Archives For CableCARD

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Mari chats with ESPN VP Damon Phillips

The Cable Show has returned to DC and while the NCTA’s annual convention is winding down, our coverage is still rolling in. Mari, who hosted the Navigation Station panel (shown above), is writing under the Light Reading masthead and I’m preparing a story that touches on the cable industry’s complex and evolving corporate relationships with two scoops from familiar faces thrown in for good measure. Beyond that, I’ve got a couple more interesting products/solutions to share in the coming days. But, until then, here’s a sampling of my Cable Show tweets: Continue Reading…

Microsoft Xbox One as TV

Microsoft has been a frenemy to the pay-TV industry for a long, long time. So now that the company is taking over TV interfaces with its Xbox One HDMI pass-through feature, I thought it worth looking back over the company’s (sometimes torturous) history with pay-TV providers. (Note: Nothing on Media Center PCs or WebTV here. That’s another story.)

Timeline

2003 - Microsoft TV Foundation Edition Launches in June at the National Show
Microsoft’s software platform for the cable industry includes an interactive program guide that operators can use to create “On-Demand Storefronts”

2004Microsoft and Comcast do a deal to bring the Foundation software to subscribers in Washington state
Microsoft gets its big break in the cable industry
Microsoft TV Foundation guide for Comcast
2006 - AT&T launches U-verse IPTV service with Microsoft inside
U-verse is the first major IPTV service in the U.S., and it runs on Microsoft code

2006 - Microsoft announces the Xbox Video Marketplace
New video store cements the Xbox as a Trojan Horse in the living room

2007Comcast gives up on Microsoft’s Foundation software
Microsoft’s short (and not sweet) dance with Comcast ends

Continue Reading…

samsung-smartmediaplayer

Just when you thought the FCC and Charter had put the final nail in CableCARD’s coffin, Samsung reveals plans to produce a hybrid cable+OTT set-top box for a fall 2013 launch. Assuming the FCC gets around to granting TiVo’s analog tuner waiver request in a timely fashion.

Smart Media Player, an innovative product with a compelling consumer value proposition based upon seamless integration of desirable services and reduction of monthly cable equipment rental fees. Smart Media Player will access unidirectional (not interactive) linear cable content through a CableCARD, connect to interactive, over-the-top services and Internet content through the consumer’s broadband Internet subscription, provide a free electronic program guide, and offer a seamless, integrated Samsung user interface.

Of course, given CableCARD’s history, most CE companies threw in the towel long ago — with manufacturers like Sony, LG, and Panasonic abandoning the technology (to the presumed delight of cable operators). So it’s refreshing to see Samsung take a flier on this previously poorly supported tech in producing a convergence device that liberates consumers from inferior cable set-tops (video below). And it’s exactly the kind of cable box I’d like in my clutter-free kitchen, with access to Netflix, YouTube, and DLNA apps. But with the FCC giving Charter a pass on CableCARD support, we wonder if Samsung should even bother at this point. Perhaps they’re counting on logic to prevail, as both the CEA and TiVo have lodged protests against the bungled decision:

The Bureau’s Order, like the Charter Request, deals in assumptions and hopes rather than in facts. The Commission cannot let stand this nullification of law and regulation, without process or public comment.

Back in February, TiVo had petitioned the FCC to build a new line of all-digital DVRs. And apparently Industry is prepared to abandon analog tuning, as not a single letter of opposition was filed.

From TiVo’s February filing:

This petition requests an extension of that waiver to several new all-digital cable only devices and a slight extension of that waiver to cover devices that permit reception of digital broadcast (“DTV”) signals. One model of TiVo’ s new all-digital DVRs would include ATSC over-the-air reception capability; this model, therefore, requires waiver of both the DCR Rules and Section 15.117(b)’s dual analog/digital tuner requirement.

From TiVo’s April follow-up (embedded below):

As the Commission is aware, the lengthy design and production cycle faced by consumer electronics manufacturers like TiVo makes it extremely important that the Commission act expeditiously to resolve the kinds of technical issues raised in the Petition. In this case, if TiVo is to begin production of its proposed all-digital DVRs in time to begin delivering them for the 2013 holiday season, the Commission must act to grant the Petition soon.

So while the FCC recently bungled Charter’s CableCARD waiver request, they have an opportunity to let TiVo get busy on their next generation Premiere DVR hardware. Yet, with the agency’s leadership in flux (and that nonsensical Charter ruling), it’s conceivable that TiVo may not receive a timely or desired response. In any event, two recent TiVo user surveys suggest the company is evaluating a 300-hr, 4-tuner, digital cable and OTA Premiere successor. Continue Reading…

Roku-TWC

As promised back at CES, Time Warner Cable’s newest set-top box is a Roku… and the free “Channel”, comprised of up to 300 channels, is now available to all currently shipping Roku devices – which start a mere $50. As you might expect, access to TWC on Roku requires a traditional cable subscription – and supposedly only works in regions served by TWC. However, unlike Comcast Xfinity  or Verizon FiOS TV on the Xbox 360, a TWC broadband account is not required.

Don Wegeng took a look at TWC TV on Roku, and while his initial reaction was disappointment due the lack of On Demand content (compared to the iOS app), he seems pleased overall with the speed of navigating the available live channels and the quality of HD content – once the higher res stream snaps in after a few seconds. However, as you can see from his video walk-thru (below), SD content is rendered with both letterboxing and pillarboxing. Yuck. But, all in all, not a bad first cut. And surely better than every other cable company’s non-existant Roku offering. Continue Reading…

In a recent filing, TiVo has once again has petitioned the FCC for an analog waiver. Unlike their prior request, which paved the way for the digital cable-only TiVo Premiere Elite/XL4/Q, this time around the company intends to restore over-the-air capabilities to at least one new DVR:

This petition requests an extension of that waiver to several new all-digital cable only devices and a slight extension of that waiver to cover devices that permit reception of digital broadcast (“DTV”) signals. One model of TiVo’ s new all-digital DVRs would include ATSC over-the-air reception capability; this model, therefore, requires waiver of both the DCR Rules and Section 15.117(b)’s dual analog/digital tuner requirement.

Seems like a sure bet to me the FCC will get behind this amended extension as logic sometimes does indeed apply and TiVo does a nice job of defending their position after hearing from less than 0.2% of confused buyers. Further,

consumer use of analog video signals continues to decline rapidly and the Commission has set a hard deadline of September 1, 2015 for the termination of all remaining analog television broadcast transmissions. Meanwhile, the price and power consumption of analog tuners in TiVo DVRs continues to raise costs for consumers without providing any discernible benefit.

Unfortunately, there’s no real intel on what we might expect and we’re primarily left with the assumption that TiVo’s working on a new platform and chipset. Which was already a no brainer given the age of the existing Premiere platform. We’d hope any major refresh would integrate Stream-like capabilities and TiVo could use a significantly more robust OTT app platform. While the tea leaves don’t indicate any significant updates during the first half of the year, 2013′s back stretch remains out of focus…

(Thanks brennok!)

verizon-fiostv-vms-client

First shown about a year ago, Verizon formally pulled the wraps off their upcoming FiOS TV media server here at CES. The “VMS” hardware, produced by Motorola, sports 6 tuners and 1 terabyte of storage, and is effectively Verizon’s third generation platform – evolving into a true whole-home DVR hub and client model, as we’re seeing across the industry. Despite seriously beefed up specs, including the ability to run native HTML5 apps like a new leanback YouTube, the set-top is actually more compact than existing FiOS TV Cisco and Motorola DVRs.

Beyond the VMS1100 media server, Verizon also showed off their companion client boxes (IPC1100). These units, which communicate over MoCA, run about the size of a paperback and are being submitted for Energy Star certification. And it sounds like anything you can do on the primary media server, you can accomplish via the client box. Further, unlike the TiVo Mini’s two unit cap, Verizon supports five clients sprinkled about the home simultaneously accessing video content. Oh yeah, it’s got a clock too.

verizon-fiostv-ui

The Media Server represents the foundation of the FiOS TV platform going forward and will continue to see enhancements over time. Phase 1 is obviously getting the hardware out the door. But Phase 2 is where it gets interesting with local transcoding as Verizon relocates the content cloud from Internet-accessed resources into our homes, reducing network variables (and content licensing issues?) for a better customer experience. So, for example, it’s conceivable that the video we now enjoy on the Xbox and iPad would be piped directly from the VMS. Verizon tells me we don’t have long to wait, saying units will arrive “very soon, within a couple months.” And while they’re not quite ready to reveal pricing, they assure me it’ll be competitive and comparable to similar products in the marketplace. As a FiOS TV customer, I guess my only question is… Will it hit before TiVo’s comparable offering and at better rates?