Cable Tech

Intel Wants In on Set-Top Waiver Action

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is making a bold move at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , asking for a waiver that would pave the way for a new line of set-top boxes that use IP-based digital outputs and are powered by the chipmaker's CE3100 and recently introduced CE4100 systems-on-chip (SoCs).

Intel wants to bypass a Commission requirement saying high-definition cable boxes must house the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 1394 Firewire interface, which Intel contends is much more costly than a protected IP interface.

Intel's been using the CE3100 inside some tru2way demos of set-tops that enable multi-room DVRs. The CE4100, which is based on Intel's 1.2GHz Atom processor core and supports Adobe Flash Player 10 and H.264 video, is looking to find a home in even more advanced gateways that could display and share QAM- and IP-based video. (See Will Intel Go Inside Cable Multimedia Gateways? )

Intel is jumping into the set-top waiver fray as the Commission continues to give passes to one-way, standard-definition, limited capability boxes and Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices from vendors such as Evolution Broadband LLC , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), Nagravision SA , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Pace Micro Technology . Those boxes all use some form of integrated security, something the FCC banned in July 2007. (See Nagravision Joins DTA Waiver Parade, DTA Waiver Mania, and FCC Believes in Evolution-ary DTAs.)

However, Intel is much more jazzed about a waiver the FCC recently granted to CableOne , in one small market in Tennessee, for a new type of DTA that can display high-definition video. (See Cable ONE Snares HD Set-Top Waiver and Evolution Guns for HD Box Waiver .) The chipmaker now wants its own waiver for an even more advanced (and, according to Intel, still low-cost) device that could send video to other displays on a home IP network.

Blame it on Firewire
Without a waiver, Intel says it would be too costly to manufacture and sell the associated chips, because the implementation costs of IP "are a few cents" per chip, versus "more than $5 for a chip that supports IEEE 1394."

Intel is replaying an argument it's made to the FCC before: that a DTCP-IP combination is much less expensive than using DTCP in tandem with Firewire, an interface that is present (but rarely used) in cable HD boxes today.

Intel added that consumers are quick to discover that a Firewire interface is incompatible with other devices on their IP-based home networks.

Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) has countered that the cost of the Firewire interface is insignificant when compared to the overall cost of the set-top, and that adoption of Firewire has been hindered because most MSO-provided digital boxes block some of the interface's capabilities. (See The Friday Five.)

CableLabs , by the way, approved DTCP-IP to protect video and other digital content on home networks; that was back in August 2007. It had previously approved DTCP for protection of content over Firewire. (See CableLabs, CEA Agree on DTCP-IP.)

In addition to providing a protected DTCP-IP environment for the distribution of video over home networks, Intel also claims the waiver would be a "springboard" for more integrated, Internet-based content, such as "Widget Channels" -- yet another market Intel is pursuing with TV makers and cable operators. (See Comcast, Intel Team on Apps and Wild About 'Widgets'.)

Intel's petition is open for comments at the FCC for 10 days.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to TelcoTV 2009, the telecom industry’s premier event for the exploration of a comprehensive entertainment convergence strategy, to be staged in Orlando, Fla., November 10-12. For more information, or to register, click here.

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