Archives For CableCARD

While those of us in the know were aware RCN has been deploying customized TiVo Premiere units to all-comers in the DC area the last few weeks, a press release and updated landing page now make it official. Unlike the retail TiVo Premiere ($299), RCN’s rendition is currently limited to the the original TiVo interface. But what you gain in functionality and support is pretty substantial.

For only a few bucks more over the monthly cost of the generic RCN DVR, TiVo renters end up with a much better experience. More storage, more features, better UI. Compared to a retail TiVo, the RCN includes over 10,000 hours of On Demand content – transparently utilizing SeaChange technology and RCN broadband to get it done. While features like YouTube and TiVoToGo are enabled, and something not seen in prior relationships like DirecTV, someone has made the decision to prohibit access to Netflix and Amazon VOD. Yet it’s not a unilateral blockage of third party VOD service, as Blockbuster On Demand is available. Go figure. (Given their respective catalogs, for competitive reasons, it’d make more sense to block AMZN and BBI while allowing Netflix.)

In the long run, it’s possible a RCN-provided TiVo (max: $20/mo) could cost more than it’s retail counterpart. But official cable-co support is priceless. They will figure out any CableCARD problems. They will replace defective units. And if a better retail TiVo comes along, cancel the rental and grab it. Other than the loss of Netflix, I’m having a hard time seeing any downside.

Despite my aggravation at the FCC’s video stream earlier this week, it’s important to note that the government agency did cover several issues of weight during Thursday’s open meeting. Well, they didn’t so much cover them as agree to investigate them further.

Among the FCC’s agenda items was a proposal to create a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on how to handle the frustration of the CableCARD and create a new gateway that would connect to any type of media box or TV in the home. The idea? Open up cable services so that the TiVos and Boxee boxes of the world can compete. End game: create more choice and better quality for us, the consumers.

The FCC voted yes to the NOI, which means that now lots of folks will weigh in with their opinions and technology recommendations. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about the gateway concept (temporarily named AllVid), if only because the CableCARD initiative proved so disastrous. But certainly the idea is on the right track. As I said over on the Motorola blog, the devil is in the details.

For in-depth coverage on this week’s meeting, not to mention insightful analysis, check out these stories by Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM, Jeff Baumgartner at Light Reading Cable, and Karl Bode at Broadband Reports.

rcn-tivo-vod

Last week, cypherstream tipped us off to all sorts of details on the RCN-branded TiVo Premiere, posted by a company rep and beta testers on DSLReports.

Come Summer, RCN will offer TiVo Premiere hardware “rentals” in lieu of the generic DVR. ($20/mo?) As such, one would hope a cable-co issued and supported box would result in fewer CableCARD annoyances. At the very least, this will be the first TiVo to feature video on demand services direct from a cable provider (powered by SeaChange)… provided one also subscribes to RCN Internet services. Unfortunately (or is that fortunately?) RCN’s offering will launch with the original 10 year old TiVo UI.

We are launching on the classic UI, this was done for a couple of reasons, Time to market and stability. The new HDUI is wonderful but we based all development to start early against the classic UI. The goal is to roll out the HDUI by end of Q3 across all markets.

It certainly appears that this has much more momentum than the moribund Comcast-TiVo initiative. However, in light of the HD UI’s current state and given TiVo’s historical development pace (slow), I wouldn’t bank on that Q3 target.

I’ve never had great luck accessing the FCC’s video streams of its open meetings, but I was hoping for a better experience this time around. No dice. After a great deal of stuttering and regular disconnects, I lost the stream of today’s meeting entirely about an hour in. It’s not my individual connection that’s at fault either. Some notable tweeps are reporting similar problems.

As a reminder, the FCC is holding its open meeting today to discuss a number of broadband reform plans, including how to bring broadband to unserved areas, how to spur innovation in the video device market, and what the heck to do about the CableCARD fiasco.

Somehow it doesn’t bode well for the national broadband plan if the FCC can’t even figure out how to get its own Internet video stream to work. Is it irony? Or just sadly predictable?

UPDATE: Stream is live again! But still stuttering.

At Apple’s earnings call earlier today, COO Tim Cook reiterated the second class citizenry of AppleTV. As paraphrased by Macworld:

Apple TV market isn’t that large, so that’s why we classify it as a hobby, so nobody gets the wrong impression that it’s anywhere close to the other markets. A number of us use the product, love the product, so we’ll invest in it.

In my mind, there are three developments that individually or collectively could thrust ATV into the spotlight.

First and foremost, Apple TV cannot be a primary television device as long as we receive the majority of our television programming through mostly locked down cable and satellite providers. CableCARDs, in their current form, stifle innovation and competition. But the FCC is pushing for some sort of home television gateway prior to 2013. That could dramatically change the landscape. Then again, by 2013 we may all be watching Hulu online from our iPads. Leading to point number 2…

Apple’s got a proven app store business model. As soon as they migrate it to the Apple TV, they’ll simultaneously stimulate development and sales. And, of course, they’ll take their cut of app revenue. We’ve already got a number of decent video-centric iPhone apps that could work well in a lean-back environment, such as Showtime, Slingbox, and Netflix. However, significant work would need to be done to support the various resolutions, aspect ratios, and entirely different form of (remote) interaction.

Lastly, if Apple’s unfortunately named iAd platform proves successful in the mobile space, it’s not inconceivable to envision them pumping an ad-infused ATV (in conjunction with the enhanced functionality noted above) to generate additional revenue. But it’s not going to happen in 2010. As CFO Peter Oppenheimer described their new advertising initiative today,

We’re putting our toes in the water, so don’t expect much from us this calendar year. We think we’ll learn a lot for the future.