As some of you may recall, I recently moved across the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia. In addition to picking up a new stand for our plasma, we also inherited a new cable provider. With a new set of challenges. I’ve mostly come to terms with that multi-hour CableCARD install ($30 per set) and general, ongoing switched digital video (SDV) tuning adapter flakiness in making the transition from Comcast to Cox Communications. The real frustration the last few weeks has been the near total loss of TiVo Multi-Room Viewing (MRV) and TiVoToGo due to my cable company’s misguided attempt at copy protection and TiVo’s technical implementation.
This isn’t a new issue. Just new to me. We’ve seen all sorts of blogosphere copy protection flareups and Alex over at TiVo Blog provided an even-handed description of the situation earlier this year. Basically, cable providers have the ability to selectively flag digital content to restrict DVR copying. It’s not THE broadcast flag, but it’s A broadcast flag. The “CCI Byte” value embedded within a broadcast determines what DVRs, such as TiVo, are permitted to do with the content. Anything other than a “Copy Freely” value will be prohibited from TiVoToGo or MRV copying, as you can see from TiVo’s support note on the topic:
0x00 – Copy freely – Content is not copy protected. This is the only CCI value that allows content to be transferred via multi-room viewing (MRV) or TiVoToGo™ transfers
0x01 – Copy No More – Internally, TiVo DVRs treat this the same as 0x02
0x02 – Copy Once – The DVR can make a recording, but can’t transfer it via MRV or TiVotoGo transfers.
0x03 – Copy Never – the content can be recorded and viewed for 90 minutes after transmission, and is not transferable. Content disappears from the Now Playing list after 90 minutes.
Where I, and many Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers, find themselves is a “Copy Once” purgatory. Pretty much anything beyond basic cable, think OTAs, can be recorded onto a TiVo but is prohibited from being transferred beyond that one unit. (This will also restrict Windows Media Center new-found DRM “freedom.”) TiVoToGo was an expendable service for me at this point – I rarely used it, other than periodically loading up on shows prior to a flight. But MRV has been a huge loss. The value of my TiVos has been greatly diminished. (Stay tuned for a followup post on that point).
As I see some inconsistencies in how the CCI Byte is being applied by Cox, I reached out to both TiVo and the cable industry (NCTA) for some backdoor assistance. However, both were dead ends. At least they knew what I was talking about. I seriously doubt the first tier phone agents would have any knowledge of this digital copy protection scheme (and supposedly there are only a few dozen CableCARD TiVos active in this Cox franchise.)
A better implementation for TiVo’s MRV, and what we see with Windows Media Center and Moxi in the retail space, is an extender model in which shows are streamed to another node in the home rather than copied to another device. Similar to what Verizon (FiOS TV) and AT&T (U-Verse) have also implemented within their whole-home DVR initiatives. End users get to watch what they’ve paid for, and the content owners need not worry about piracy. I’ve got no idea if the overly secretive TiVo, Inc. is retooling MRV to address this copy protection issue their end-users are struggling with. But, as a frustrated subscriber of both TiVo and Cox, I sure hope so.