Archives For CableCARD

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We’ve discussed this unit a few times in the comments, and I finally managed to get my hands on the Gefen HD PVR ($999). It was announced last summer, and Gefen intended to ship prior to the end of 2007. I’m not actually sure if they made their target, but they’re definitely shipping now in 2008.

The first things you need to know are that Gefen doesn’t provide an EPG (that I could find) and there’s no network connectivity. Recording is initiated while viewing live content or via scheduling. No pausing of live television either. Really, this is nothing more than a glorified VCR. But where things get interesting is the advertised ability to record high definition content via HDMI. To the best of my knowledge, HDMI and HDCP licensing specifically prohibits recording… Which is why we haven’t seen any other devices like this.

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HTPC guru “AVeNVy” and I confirmed the Gefen DVR records (HBO via CableCARD!) from a Motorola HDCP set-top box over HDMI in 720p and 1080i. The unit has both an internal hard drive and a SD card reader. Until we dropped STB output to 480i, we couldn’t record onto my SD card. Therefore, it appears HD content is restricted to the unit’s hard drive. However, we removed four screws and voided the warranty to determine that recordings (H.264 MPEG-4) are unprotected on the DVR’s 2.5″ drive (and play fine in Windows).

What’s going on here… Licensing loophole, software bug, ignorance, arrogance, my own limited understanding? Hm.

Click on thumbnails for a larger view:

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I had assumed the lawsuits would ultimately kill Vonage… And while they still might, as part of our moving prep, I made the decision to proactively kill service. My 2.5 years with them has been somewhat rocky, including poor customer service and call quality issues. Complaints from folks on the other end of the line is what finally led me to this decision.

In Vonage’s defense, I’ve really appreciated the voicemail->email feature and their pricing was extremely competitive. However, our multiple cell phones and SkypeOut should be sufficient going forward. If not, for the first time in years, we’ll consider going back to a reliable Verizon landline. Continue Reading…

In a press release, which could be a mixed bag, Cisco reports:

Scientific Atlanta, a Cisco company, today announced that commitments for its Switched Digital Video (SDV) platform in the U.S. have exceeded 7 million homes passed. By extending and distributing the management of the video and data network control plane all the way to the “edge” of the network (generally speaking, at the optical node), operators can maximize their network investment by sharing quadrature amplitude modulators (QAMs) across both video-on-demand (VoD) and switched digital video traffic.

While SDV currently poses a problem for retail CableCARD devices (think TiVo) unable to resolve switched programming, these 7 million homes may not all receive SDV channels. Yet. And of those that do, we’re probably only talking a few stations. For now. 7 million represents greater than 10% of US cable subscribers, and Time Warner has indicated they intend to deploy SDV to 50% of customer homes this year.

SDV allows the providers to more efficiently utilize their bandwidth, a consideration with digital and HD content proliferation, but as a TiVo owner I’m somewhat concerned. Sounds like the various stakeholders are working on a technical solution, but when will it be released and who pays for it? And I assume I’ll have to give up yet another spot on my surge protector.

Continue Reading…

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  November 12, 2007

A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our other blogs:

Towards the end of last week, two very interesting pieces of news came out of the cable industry…

First, I noticed over on TiVo Lovers that CableLabs has approved a new content protection system using traditional IP networking (in addition to the existing Firewire standard). Megazone speculates that TiVo knew this standard was under consideration (heck, they probably helped push for it), thus setting the stage for them to deliver on their Series3/HD TiVoToGo and Multi-room Viewing promises later this year.

Next up… SDV is spreading rapidly, but as many who invested in a high definition TiVo can tell you, this isn’t necessarily a good thing: switched channels free up bandwidth for cable providers, but folks using commercially available CableCARD devices get nada. We’ve heard for months that industry is working on a solution and, via Slashdot, Multichannel News reports:

The NCTA said cable has worked with individual consumer-electronics makers – it cited TiVo – to develop a solution that can provide two-way switched digital video channels to unidirectional digital cable products. This tuning resolver option requires a firmware update and a Universal Serial Bus 2.0 device.

This is potentially very good news and I’m impressed that it’s been proposed without the FCC dropping the hammer. Of course, it remains to be seen how quick something like this can make it to market (both hardware and software) and at what price. From where I’m sitting, the cable companies should underwrite the hardware and provide boxes to any customer in need.

SDV Keeps On Rollin’

Dave Zatz —  August 24, 2007

In the next month, Cox will deploy SDV in neighboring Fairfax (VA) county. Multichannel News writes:

In Northern Virginia, where Cox has about 240,000 subscribers, the SDV system will go live systemwide in about 30 days, according to Kelso. Later this year, Cox plans to roll out the system in its Phoenix and Orange County, Calif., systems. Cox is the third major cable operator to publicly acknowledge using BigBand’s SDV.

Obviously the concern for many TiVo customers, and others with commercially available CableCARD set-top boxes or televisions, is that switched channels can’t be viewed. Supposedly folks are at work on this issue, which will only become more prominent as both CableCARD  and SDV penetration increases. I hope a solution can be worked out in a timely manner without the FCC stepping in, but I’m not feeling optimistic…

(Thanks, Alexi!)

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Building the perfect DVR/video-entertainment device is hard, which is why cable or telco TV plus a Netflix or Blockbuster + Movielink service is probably your best bet right now. But lest ye be sitting in your living room bemoaning the state of your set-top set-up, let me offer up a bit of context on why building the perfect box is so hard.

There’s the leased set-top model used by cable operators. In an effort to make those set-tops as cheap and efficient as possible, a lot of constraints are applied. There can’t be too much storage or processing power, too many added features or too much open access for modification that could muck up the service for everyone. Not an ideal situation, but on the other hand, these operators bring DVR to the masses.

There’s the retail model, which is owned by TiVo. People who have TiVo tend to love TiVo, but relatively few people have it because of the price. Plus, there’s the issue of plugging TiVo into your cable or telco network. Either you need a separate set-top from your service provider or you need a CableCARD. CableCARD certification is a serious technical challenge (more than I think most people realize) and it still doesn’t provide access to two-way services like video-on-demand and switched digital video.

Finally there’s the Internet model. All those media extenders that made big news early in the year, and P2P services like Joost (the box here being your computer). Here the problem is both content and bandwidth. Not enough appealing, timely content to keep people happy, and/or not enough bandwidth to keep content flowing efficiently.

So what’s on the horizon? Continue Reading…