Cable Tech

Comcast & Boxee Connect on Video Security

Boxee might have found a way for its box to continue receiving basic cable channels even if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lets cable operators encrypt that tier.

Boxee's IP-based devices can currently receive basic digital channels that are sent unencrypted (using something called "clear QAM"), but the company is having to fight the possibility that the FCC could let cable operators encrypt that tier. (See Boxee, Cable Spar Over Video Encryption .)

So, Boxee and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) met with the FCC on Tuesday, outlining two options:

  • Short-term: A high-definition Digital Transport Adapter (DTA) with an Ethernet connector -- a new class of box called the E-DTA -- would let a device like Boxee's get basic tier channels via the Ethernet input or via the home network. Boxee could also change channels remotely in the E-DTA using a DLNA protocol.

  • Long-term: A yet-to-be-created licensing scheme would let device makers, such as Boxee, integrate the DTA functionality. The Integrated DTA could then access encrypted basic tier channels without the need for a cable operator-supplied DTA or set-top box.

Comcast and Boxee didn't say how soon the short-term plan could come together.

DTAs don't use a fully-fledged conditional access system or a CableCARD. In Comcast's case, the DTAs instead use a content protection scheme called "privacy mode," which Comcast has now activated. Comcast has deployed millions of DTAs, which are simple, one-way, digital-to-analog converters, to support its big analog reclamation strategy.

Why this matters
Boxee was afraid that new encryption rules would damage the value of its retail device. Now it's got options -- which, if approved, could apply to many other types of broadband video devices sold at retail.

If the FCC goes along with the idea, it could put another nail in the coffin of AllVid, a proposed successor to the current CableCARD rules that would apply to all pay-TV providers. The cable industry has been against AllVid from the start, arguing that the FCC should let the market for retail video devices evolve on its own.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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