Archive for the ‘Open Cable’ Category

Living Without MRV and SDV

July 29, 2008

For a few months I have been doing other things besides thinking about TiVo and the digital video revolution in general. I still watch TV, and whenever I am where my TiVoes are, I watch through them like the old days. Well, actually the very old days its getting to be… 😦

You see I live in a world where all digital cable channels except broadcast are copy never. That was not so bad when my cableCARDs always mysteriously tuned channels that were digital simulcast to their analog versions, but now my cableCARDs have been brought into the spirit of the modern digital cable era.  Thus all my nice series off SciFi and whatever else can not be MRV’d. This is especially acute since my recorded content heavily shifted to digital cable due to the writers strike.

As my poor TiVoes are being thrown back to the era before MRV and my home network grows increasingly useless, is TiVo doing anything about this? Is anyone? Copy Flag rules were written to the extreme detriment of the consumer, and even the content provider who does not seem to have control over their content’s transfer rights. The cable companies are in complete control. Few noticed much perhaps because there was no significant force to complain. I exist amongst a handful of TiVo users that this affects and apparently TiVo didn’t see the problem or has been too busy fighting and compromising on other fronts and couldn’t forestall this clamp down of one of their major differentiating features.

My next beef is SDV. Where is the thingy? I bet it is no where to be seen. Now I get to record/watch far less of the content I pay for from the cable company than before; of course my rates have gone up to compensate the cable co for all those wonderful additional channels they provide which my TiVoes can’t pick up. I am very close to the point of asking for a rate reduction based on SDV and cableCARD use. SDV is a wonderful technology which the cable cos should be deploying for the benefit of customers in general, however individual customers that can not get the content should not be charged for it. That is only fair, and should be factored into the business decisions of the cable cos. (There are so few cableCARD users, that it won’t change anything.) This will be an individual battle though, because there are so few of us. Maybe if a few tens of thousands of complaints are raised with the cable cos and FCC some general policy will issue.

This article reflects that I haven’t followed what has been happening for about three months, and maybe I’ll poke around and see something significant has happended to make these complaints unimportant.


Was CableCARD Ever a Good Idea?

April 19, 2008

A long time ago some geniuses in government managed to pass a law with the idea of creating a competitive consumer electronics industry in the niche of the cable STB.

Lower prices, innovation, features, technology, consumer benefits …

The only benefits to come out of all this mucking around in all these years is the ability to save around $5/mo on a CC vs an STB, and the idea of recording TV shows. While the first is a benefit, I would not call it a significant benefit because it comes at the cost of several “services” cable STBs offer. As for the second, well, lets not sneeze at it, but come on, no other ideas than that in all these years?

It is probably the case that there never was much to be had out of opening cable networks. The only real technological problem cableCARD has ever solved is the ability to record HD – HD component and HDMI recording only just now becoming practical. The only real application to opening a video network seems to be the abilty to capture the video.

Heck, DVRs could have captured compressed digital streams off firewire outputs from cable STBs years ago, without all the hassle.

We are left only with the dual (multi) tuner issue. For many years I have controlled multiple TiVoes in a single room; all that´s ever needed to be done is require cable cos to provide STBs with IR codes, or better yet a multi-tuner STB with multiple (or muxed) digital outputs. All that could have been done years ago with far less hassle and headache.

I am wondering if anyone can chime in with some sort of idea that offers a more optomistic outlook on the open cable landscape. Surely we will get something more for all this than a video recorder with a different UI and less access to cable services than with a cable provided box?

Where´s the GD Tuning Resolver?

April 16, 2008

Reference is made to a post on TCF which refers to this HD Guru article so I don´t have to reinvent the wheel…


I received a response a short time ago from Mike Schwartz at CableLabs in regard to a series of questions I emailed him asking for details and results of the interop testing done last week. In essence, he says they are treating the event as private and suggest I contact the vendors…though he does not say who was there, which was one of my questions.  😀  I bet TiVo was there.  😉

He goes on to say…

What I can say is that we stand ready to conduct compliance testing on tuning adaptors
and UDCPs that implement the interface, once suppliers wish to submit.


which does not sound to me like Q2 availability.  😉

Subject: Tuning Resolver Status

Dear Mr. Schwartz,

I am an analyst/blogger in the digital video field who writes under the pen name
HDTiVo (

I am researching the status of the tuning resolver for UDCPs to access SDV channels,
and understand interoperability testing was done last week at CableLabs. What can
you tell me publicly about the status of the TR´s development and expected availability
date to either cable companies or actual end users?

The testing done last week, was that with final production versions of the TR that
cable cos. will be purchasing or with prototypes? Was the testing merely for 3rd
party UDCPs with final TRs?

How would you characterize the results? Were there more or less problems than expected?
Will projected availabilty dates be changed?

What companies brought their UDCPs and what types were they, to the extent you can

I am especially interested in as much info about

TiVo´s Series 3 Platform units
as you can provide.

Many thanks in advance for taking the time to respond,




I would keep an eye on zatznotfunny for more news from Mari Sibley.

Say Goodbye To CableCARD DVRs

January 5, 2008

Imagine if you could record anything you want from any source. Imagine if you could install your DVR as easily as a TiVo Series2.

 That’s a long way from what cableCARD allows with its SDV limits, no PPV or VOD, copy flags, etc.

This new device records component HD and has not one but two HDMI inputs. It apparently records in mpeg4 format, has an SD slot for additional storage (portability?) and may cost $999 to start.

SlingMedia is introducting a box (PRO-HD) which records component HD for $399.

The day has finally come when you will never again here it costs too much to record analog HD for a consumer device.

Such devices can record from any source – cable, satellite, etc. You are no longer subject to cableCARD or proprietary standards.

What’s Happening?

July 23, 2007


TiVo to debut a lower-priced HD video recorder – Orders to be taken on website tomorrow. In stores early August.

VOD’s Growing Pains – Getting from here to there is a set of incremental steps.

Cable operators and competitors aren’t facing a full-scale swap-out of existing infrastructure, but instead incremental upgrades and expansions. As a benefit, some of the network upgrades for VOD can also be used to deliver more linear HD channels and faster high-speed data service.

This upgrade investment will be far less than the massive infrastructure buildup in the mid-90s. “On an order of magnitude, we’re talking hundreds of millions” of dollars, says Ferris Baker Watts analyst Murray Arenson, who covers leading vendors SeaChange, C-COR and Concurrent.

Opening A Network – Will a TV set stay a TV set?

A TV set is a TV set is a TV set, able to take signals pretty much from any distribution network out there. Over the air broadcasting, satellite broadcasting, cable system, telco system.

You take it for granted. Just as you do — now — your ability to plug any phone you buy at Best Buy into any phone jack in your house

TiVo enlists Ruder Finn – Firm replaces Rogers & Cowan which had worked on TiVo’s consumer efforts. Along with the newly created CMO position, it looks like TiVo is making serious efforts to change their marketing approaches.

Dingell Seeks FCC Answers On Set-Tops, Spectrum Auctions – Why the waivers?

Samsung Targets Early Adopters Wth Set Top Boxes – The cost of those little boxes for analog hold outs.

Redstone Feud Heats Up – No sign of the school teacher in this one.

Previous Stories

SDV, OpenCable & OCAP – Theory & Lessons

July 14, 2007

A couple of months ago I wrote about cable technology developments.

Jonathan Tombes of Communications Technology is doing a much more articulate job of reporting on how the industry is progressing towards a more modern virtual switched network.

Digital Video at Expo – SDV and OpenCable

“a strange thing” happened after activating the first node in July 2004, namely: “nothing.”

Thereafter, he notes, a few trucks rolled, but those subsided. “This says a lot about the technology. It was totally transparent to the average subscriber,” he writes.

Switched Digital Ripens – Reality, Cases and Vendors


OCAP Unleashed: Technology Challenges, Lessons Learned, Opportunities
On July 19, Alticast and Communications Technology are presenting a free webcast on OCAP. This webcast will focus on  lessons learned by cable operators, both here and abroad, and how OCAP applications are being developed and deployed. To register, click here.


The SDV Threat

July 2, 2007

I’ve changed my view on SDV so many times now, I have no idea what I think.

Warning Fellow TV Watchers:

Cable threatens to provide hundreds and hundreds more channels to you, even in HD. You may be able to get virtually anything you want anytime you choose.

Oh, those cable bad boys.

Look out and remember the Chinese curse; may you get what you want.

So what’s the worry? Well, all those one way cable card based devices we’ve been buying are going to be left out in the cold. You know, the 25,000 or so S3s and a couple million TVs. You mean there’s not going to be any viewable signal after cable snakes us? Well, who knows.

So here is the deal: Give most of the US population access to all that content or spare 25,000 TiVo users and some CC equiped TV watchers who may not give a shit anyway? Well, what to do?

SDV represents a revolution in the provision of video content to the nation. Sacrificing it for that paltry group would be a crime against the consumer. But it does not have to be all one way.

The digital TV transition is well underway. Cable is highly motivated to go all digital because it frees up capacity that analog uses to a far greater degree (around 10:1 for SD and 3:1 for HD) and because there ain’t gonna be no analog signals to be had sometime around February of 2009, so why create ’em?

Going all digital frees up alot of capacity. A modern cable system may have around 70 analog channels plus many digital and HD channels already. Those 70 analog channels represent either 700 SD or 210 HD channels, or a combination; SDV channels take the same space as non-SDV channels.

No system needs to allocate so many SDV channels; the systems are actually divided into nodes which have moderate numbers of subscribers, and the SDV channels can be unique to each node. In the near term, maybe 10 or 15 SDV channels would be enough. Later, maybe 20, 30 or 40 might be needed. Worst case, if all SDV channels were set to HD, plenty of room is left over for non-SDV channels.

Suppose the SDV allocation were equal to 60 HD channels; that would leave room for say 100 HD and 170 SD non-SDV channels, all in addition to the HD and SD digital channels currently on the system.

So the solution becomes fairly obvious. With the all digital transition, cable companies can offer infinite choice and an incredible increase in “fixed” channels. CableCARD users win, everyone wins. Indeed, the cable companies aren’t going to want to bother with SDV for any reasonably popular channel because it becomes technically pointless as the likelyhood that someone on the node already is watching it increases, and providing an SDV stream to an individual takes far more resources (think servers & routers) than a fixed channel.

Is this solution going to vary around the country? Sure. What about systems that have only 50 analog channels? Well, the numbers shrink, but there’s still plenty to go around. For the bulk of the population, everything will be fine.

So that’s the technical breakdown. What about the political breakdown?

Well, there aren’t that many CC users, and hopefully there won’t be (one way devices.) Its not a very strong political group – scattered TV owners. They could be “bought out” cheap if necessary for 12 months of a free STB rental , or $100 towards a 3rd party device. That would be small change in the cable industry if it had to come to that.

The TiVo users will be a stronger voice. There is more cohesion; there might be 50,000 S3s and maybe over 100,000 S3-lites to deal with. Still the numbers are small enough that they can be dealt with.

Remember, these two groups would be getting compensated for only getting a huge increase in available channels, but not an infinite number.

The bottom line is I see an achievable compromise in which everyone gets plenty.

Maybe I will change my mind 50 more times. Maybe I can just concentrate on 2-way devices coming into existence somehow, someway.

Maybe I’m nuts because all those S2DT TiVoes are going to become single tuners in the all digital systems unless some box appears for $XXX to get around that.

FCC Grants Blanket Waiver to Integration Ban

July 1, 2007

The FCC has pretty much cancelled today’s integration ban by granting waivers to anyone that goes all digital by Feb. 17, 2009.

The FCC’s Media Bureau today:

Granted an Omnibus Waiver of the integration ban for MVPDs currently all digital or going all digital by February 17, 2009. An all-digital conversion will facilitate the DTV transition, enable expanded service offerings, promote efficient use of the spectrum, deliver broadband services, spur competitive entry, and expand universal service.


Looks like those DT TiVoes could turn into ST TiVoes in less than two years.

The FCC’s decision, which effectively pushes the transition to digital further along, needs to be factored into any thinking on how the commission will handle transitional issues for consumers – ie. “viewable signal,” etal.

There are now so many loopholes to the Integration Ban that it is effectively dead. Smaller operators are being given leniency if they demonstrate they have placed orders for the CC based boxes.

the FCC granted Guam Cablevision a limited waiver until Dec. 31, 2009, citing its “typhoon-prone location” and noting that the island has faced “extraordinary devastation” in recent years.

By issuing this blanket waiver, most of the ill effects that the CC based boxes would have caused are eliminated. By 2009, two way CC or OCAP could be in place, making competitive CE devices viable. Indeed the FCC is looking for a way to get CE devices to market for XMAS ’08.

Any cable co. can declare it is going all digital, and what is the FCC going to do when some don’t meet the deadline? The FCC will extend the deadline, or grant individual waivers on hardship grounds. And of course, Feb 2009 can always turn into Aug 2010.  😉

Alert! Intel Goes OCAP

June 25, 2007

And MSFT gets in deeper too.

MSO Pre-installed CableCARDs

June 25, 2007

According to an artcile in the Seattle Times, cable companies will be able to install cableCARDs in their boxes at their offices. This would disadvantage third party devices which have to have their cards installed on site where the ability to diagnose problems is far more limited.

And cable companies can pre-install the security card before delivering boxes to new subscribers. That’s what Comcast, Motorola’s largest cable customer, plans to do.

However, getting working boxes more easily is a plus.

Open Cable Comes to Collect

June 18, 2007

New set top boxes that use cableCARDs are going to cost $72-93 more per unit, which may translate to a $2-3 per month increase. Comcast for one appears to intend to spread those costs over all box renters instead of charging only the CableCARD box users the full amount.

The the broad population is going to be paying extra for something that is producing no significant consumer benefit and will most likely cause numerous service problems at least in the early months.

CableCARD 1.0, which is all that is available in CE devices, is a useless dead end. Cable companies will deploy proprietary two way boxes which use cableCARDs while the CE Industry can do nothing.

What a way to screw up an open platform – get the government in to broker a half baked solution which only increases consumer prices without any benefits.

Should CableCARD Be Abandoned?

May 16, 2007

Key technological innovation in the cable industry should not be stifled by political worries over a small group of CableCard users. CableCARD 1.0 should be abandoned for the dead end it is in favor of major technical advances that cable can offer soon.

Fundamentally the difference between VOD and SDV is that SDV allows more than one receiver to watch the same broadcast or program stream. At the limit, everyone on a local node would be watching their own HD VOD stream. Some households will not be watching anything, others 1, 2 or more things at once. VOD capacity usage can be improved about 50% by using VBR and multiplexing technologies according to Imagine Communications.

Taking 50 out of 70 analog channels, for example, offline could provide enough bandwidth for HD VOD to around 150 subscribers per node.

Companies like Tandberg, which claims its VOD equipment services 15 million subscribers and is being bought by Ericsson, are making highly scalable systems and using techniques like Imagine Communications’.

Cablevsion believes it can double the number of channels offered in an SDV system, using the assumption that not all channels are watched simultaneously within a given node. At the limit, a limitless number of channels could be offered in an all VOD setup.

Eliminating dependancy on broadcast mpeg2 allows more bandwidth efficiency when re-encoding mpeg2 into mpeg4.

One can see that much of the needed equipment to provide an entirely VOD oriented delivery system via cable is on the horizon. It also looks like the existing “wire” can handle the data rates.

Cable cos are accelerating their plans to implement DOCSIS 3.0, which will provide 160 mbps service at residential rates.

At the point where analog video is removed from the cable network, you can go back to the concept of bits are bits. Whether the network is carrying bits that are video, telephone, radio, text, graphics does not matter technologically. What will be affected over time will be how much the cable company gets paid to carry the bits and how much the cable company pays others to provide the bits. Cable’s costs for programming goes to zero when someone is watching VOD from another source.

Indeed, Comcast later this year will offer a trial of a “converged services” system of voice, video and data over an IP connection based on DOCSIS 3.0, which has support for IP multicasting and IPv6.

Cable is offering to build an advanced platform and should not be hindered at this stage by smaller considerations.


Imagine Communications

Current QAM devices can process a total of 38 Megabits of data per second, Tayer said. If all television programs are encoded at a constant bit rate, each signal requires 3.75 Mbps of processing each second, meaning operators can push about 10 channels through a quadrature amplitude modulation device at one time. By using variable bit-rate encoding, operators can process 15 to 17 channels in each device, Tayer said. “This has never been used for VOD,” Tayer said. “It’s all been done at constant bit rate.”As VOD usage climbs, he said, “the bandwidth problem multiples. With VOD, every stream is unique. It uses a lot of bandwidth. Digital broadcast has been able to take advantage of variable bit rate technology,” and Tayer believes cable operators can do the same for VOD.

Imagine PR:

cable industry’s first SDV solution enabling Variable Bit Rate and statistical multiplexing (VBR/StatMux)


Cablecos Accelerate DOCSIS 3.0 in Move to Gain ‘High Ground’

Comcast senior vice president of new media development, Steve Craddock:  But rather than wait for 2009 or 2010 until full DOCSIS 3.0 equipment is available, Craddock and his crew at Comcast are pushing the vendor community to submit their gear for 3.0 certification now in hopes of having full- and pre-DOCSIS 3.0 gear available in the 2008-09 timeframe. Comcast put together a DOCSIS 3.0 acceleration team, including folks from the business and engineering sides of its organization. That team is working with vendors one on one to try and get them to accelerate their equipment development and certification schedules, he said, which Comcast is hoping to bump up 12 to 15 months from the original CableLabs DOCSIS 3.0 timeline. Comcast wants to bump up the schedule because it needs to scale. So rather than do that with nodes splits, which are expensive, it would rather do it via an early moveto DOCSIS 3.0, said Craddock.  Peter Percosan, director of broadband strategy for TI : Real DOCSIS 3.0 products should be ramping in January 2008. Craddock said DOCSIS 3.0 can be used to blanket the United States for a couple billion dollars. Verizon is spending 10-times that and will cover only about 14 percent of the country.I think we can use DOCSIS 3.0 offensively … grabbing the high ground early,” he continued.“We may do all fiber, we don’t know, but we don’t need to do it any time soon,” said Craddock, adding the only exception might be greenfields in which communities are asking for all fiber.

Texas Instruments Introduces Industry’s First DOCSIS(R) 3.0-Based Solution, Enabling Quick Market Deployment for Cable Operators


“TI anticipates that by 2009 cable operators will stop deploying earlier generations of DOCSIS specification-based products and only offer their subscribers DOCSIS 3.0 technology, as it offers them additional opportunities for revenue with new features and services while providing their subscribers a better technology,”

DOCSIS 3.0 specification based product to the market, featuring download speeds of 160 Mbps in the low-cost residential configuration and 320 Mbps in business services configuration

“DOCSIS 3.0 will be extremely important to our industry in the coming years as our high-speed broadband customers’ appetite for advanced performance and features continues to grow,” said Comcast Chief Technology Officer Tony Werner. “We appreciate TI’s ongoing commitment to the industry, enabling their customers to deliver on the promise of DOCSIS 3.0 this year with compelling new products.” For cable operators, migrating to a DOCSIS 3.0 network will not require a complete network rebuild. Delivering the benefits of a DOCSIS 3.0 network will only require upgrades to the cable modem termination system (CMTS) and customer premise equipment (CPE),

TI’s Puma 5 cable modem chip pounces on Docsis 3.0 transition

“Many MSOs realize that PON architectures like Verizon’s FiOS represent a real threat, but Docsis 3.0 is not just a defensive play against FiOS,” Percosan said. “Bonding four channels downstream into a service group allows complex mixes of services. And the really smart MSOs are mixing their Docsis 3.0 plans with switched digital video plans. The only limitation to that is that the video guys at an MSO don’t always plan in concert with the high-speed-data guys.”

Cable Operator’s Tests of DOCSIS 3.0 Equipment Will Include Video

In one of its DOCSIS 3.0 trials, the operator will provide voice, video and data over a single, high-bandwidth IP connection, according to a presentation by Mark Francisco, director of engineering/home services for Comcast New Media Development, at CableLabs’ winter technology conference in March.

This converged-services trial, in a system that serves 50,000 homes passed, will include an IP-video headend and DOCSIS 3.0 set-top boxes built to the operator’s Residential Network Gateway requirements, Francisco said, according to an industry consultant who was in attendance.

The test bed will also include other network-connected devices, such as Sling Media’s Slingbox…

The latest DOCSIS version also supports IPv6 and IP multicasting improvements for services such as IPTV. 

LSI DX-1710 HD transcoder product line allows seamless distribution of MPEG-2, H.264, and VC-1 content over IPTV and broadband networks


SDV Hearings Today

May 10, 2007

SDV hearings were held today in a House subcommittee.

Tom Rogers offered his two cents from TiVo’s point of view, saying TiVo’s new boxes are all going to depend on CableCARDs. Is he being cute or is he saying nothing CC2.0 is coming from TiVo anytime soon? Should the world come to a stop for 25,000 S3’s or even a few hundred thousands TVs?

My view for a long time has been scrap CableCARD and pay off everyone who uses one – while there still are so few users. Start again with CC2.0 or 3.0 or OCAP or Whatever. CC1.0 is a dead end.

Apparently Cable is being cooperative with TiVo about working out some technical solution. It is not all doom and gloom.

DOCSIS 3.0 Cometh

May 10, 2007

Don’t think you’ll be able to stream HD Video to your PC or TV via the Internet? Take a look at DOCSIS 3.0 which will deliver speeds that are multiples of the HD bit rates.

Comcast’s, chief technology officer Tony Wernersays his company will be testing the technology this year. CableLabs certification of equipment will also begin this year. That means in 2008 it is likely there will be 3.0 modems available to deploy.

Werner says it will cost 70% less to offer 6 mbps service using 3.0 vs 2.0 equipment, and about the same for 100 mbps on 3.0 as 6 mbps on 2.0.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts demoed “real” DOCSIS 3.0 at the NCTA show the other day.

While the higher speed service will require more of the cable’s bandwidth, using the current bandwidth should produce speeds of almost 40 mbps, or 2X the HD video bit rate.

All this may not lead to streaming HD over the Global Internet in the next two years, but it is clear we are in shouting distance of seeing it within a service provider’s network.

ATI gets Cable Labs Cert.

December 22, 2006

According to dt_dc of TiVo Community fame, ATI has received certification for two OCUR devices. The model numbers make one wonder if one is an external device to be connected via USB as discussed in the thread:

Microsoft Windows Vista and Cablelabs Certification

Users of Niveus Media’s high-end Media Center PCs will be able to send in their boxes to be updated with cableCARD functionality.

Check out some Vista Media Center clips on YouTube:

Windows Vista – Windows Media Center – Clip 1

Vista Media Center on Xbox 360