Where’s the SDV Tuning Resolver?

Dave Zatz —  April 17, 2008 — 22 Comments

So it’s Q2 and I’m probably not the only one wondering where the SDV Tuning Resolver is. If you recall, this product will allow unidrectional CableCARD retail devices to tune switched digital video channels – which would otherwise be unavailable for viewing. It’s unlikely older CableCARD devices like first generation TVs with slots would receive a firmware upgrade to support the resolver, but I assume TiVo will be (is) all over this – in fact, they’ll need to be as SDV spreads.

Given the multiple layers of testing and certification (manufacturer, CableLabs, TiVo, MSOs) plus training and deployment logistics (cost?), I figured the Q2 target was somewhat aggressive and the HD Guru has discovered:

according to a Cisco spokesperson, its version is now undergoing testing at Cablelabs and is not expected to be released until sometime this summer.

At CES I learned the potential exists for a smaller, more elegant “USB dongle” (as we originally envisioned), rather than the larger AC-powered form factor Mari uncovered at Motorola. I’m hoping this makes it to market. And it’d be especially nice if it could be distributed in retail along with CableCARD devices, rather than (or in addition to) having to go through the local cable-co.

Frankly, this whole thing (SDV) is a cluster and defeats the original purpose/intent of mandated separable security (and confuses consumers – good for MSOs who want you on their VOD boxes). Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution – bandwidth is finite. Both the industry and their CableCARD TiVo customers will need the tuning resolver as a stop-gap and the sooner we get to tru2way devices, the better.

(Thanks, HDTiVo for the HD Guru link!)

22 responses to Where’s the SDV Tuning Resolver?

  1. Mari, we need you to do some investigation at Motorola. What’s going on with your tuning resolver? Status!

  2. Not sure if I asked you this recently or not……will Verizon FIOS implement SDV?

  3. I don’t know, but they should have much more (fiber) bandwidth available to them.

  4. Exactly, that is what I was thinking. Could the lack of SDV be a selling point to geeks? I have been trying to find an answer. If I do, I will let you know.

    I just had my yard ripped up for Fios. I had 20 guys in my front yard digging ditches :).

  5. It does not seem that FIOS needs to worry about SDV in the near term. Yes, it is a selling point, but to a pretty small crowd. ;)

  6. Well, since Verizon FiOS currently sends live (as opposed to VOD) traffic over QAM channels over fiber (rather than using IPTV like they do with VOD), it has all the same issues as a real cable system, so they might well do SDV at some point. Haven’t seen a comment from then one way or the other.

    Doing it over QAM means they can use relatively standard STBs, encoders etc that the regular cable MSOs use. And lets them offer cable cards, and Tivos can work, etc.

    Course they have so few HD channels right now I’m not sure why they’d need to.

    And they could go all the way to IPTV if they wanted, but then of course even the SDV Tuning Resolver wouldn’t save you…

  7. “Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution – bandwidth is finite.”

    I thought that because HD is digital and thus compressed that the HD signal is actually smaller than the analog SD signal? So isn’t a ‘simple’ solution that cable starts broadcasting all stations in HD (or at least digital), drop the analog SD signal, and provide digital-to-analog converters only to customers that don’t have digital sets? And would dropping all the analog broadcasts provide enough bandwidth to avoid the use of SDV?

  8. Ted–yes, in the US an analog (SD) channel is 6MHz, which using the typical QAM256 modulation is 38.8Mbps or so, which will typically hold something like 10 SD channels (at 3.75Mbps or so each), or 2 HD channels (at 15Mbps or so each) plus a couple of SD channels.

    So if a cable company dropped some of their analog channels to create more bandwidth for digital or internet or whatever, they might be able to avoid going to SDV, or not use it as much.

    Problem is some people have classic analog only TVs hooked up to cable, and just because the analog channels over the air are going away next year, doesn’t mean the analog channels on cable will. In fact I think the cable companies are supposed to continue to broadcast those existing channels (now converted to analog from digital) for some number of years after the switchover, but I think there may be exemptions if they go completely digital or something.

  9. Ted, you might want to look at some stuff I wrote back in the first half of 2007 & this one…

    http://hdtivo.wordpress.com/2007/07/02/the-sdv-threat/

  10. TWC finally added new HD channels in my area, and my brand spanking new TiVo HD can’t get them. And, to make things worse, all the channels they broadcast in analog have digital doubles. The local channels here have one analog channel, one digital, one HD channel, and an SD feed of the digital channel. It’s…irritating.
    Another solution is for cable co’s to switch to mpeg4. The only problem is that Moto’s just come out with those boxes, and we all know how long it took for cable co’s to switch out the old boxes with cablecard boxes. The nice thing is that TiVos should be able to support mpeg4 natively…

  11. Thanks Mari for getting down to this. You did a nice job with details like cert wave 60…

    Now I guess someone has to poke TiVo into saying what they did at the Interop and what their date for software release is… ;)

    Dave…Mega…??????

  12. RandomRage–I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for mpeg4 (really h.264 or AVC or MPEG-4 Part 10). All of the standard cable company STBs can handle SDV while virtually none of them can handle h.264. This isn’t true of either AT&T or Verizon of course, but everybody else has been installing MPEG-2 only STBs for eons. And all of those would have to be swapped if they were going to switch a popular channel to h.264. I don’t even think enough of the h.264 compatible STBs have been installed to do “niche” channels on h.264 yet, though that’ll come at some point. Its more likely they’ll do VOD on h.264 first, since that’s unicast and they can send the h.264 version if YOUR STB can do h.264, but send the MPEG-2 version if somebody else orders it. Over time they could reduce the bandwidth allocated to VOD with this method as more (statistically) h.264-capable STBs are deployed.

    Dave–I’m not sure I’ve really heard your thoughts on this whole SDV Tuning Resolver issue. I’ve made mine pretty clear–I think CableCard is majorly messed up and its somebody’s fault (CableLabs, FCC, Comcast, Time Warner, Motorola, Scientific Atlanta, take your pick). The FCC created a mandate but didn’t follow up on the fine print. Gave out so many extensions that the electronics companies stopped installing CableCard slots. Ignored the complete lack of progress and confusion over “CableCard 2.0″. Let Tivo & CableLabs come up with a solution (this one) that satisfied them but left CableCard equipped TVs in the cold. And of course the others, who tried to screw up CableCard from day one since they had no motivation to do otherwise.

    I’m not going to be happy putting one of these external craptastic gadgets on a splitter with my Tivo just to make it work properly. I’m not blaming Tivo at all really. But I’m not happy with the situation. Or the fact that a future version might be the USB dongle we originally expected. Or the fact that at some point I’ll have to throw out my Tivo HD and buy a new True2Way capable Tivo that can do SDV without all of this. Assuming it even works and Tivo isn’t deader than a doornail by then.

    MegaZone–feel free to jump in here with the details, like how CableCards are in fact capable of 2-way communication (its just that there are no standards, and the cable companies haven’t allowed the development of any), etc. Who do you think is at fault for the current situation?

  13. Glenn, the whole thing pisses me off. The intent of the FCC mandate was to allow consumers such as myself to buy a device in retail capable of tuning cable programming. However, the technological specification tug-of-war between the CE companies and the cable industry led to an incomplete solution… that many of us have invested significant money in. There’s plenty of blame to pass around… I feel like the FCC failed to protect my interests, though I place most of the responsibility for this issue on the cable industry. We’ve hopefully (finally) turned a corner with the OCAP/tru2way solution, but can we trust them? These are the same guys who, less than 18 months ago, said:

    Cable developed CableCARD technology as a means to ensure that consumers could purchase a set-top box or other digital cable ready device at any retail outlet and use it to receive digital video service provided by any cable operator in the country. Cable supports CableCARDs and will continue to do so.

    Clearly, many retail-purchased products are going to be only partially supported as SDV is rolled out. (And the rest will require the intervention of this additional product, which may or may not include a fee and will definitely result in further confusion.) I totally understand the need for a better way of managing limited bandwidth. What I don’t understand is how all these smart people allowed a partial solution to ship. Actually, that’s not true – I have a pretty good idea who’s to blame and why. Business as usual.

  14. My view quite a long time ago was that the whole one-way thing should have been halted, and “buy-outs” of the existing couple hundred thousand CC users arranged…which would have been chump change.

    In conjunction, @$$ should have been kicked to get the two-way done.

    All this would have been before there were more than a few thousand CC DVR owners. Its the DVR owners that are significant because this is really where the $$ investment is and where the STB is not the solution – the STB being essentially a tuning adapter for the last like 40yrs for TVs.

  15. … further the DVRs having two key issues…

    1) until recently there being no way close to being able to make a DVR that recorded HD component or HDMI,

    and

    2) dual tuner being the current DVR standard

  16. Now if you look at all that has happend, its going to cost the cable cos. a lot to offer this TR.

    It has been said the TR will be offered free of charge…but how solid that is I don´t know.

  17. Glenn, I responded to the comment you left at GL over here.

  18. hdtivo, I’ve also heard the Tuning Resolver will be provided “free,” bundled into/with any CableCARD lease fees. (My 3 CableCARDs incur no fees.)

  19. Well, I suppose they could raise the cableCARD fee a bit. ;)

    BTW, I just added an “Open Cable” tag to blog posts going back to late 2006 in case people want to go over some historical thinking on the issue now that its a catchy topic.

  20. … as for me, I am about ready to move on to publicly harrassing TiVo and others about the copy/transfer flag thing… ;)

  21. Mot’s has just cleared CableLabs, and Mari now says it is expected in Q4 (i.e. could be as late as Dec 31). I’ll note that this is a good six months after the promised Q208 that was originally discussed. All of that “wow, I can’t believe they are doing this so fast” stuff was just wishfull thinking obviously.

    If they don’t roll it out instantly in massive volumes with all cable operators at once, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can’t get one for another six months or more after that date either…

    This is sucking…

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