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CableLabs Issues Tuning Resolver Specs

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

The cable industry has taken a few steps forward in recent days concerning the “tuning resolver,” a special device that lets unidirectional devices like the TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) digital video recorder tap an operator’s “switched” tier.

Without much fanfare, CableLabs issued the official tuning resolver specs (PDF) on Jan. 30, giving vendors a technical blueprint for the adapter's functions.

Today, Solekai Systems Corp. announced that its Boulder, Colo.-based engineering center delivered the first test tool for the tuning resolver to CableLabs. That tool, dubbed the Tuning Resolver Interface Simulator (TRIS), will conduct the tests in a PC-based environment. (See Solekai Issues SDV Test Tool.)

TiVo originally complained that its one-way CableCARD-based, stand-alone DVR products would not be able to access cable’s full lineup in markets that employed switched digital video (SDV). Cable responded with the tuning resolver, which will enable some TiVo devices and other Unidirectional Digital Cable Products (UDCPs), such as set-tops and digital TVs, to signal commands upstream on the cable plant.

As specified, the tuning resolver will handle firmware modifications via the set-top's or TV’s USB 2.0 port. CableLabs estimates that about two thirds of existing digital TVs with CableCARD slots have the required USB interface. (See 'Tuning Resolver' Faces IP Hurdles , CableLabs Spec Brings SDV to the Masses, and NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag.)

CableLabs will use Solekai's testing tool to “validate” the interfaces between UDCPs and tuning resolver modules. Likewise, CableLabs will license TRIS to other parties, but Solekai will remain involved, handling general support and enhancements for the tool and the licensing scheme as needed. Financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.

Although CableLabs appears ready to move ahead now with testing, vendors have yet to debut any official tuning resolver products. But the project is on a fast track. It's expected that the adapters could become available by the first half of 2008.

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), one of the project’s contributors, has said it expects the adapter to look much like its all-digital DCT700 set-top.

Last November, CableLabs identified a group comprised of TiVo, Motorola, Scientific Atlanta (a unit of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)) , BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), and C-COR (now part of Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS)) as participants in the tuning resolver project.

According to the CableLabs tuning resolver specs, the UDCP will handle the initiation and discovery process. In turn, the tuning resolver, or TR, will send the channel table to the UDCP. Whenever the UDCP tunes any channel, it sends the channel number to the TR. From there, the TR, if necessary, will handle all interface operations for channels in the switched tier and return the “tuning parameters” to the UCDP.

Cable industry sources have linked Solekai to another CableLabs project in development, possibly under the "CablePC" name. It involves enabling PCs equipped with CableCARD slots to access interactive cable services, such as video-on-demand. Presently, the OpenCable Unidirectional Receiver (OCUR) is capable of accessing only one-way digital cable services, and some of its early reviews have been less than complimentary. (See Cable Developing Two-Way PCTV Play and OCUR Gets Low Marks.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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