Archives For CableCARD


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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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.

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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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