Archives For CableCARD

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.


I’ve always held a somewhat skeptical view of the industry’s bold OCAP and tru2way proclamations. Which is why I find Glenn’s recent comment notable:

Given how poorly this worked, I’d be starting to tone the death knell for OCAP/tru2way at this point. The cable industry missed the self-imposed July 1 deadline, and by quite a bit at this point. Given that I don’t see any more tru2way ready TVs coming out this Christmas do you? I assume the electronics giants are going to start renegging on their end as well. And with that tru2way will die a well deserved death. The bad news is that this will also mean the rumored Tivo Series 4 won’t be coming to a retailer near you any time soon either, and we’ll all be stuck with these stupid rebooting tuning adapters for the forseeable future. I think the whole cable industry is going to be overwhelmed by the coming “Over the Top” video revolution myself.


Since EngadgetHD has yet to post a round up of their CEDIA coverage (the show floor is still open), I wanted to highlight some of the Media Center news. I can’t say it’s lived up to Ben Drawbaugh’s predictions or my lofty expectations. As I tweeted after Microsoft’s off-site event earlier this week, “The news was good, but there wasn’t much of it.” Bottom line: Build your own CableCARD computers, SDV support on the way, less DRM for more portable recordings, multi-stream CableCARD tuner coming, and the DISH Network tuner initiative isn’t entirely dead. Also notable is what’s missing… Where the heck are the new Windows 7 media extenders, is AMD/ATI out of the CableCARD tuner business, and how about some more substantial Windows Home Server MC integration?

Media Center CableCARDs freed from OEM requirement
The OEM requirement on CableCARDs has been officially lifted, freeing Joe Six Packs all over from having to buy whole systems.

Hands-on with the Ceton CableCARD tuner
The Ceton CableCARD tuner is a single PCI-E card that uses one multi-stream CableCARD and offers the ability to record four HD channels at once.

Dish Network Media Center tuner hands-on
We’re happy to say that Dish was proudly displaying a Dish Tuner for Media Center 7 at its booth. The bad news however is that it was just a “proof of concept.”

Windows 7 to get a better version of Netflix than Vista
The Windows 7 version of the Netflix Watch Instantly still isn’t going to work on Extenders for Media Center, but it will include a more seamless experience than the Vista version does


According to Windows Media Center blogger Chris Lanier, a new OCUR CableCARD firmware update is coming soon that will enable support for cable company switched digital video broadcasts via tuning adapter hardware. There will also be an additional change that allows for “less DRM on non-flagged CableCard recordings.” So expect this to be one of the positives for MediaCenter fans coming out next week at CEDIA. Kudos to Ben Drawbaugh of EngadgetHD for calling this one early on.

Catch more of Brent’s reflections on tech, gadgets, software and media over at Geek Tonic.


Beginning in 2010, cable provider RCN will deploy TiVo as their primary DVR. While RCN has a smaller footprint than say a Comcast or Time Warner, this is pretty significant as the cable plant engineering requirements should be minimal… I believe they’re just re-purposing retail TiVo hardware with some RCN UI branding tweaks and charging a typical monthly rental fee. Additionally, cable VOD services will be powered via TiVo’s recent partnership with SeaChange. As in: This ain’t a tru2way play.