CableCARD, SDV, And The Tuning Resolver

Wow, in the past couple of days there has been an interesting flurry of online activity about CableCARD, Switched Digital Video (SDV), and the Tuning Resolver. HD GURU posted an ‘investigative report’ entitled“How The Cable Industry Plans to Cheat 10+ Million HDTV Owners”, so you might guess at the tone. Unfortunately, there are a few factual errors in the post – for example, all CableCARDs are two-way capable and always have been. Mike Schwartz from CableLabs responded with an extensive comment that I recommend reading if you read the post. (I’d link to it but the blog doesn’t appear to support comment links, just scroll down a bit.)

The HDTiVo Blog picked it up from there (which is where I found the link to the HD GURU post). Gizmodo also picked up the story, though I have a nit to pick:“Our friend Gary Merson, the HD Guru, has uncovered an issue that may soon piss you off.” Uncovered? Gizmodo hasn’t been paying attention, blogs such as this one, Zatz Not Funny, and others have mentioned the SDV issue and Tuning Resolver repeatedly for quite a while now. Just one example, the issue with Bright House cable pulling channels, and then returning them. This is hardly a surprise issue if you’ve been paying attention. And, unfortunately, Gizmodo repeated the errors from the original post.

Anyway, CableLabs responded to Gizmodo’s original post, and Gizmodo shared the information in a follow-up post. I’m glad a statement came out of it to help clarify things a bit, and correct the misconceptions.

Over at Zatz Not Funny, Dave Zatz chimed in on the SDV Tuning resolver issue as well. Including a link to the most solid, and best, news to come out of the whole thing, at Media Experiences 2 Go. Mari Silbey of Motorola reports that Motorola’s Tuning Resolver implementation, now officially the MTR700, has sailed through CableLabs interoperability testing ‘with flying colors’. The next step is CableLabs certification testing with product submission in April in preparation for the certification board meeting in June. So, presuming the device gets certified, it will be ready at the end of June. Which means it would be very unlikely to make the 2Q2008 release schedule, but will probably be available in early 3Q08. Motorola will be exhibiting the MTR700 at The Cable Show in New Orleans in May. While it may not seem that way to those awaiting a solution, the development of the Tuning Resolver has been extremely fast for a new piece of hardware. The cable industry is really fast-tracking development to get the Tuning Resolver out there as fast as possible. Now it is up to the consumer electronics industry to provide compatible firmware for CableCARD devices with USB ports. (TiVo is, of course, already on board.)

Back in November when the Motorola Tuning Resolver was first revealed, it was noted that it strongly resembled their DCT700 cable box. The MTR700 model number seems to indicate the commonality is more than cosmetic.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • hdtivo

    Crap, I go to sleep a few hours in the wrong time zone and I miss everything! :D

  • hdtivo

    Thanks to Mari for getting down to this. She 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… ;)


    P.S. To those bitchin´´bout SDV…it is vastly more important than the one-way device scene.

  • Gryphon

    I don’t have a clue what any of this is about, but I’d just like to note that I initially misread one of the items at issue as “the Turing Resolver”, which gave me some very interesting mental images about the Future of Television.

  • MegaZone

    Sounds like a competitor to the Babbage Engine to me. “My word sir, are you still using that Babbage Engine? Why, my Turing Resolver is ten times as swift!” Sounds like something out of Main Sequence.

  • Glenn

    Mega–I would love to hear your take on this whole SDV mess, or what I consider to be a mess anyway. I’ve seen your comments on the Gizmodo blog, and understand what is and isn’t possible with a CableCard, but still… CableCard is half-dead, Tivo isn’t doing that well, a lot of Tivo people are having channels taken away, we’ll eventually to have another visit from our friendly neighbourhood CableCo (with a charge for the visit?), a cable splitter that will degrade our analog reception, an extra box on our shelves (with a monthly fee?) and so forth, all to continue receiving channels we already pay for. Obviously the cable card spec and/or implementation was fatally flawed.

    Do you agree? Whose fault do you think it is? Are you happy with the current compromise? Will CableCards vanish from TVs anyway? What about Tru2Way? Think we’ll all have to throw out our current Tivos to get it? Should we care? Will it suck?

    I’d love to hear you weigh in on the issue more…

  • LazyBoy

    Who do I buy it or rent it from and for how much?

    I believe that the cable companies are forced rent the CableCARDS at a low cost.
    Will they be getting their profit margin back with the TR?

  • MegaZone

    LazyBoy – It looks like the Tuning Resolver will probably come from the cable MSO since it will need to interoperate with the MSO’s head-end. But that isn’t clear. Since it will be based on a couple of standards it is possible that they’ll end up being sold like cable modems. We may hear more on distribution and pricing at The Cable Show.

  • MegaZone

    Glenn – Actually, I’ve written about the whole cluster-frak a number of times – I’d suggest reading through many of the old posts in the OCAP category, and perhaps using Blog Search for posts on CableCARD, OCAP, SDV, or Tuning Resolver. (A lot of the posts pre-date WordPress adding tagging support, so the older posts weren’t tagged.)

    There is plenty of blame to go around – the FCC, the cable MSOs, and the consumer electronics industry all have their share. The FCC took a soft stance which allowed the cable industry to follow the letter of the law and not the spirit, and they also kept issuing extensions and waivers that has allowed the cable industry to delay CableCARD and OCAP/tru2way deployments.

    The cable industry has taken the path of least expense to comply with the FCC rulings. They want to do as little as possible to alter their infrastructure – that’s why they insist on OCAP/tru2way. Instead of replacing the myriad of different head end systems, OCAP acts as a kind of middle-layer that allows standardized applications to talk to the different back ends. But that puts the onus on the client devices.

    Which brings us to the CE industry. They would prefer a lightweight solution and to push all the work onto the cable MSOs. They’ve fought OCAP with their DCR+ counter-proposal, which would require MSOs to standardize their head ends so CE clients can use lightweight protocols. And the CE industry is the reason we have uni-directional devices – the cable industry wanted to go right to two-way with OCAP, but the CE industry insisted on deploying something faster and that became DCR which is uni-directional.

    So, OK, I can understand the push to get DCR on the market fast, but that’s put us where we are today – with SDV causing problems, lack of support for VOD & PPV, etc.

    And development of two-way support was delayed because both sides – cable and CE – dug in their heels and were unwilling to compromise. Cable insisted on OCAP with no compromise, CE insisted on DCR+ and refused to support OCAP – and that stalemate lasted several years. Meanwhile the FCC just sat on their thumbs instead of knocking some heads together and setting hard deadlines to force a compromise.

    It has been giant stare-down, and it looks like the CE camp blinked first. Several TV and STB makers have announced plans to release tru2way-enabled TVs and STBs, breaking away from the larger CE camp that has insisted on DCR+.

    But the cable industry gave some ground as well. It started out that a box would be OCAP or native, and never the twain shall meet. If the box was running as OCAP it would download the MSO’s OCAP applications and use them for everything. And this is what the CE vendors objected to. TV vendors have less to lose because most TVs don’t have any native OS anyway. So supporting tru2way is actually an enhancement. But vendors such as TiVo, who have a lot invested in their custom OS/UI, were not about to abdicate control to the MSO. If they did that, why bother buying a TiVo in the first place? You may as well use the cable DVR since you’d have the same UI.

    But the cable industry softened their stance to allow hybrid operation, where a box will use the native OS/UI for ‘linear’ content – basically what a TiVo can access today, plus SDV. But for ‘premium’ content like VOD, PPV, etc, it will invoke the cable MSO’s OCAP application.

    I’m not happy with the current situation, but you can’t turn back time and we’re stuck with the established infrastructure. The Tuning Resolver is the best, and really the ONLY, possible solution for SDV on a UDCP device. And way back when the S3 first came out speculation on exactly this kind of thing – some kind of adapter – started immediately. So it isn’t any surprise for many of us that it is what it came down to.

    Going forward I think the native/OCAP hybrid is the best solution we can hope for as a compromise. It isn’t the most elegant solution, but I think it is the best we’ll get out of all the involved parties, and it sounds like it will provide all the functionality so in the end that’s good enough.

    While it is *possible* we’ll see Tru2Way support in the current TiVo S3 or HD using the Tuning Resolver and new software, I tend to doubt it. I’m not sure the current hardware has the brawn to run OCAP applications. And we know TiVo is working on a next-generation box for the hybrid mode, so that will probably be the only way to get the full Tru2Way support. Personally I don’t think that’s too big a deal, even before getting TiVo I really never used VOD, and now with TiVo I find even less of a need since I can grab so much standard content. In my area SDV isn’t in use either.

    And that’s another issue I’ve covered in the past. SDV isn’t the only option for cable MSOs. Some of the options they have to carry more channels:
    1. Drop analog channels to free slots for digital SD & HD.
    2. Update old 550/650/750MHz cable systems to 860MHz or 1GHz to add more usable frequencies.
    3. Start using advanced codecs like H.264 instead of MPEG-2.
    4. Use SDV.

    3 & 4 are both problems for most CableCARD devices, since most of them are MPEG-2 only and UDCP. 1 is the low cost option, but it can be a PR issue as people complain about losing content or needing to get a cable box to keep their channels. 2 is a good idea in general as it will help even those MSOs who implement SDV – raw capacity is always the ultimate limiting factor. But it is expensive as it can mean replacing the head end, repeaters, local distribution systems, and STBs. Oh, and I suppose 5 is taking the infrastructure to the next level with steps like Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) which can offer extreme bandwidth levels – FiOS is FTTH for example.

    In the end CableCARD is a bump in the road. The next step is DCAS – Downloadable Conditional Access System – which would do away with the requirement for physical cards completely. With the delays to CableCARD the cable industry tried to get the FCC to just skip CC and go right to DCAS, but it would’ve delayed adoption several years as DCAS isn’t ready to go. But that is the direction things are heading over time. No one likes the cards.

    Basically the consumer has been trampled as the cable industry and the CE industry have been pushing and shoving each other. Meanwhile the FCC has been failing to referee the fight, content to just let the two parties slug it out no matter the collateral damage. So while I think there were better ways to handle the issue, in the end I’m glad to see compromises being reached because it means we’re more likely to actually receive products.

    Sorry this is a little disjointed – it is 3AM Saturday and I’ve been awake since mid-day Thursday. :-)

    EDIT: UGH, I had a few stupid mistakes. Now that I’ve slept I fixed them.

  • hdtivo

    Mega – that was quite coherent.

    My take on one-way was to snuff it out in its infancy with “buy-outs” when CC deployments were a couple hundred thousand and CC DVRs were a few thousand. Plus the FCC would have to bang heads on two-way.

    But the TR isn´t all that bad. UDCPs (TiVoes anyway) will get all the services they expected when people bought them…which is as much as you can reasonably expect.

    How much signal degradation is involved could be a problem. Seems digital tends to be MORE sensitive than analog – more people on the edge of not getting a clear enough signal for digital; No?

    In the end, will this TR effort cost cable more or less than drowning the one-way puppy? There was talk of the TR being provided free back around when it was announced.

    There´s probably an interesting story in all this for some ambitious blogger to get semi-famous on…how this became so fast tracked, and how cable got so on board…what was the backroom pressure…

  • Romidar

    I’m a pretty new Tivo user – on my first month, still – and some of the “gotchas” (like SDV) were pretty annoying to discover. Dealing with the cable company (time warner) was a huge headache – they tried claiming at first that they didn’t even have to give me a cable card… then had no idea what they were doing when they came to install (they wanted to install 2 M-Cards).

    I’d be happy to get back the channels I lost (and still am paying for, of course), but I won’t hold my breath that I’ll see one of these in the next year.