Archives For CableCARD

ZNF pal Ben Drawbaugh has taken Ceton’s pre-release InfiniTV 4 ($399) for a spin on FiOS. And comes away pleased with its performance:

The InfiniTV 4 works exactly like you’d expect; you pop open the case and drop it into a free PCI-E 1x (or higher) slot, load a simple driver, call your cable company and ask them to bring a multi-stream CableCARD and connect the coax cable. What it really comes down to is that we love the InfiniTV 4. It works as advertised and really makes Windows 7 Media Center the best DVR there is (for cable subscribers).

Many in our geeky TV demographic have been following this card for some time. The first that let’s you simultaneously tune 4 streams of digital cable via Windows Media Center. Ceton’s price of entry requires commitment, and the lack of new extenders on the market worries me. But this appears to be a solid solution. One you could probably build for not much more than a new TiVo Premiere ($300) with Lifetime service ($400).

As for me, I’m not sure what comes next… I’m really digging Moxi, especially the multi-room streaming via extenders. Yet, the sometimes cluttered, inconsistent UI and lack of VOD (Netflix or Amazon) gives me pause. The new TiVo Premiere, while packing a serious hardware punch, isn’t much different from my Series3 and HD in terms of functionality. Which remain locked down by the CCI Byte. Cox’s steampunk DVR is, of course, out of the question. So, there could very well be a Ceton solution in my future. Especially if some of the Broadband Plan suggestions come to pass, allowing SageTV to tap (legitimately, hack-free) into a CableCARD without pricey certification. After all, they’ve got the extenders.

After a number of schedule adjustments and device redesigns, Ceton’s feeling pretty dang confident they’ll finally ship their first CableCARD PC tuner by May 31st. In fact, they’re now taking pre-orders of the $399 quad tuning, low profile PCI express card — rebranded as the InfiniTV 4. Not to be confused with Xfinity. Or Eyefinity.

I’ve had a few PC requirement questions come my way, and Ceton’s put a page up that sheds some light on the situation. Although, we’ll probably have to wait for some real world usage to get a better sense of what it takes to simultaneously record 4 HD streams of digital cable. And Ceton’s been in touch regarding a review unit.

However, Ben Drawbaugh (EngadgetHD) is probably better equipped to pull together a comprehensive analysis of a loaner card (already on hand). As I’m not prepared to invest the cash assembling a hardware solution until Microsoft, or partners, put out some new extenders. Not only for whole home DVR usage, but as assurance that the Windows Media Center platform hasn’t been abandoned by MS. It’s been awfully quiet…

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…