CableLabs Spec Brings SDV to the Masses

TiVo and others target '08 for the intro of special adapters that can feed 'switched' programming to inherently one-way set-tops and DVRs

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

November 26, 2007

3 Min Read
CableLabs Spec Brings SDV to the Masses

The cable industry took a big step toward developing a device and interface that will allow today's TVs and set-tops to display programming offered in an operator's "switched" video tier. (See CableLabs Does One-Way SDV and NCTA, TiVo Announce SDV Accord.)

CableLabs announced the new switched digital video (SDV) solution Monday, citing participation from TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Scientific Atlanta , BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), and C-COR Corp. (Nasdaq: CCBL), which is in the process of being acquired by Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS). (See Arris Bids $730M for C-COR.)

CableLabs said the specs are for a new external interface that will enable "certain" Unidirectional Digital Cable Ready Products (UDCPs) that use CableCARDs to access SDV services.

One-way UDCPs, including CableCARD-capable TiVo-made digital video recorders, are unable to access so-called "switched" networks. The removable CableCARD, central to the July 2007 U.S. ban on integrated security set-tops, authorizes cable set-tops and certain digital TV models for video services. Interactive CableCARD set-tops are not yet available through retail, but some two-way CableCARD models are distributed directly by cable operators. (See Boxing Up 'Seven-Oh-Seven' .)

A formal spec will give the concept more technical teeth and help to ensure that cable operators can move ahead with SDV, a technique that conserves bandwidth for services such as high-definition television (HDTV) by streaming some linear channels (i.e. those in the "switched" tier) only when a customer in a given service group selects them.

Charter Communications Inc. announced last week it would deploy SDV in some of its Los Angeles-area properties. Other MSOs, including Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), are either testing or deploying the technology. (See Charter Charts First SDV Course and SDV Deployment Snapshot II .)

This idea of enabling SDV in one-way CableCARD devices first came to light in an National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) filing made with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in late August. Cable's top pressure group then proposed the use of a small adapter, called a "Tuning Resolver," to receive programs that are switched, rather than broadcast, to the cable customer. Although the filing did not provide much technical detail, it did refer to the external adapter as well as firmware modifications that could be made via the UDCP's USB 2.0 port. (See NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag.)

A formal, technical roadmap for SDV-enabled one-way CableCARD devices should pacify TiVo, which had earlier complained about this shortcoming and how it might affect its strategy with standalone DVRs equipped with CableCARD slots, which today include the high-end Series 3 HD-DVR, as well as a scaled down, $299 HD model announced in July. (See TiVo Courts Cable With New HD-DVR.)

TiVo also has DVR software deals with Comcast and Cox. Comcast recently began offering Motorola DVRs powered by TiVo in the MSO's New England region. (See TiVo Set-Tops Trickle Out .)

The earlier NCTA filing did not mention development timeframes, but on Monday CableLabs President and CEO Dr. Richard Green noted in a press release that the new SDV adapter for one-way devices would be available to consumers in the first half of 2008. CableLabs and participating vendors have not announced a target for unit pricing.

CableLabs also did not specify the specific role of the vendor partners. Among the group, TiVo, Motorola, and SA specialize in consumer electronics products, including set-tops and DVRs. BigBand, Motorola, SA, and C-COR all make and market elements of SDV platforms, including edge QAMs and session management systems.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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