, aliased text, and an inability to pause/play without an interstitial black screen sure seems like an alternate history unit from the mid 90s. Also, maybe it’s an option I just couldn’t track down on AVS, but I found the 4:3 UI on a 16:9 screen somewhat jarring and wasteful – I’ve got the space, use it.

Having said that, the 8300HD (actually, it’s an 82*0) does what it should. It’s not as polished as most other DVR experiences, but the retro visuals belie some fairly sophisticated recording options. Perhaps more importantly, it opened our household to the world of OnDemand programming – which is inaccessible from retail one-way CableCARD devices like TiVo. Content may be king… and we enjoyed most of HBO’s True Blood, Season 2 over a few days without needing a Season Pass.

Stay tuned for additional coverage as my experimentation continues… I’ve got a drill and an RF remote. I’ve also got a Slingcatcher. And Ceton’s upcoming Windows Media Center M-Card tuner, coupled with extender hardware, looks promising.


There’s some good news and there’s some bad news. I’ll give you the good news first. Digeo, the shepherds of the Moxi DVR experience, has escaped bankruptcy and liquidation. With what I assume have been slowing cableco sales and poor retail sales, Arris (ARRS) has stepped in and essentially bailed them out for a mere $20 million. There’s also some good news for the non-executive and non-HR Digeo staff… who will be retained. For now.

The bad news is well known by the investors and owners who’ve taken a bath on such a promising property (Moxi) that never really gained the traction and following it probably deserved. There’s been all sorts of chatter regarding the $110 million investment Digeo, a Paul Allen Vulcan property, made in Moxi back in 2002. But that’s just a portion of the total amount that’s been keeping these guys afloat. Several hundred on the payroll is not a trivial expense, never mind development costs and infrastructure expenses. Which is probably why they’ve trimmed down to a lean 75 employees, the most recent and notable reduction coming as a massive re-org and re-focus in January, 2008.

Arris, who seems to primarily serve the cable industry with IP communications, intends to round out their portfolio with a multimedia end-user offering in acquiring Digeo. They see value in the Moxi experience, but perhaps equally important, they see value in Digeo’s intellectual property portfolio. Arris says Moxi customers, cable or retail, should not expect any interruption in service and that updates will continue to flow. But anyone who objectively analyzes the current US landscape will see little opportunity for a retail DVR to find wide success.

Which is why I expect the Moxi HD DVR to take a backseat to a renewed focus on serving cable providers. Although, as DirecTV continues to serve ReplayTV owners, the few Moxi HD DVR customers should continue receiving guide data for some time – even with a de-emphasis on retail. Additionally, I expect hardware prices will probably be slashed in the near future to unload inventory that they can’t move at $800/pop.