The NCTA & TiVo Confirm SDV Dongle For 2008

TiVo and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have confirmed a switched digital video (SDV) dongle is in under development which will allow retail CableCARD devices (like the TiVo HD and Series3) to receive SDV digital programming:

The adapter will work on any Unidirectional Digital Cable Ready Product (UDCP) that has a USB connector and necessary firmware. The cable industry is working with TiVo to ensure that installation of CableCARDs and the adapter will be easy and seamless for the consumer. Cable operators will make the new adapters available for TiVo customers in the second quarter of 2008. “We are gratified that the cable industry has agreed to work quickly to develop a solution that will enable existing TiVo CableCARD DVRs to directly access switched digital cable channels and ensure the adapter is part of an easy installation process for cable subscribers,” said TiVo’s Rogers.

As I’ve mentioned before, the SDV rollout is somewhat concerning for us high def TiVo owners… So I’m pleasantly surprised to see this issue being addressed. Without requiring the FCC step in. Though I wonder how much the cable company will charge for such a device and I’ll lament the (presumed) loss of yet another slot on my surge protector.

27 thoughts on “The NCTA & TiVo Confirm SDV Dongle For 2008”

  1. TiVo HD and Series3 both have two USB ports. Even if you were using the TiVo-branded wireless adapter, you’d still have a free USB port. External storage uses the eSATA connection. I assume the SDV adapter will require an external power supply and will be used as a coax pass-thru between the wall and the TiVo, plus that aforementioned TiVo < -> USB connection. Mari’s going to do some digging over at Motorola, who’s been involved in this product, to see if she can provide more detail.

    I’m out of power and networking outlets in my place. I’ve got too much gear – some my own, some work, and some review products. In fact, we were talking last night about dumping Vonage – partially to free up a network jack on the router and several spots on one of the surge protectors (phone wall-wart, plus VoIP router wall-wart). And I just ordered another SlingLink TURBO 4-Port last night. It will replace a flakey wireless bridge, leaving me with just one flakey wireless bridge and two TURBO 4-Ports.

  2. Utilities are included with our rent. Guess it all works out though because our rent is overpriced. I had a Netgear Skype Phone which I gave away – it wasn’t for me. But I do use my bluetooth earpiece or wired headset with Skype now and then. In addition to my own cell phones (rotate between Treo 750 and Blackjack on AT&T), I have two other active units (Verizon Motorola Q 9m, Sprint Treo 700p) for work. Melissa also has a phone (Blackberry Curve), so we’re thinking that should cover us.

  3. This is good news and probably will lead to a second TivoHD/Series purchase by the end of the year. I will be bugged if there is a rental fee associated with the dongle. Fear of SDV issues/rate increases had me setting up an OTA set up this weekend to gauge whether I could give up cable. The Home Depot made-for-outdoor-mounting works well enough so it looks like a viable alternative — if I can give up espn/tnt . I’ll test the signal for awhile before I consider dumping cable.

  4. IMO, the dongle prossibly could allow On Demand on some systems(even though that’s done a little bit differently), but the cable company may decide not to offer it. The dongle may be legally required to comply with federal regs for access to all channels. On Demand is a different story. With a Tvo and Unbox, On Demand becomes less desirable (assumes existence of HD downloads from Unbox).

  5. Ken, good question. I think it depends how far and wide SDV goes. If all providers have the capability to transmit in SDV and the bulk of channels are switched, it would make sense to integrate this functionality. Though TiVo (and we consumers) would probably end up footing the bill, as I doubt the providers would chip in.

    Kevin, Vince – I don’t imagine VOD will be provided for a variety of reasons, including those business considerations (for both cable and TiVo) plus top priority is getting the switching function out the door in a timely fashion. Unbox is decent, but it’s still not HD – I’d actually prefer VOD. Though Amazon+TiVo could end the VOD conversation and make more money by going HD. Speaking of which, I wonder if Moxi has or will line up a movie distribution partner.

    I heard back from my TiVo press contact. The NCTA doesn’t have any images of the box to share. I assume it’s nondescript except for being unattractive. ;) Perhaps Mari will be able to dig up details…

  6. I’m working on it! I’m trying to cover my bases so I don’t get my head chopped off by writing something that’s not supposed to be public.

    RE: Timing- you gotta figure the cablecos were pushing hard to make this happen given that they don’t want unhappy TiVo owners unsubscribing from cable services.

  7. And they don’t want unhappy TiVo owners complaining to the FCC. ;)

    Mark, Would be nice if it pulled juice off USB (especially since I’ll need two). We shall see.

    We shall also see when they really deliver and if the installers know what to do with it. It’s good that it’s coming, but it’ll still be a burden for uneducated consumers. Things were so much simpler when we only had 100 NTSC cable assignments available.

    By the way, the resize function of text boxes in Safari 3 is pretty cool! I’d try dumping Firefox, but Safari was adding weird code when editing ZNF posts in WordPress. Hmm.

  8. This has be excited. Comcast has yet to roll SDV to my market, but it is only a matter of time.
    I feel a little better now knowing that my S3 won’t become obsolete as quick.

  9. My local cable provider (TWC) does have a couple of switched HD channels, and I’m sure that will only be increasing. It’s nice to know that I won’t have to worry about it much longer, as long as this actually happens this time.

  10. Seems likely they’ll be two-way communication needed, so I don’t see how an RF-attached dongle would work. Obviously the cable company can communicate bidirectionally over that cable, but avoiding conflicts would be problematic, and the issue this thing is trying to solve is doing the right RF communication in the first place.

    I’ll bet on a USB attached dohickey. It basically needs to run OCAP or something inside a little computer hooked up via USB. How would the right image get to the little computer? Ummm… via RF?

    One of the problems with SDV is that there are so many different approaches, so there is no standard for Tivo to write to. Presumably your Tivo would talk to the dongle and say “hey, I’d like to switch to channel XX, and after a short wait please tell me what RF channel/program number to tune to”.

    Maybe the image would be downloaded to the Tivo and pushed over USB to the dongle. But that wouldn’t work because there are different protocols for each vendors equipment…

    Maybe its both a USB dongle and an RF bypass?

  11. Glenn, it is just a USB transceiver basically. All SDV uses one of two signaling systems – DSG or QPSK. Putting both in one dongle is not hard. The actually message formats are a small set. What the NCTA has done is to define a standard set that all vendors can implement in firmware – which is what TiVo will do. The dongle handle the bidirectional communication over the cable line.

    It is actually relatively simple. There are no conflicts to worry about, any system using SDV has a standard communications channel – which is how the STBs tune today. The dongle uses exactly the same signaling as a cable STB. There is no need for anything complex like OCAP, it is a simple protocol. “I’d like to tune channel X.” “OK, channel X is on frequency Y now.” There are other requirements – the box has to do keep alives to let the head end now a channel is still in use so the frequency isn’t reclaimed. And it needs to time out if there is no user interaction after a certain time period, so that the frequency can be reclaimed, etc.

  12. Megazone

    Thanks for some of the dongle details.

    Clearly the USB side of the dongle is simple and system independent. Is the RF side also published and system independent so that Tivo and other CE companies can eventually build it in?

    Would it violate Cablelabs spec for cablecard to include a transmitter in the Tivo?

  13. Okay, so if there are only two different signaling protocols DSG or QPSK, why can’t Tivo just code this up in the Tivo 3/HD unit itself? Why does it need the dongle at all? They have a processor, they have presumably RAM and CPU available, access to the wire, etc. If they don’t have the hardware to do DSG or QPSK then it would seem like they’d have to be connected to the RF too no?

  14. Mega:

    If TiVo were to release the channel, that would be a change in traditional behavior wherein the TiVo stays on the channel and buffers 30min, so any time you turn on your TV you have that buffer.

  15. HDTiVo – Yep, it will be a change to behavior that they will be required to do to support SDV. Tuners are not allowed to ‘nail up’ a channel and lock a frequency up indefinitely, period. If the channel is not being deliberately recorded (I’d suppose Suggestions would count too) or watched by a human (which would be based on remote activity) the TiVo will have to free it.

    Glenn – The TiVo does not have the hardware to do the signaling. AND they’re not *allowed* to put in in the box. Unidirectional CC devices are forbidden from transmitting on the cable network. The dongle will be provided by the cable company, just like the CableCARDs. The cable industry is strongly against allowing 3rd party vendors, like TiVo, to build the transceivers into their products due to concerns over possible spurious signals, corrupt signals, etc. The dongle WILL be connected to the cable – most likely it will sit between the wall and the TiVo. The cable will come from the wall into the dongle, which will be connected to the TiVo via USB. And then from the dongle to the cable input on the TiVo. The incoming video signals will pass through the dongle to the TiVo, will the incoming and outgoing signaling will terminate in the dongle.

    Ken – Under what has been published so far, CE vendors are forbidden from building it into their boxes. So no, they will not be able to – even if they had the specs it would not be allowed to be enabled. And building it into the box could cause the device to fail Cable Labs certification completely.

  16. I’ve always wished there were a default channel option of some sort so a TiVo would always be on a certain channel (like CNBC or CNN, etc.) when not otherwise occupied. It would be nice if that were part of the channel release process.

  17. I’ll believe it when I see it. How long did it take them to release an hd dvr, tivo to go for those hd dvr’s? My prediction is that this will be just another pipe dream…
    Tivo I’m really hoping you can prove me wrong, and execute.

  18. The main delay for the HD TiVo was not in TiVo’s hands, it was the delay in getting CableCARD to market. CableCARD was nearly two years late in deployment, and was deployed slower than expected. TiVo couldn’t release the Series3 until CableCARD was widely available, and they released the S3 within months of that happening.

    The dongle won’t be released by TiVo, it will come from the cable MSO – like the CableCARD.

  19. SDV = switched digital video? Will someone please clarify for me the definition of “switched” digital video vs “unswitched”?

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