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NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag

Jeff Baumgartner
8/27/2007

The cable industry is proposing a method for two-way switched digital video (SDV) services to run on inherently one-way, digital, cable-ready devices that use CableCARD security modules.

Buried within an 80-page filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , the NCTA has proposed the use of a small adapter, dubbed a "Tuning Resolver," to receive programs that are switched, rather than broadcast, to the subscriber.

That issue bubbled to the surface earlier this year, when TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) complained that its CableCARD-capable, but one-way, digital video recorders (DVRs), would not be permitted access to channels that an operator offered using SDV technology. (See Cable, TiVo Pondering SDV Problem.)

SDV is a growingly popular technique that conserves cable bandwidth by streaming linear channels only when a customer in a given service group selects them. MSOs such as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Cox Communications Inc. , and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) have either begun to deploy SDV or are just starting trials. (See SDV Deployment Snapshot.)

In the filing, the NCTA said the external Tuner Resolver adapter would provide two-way SDV channels to one-way digital cable products, including set-tops and digital TVs, via a firmware modification and a USB 2.0 connection. It added that "many" unidirectional digital cable products (UDCPs), including TiVo-made DVRs, have one or more USB 2.0 connectors, and suggested they also might be upgradeable for SDV through only a firmware upgrade.

The NCTA hinted at such a solution in a filing made to the FCC on June 5, 2007, noting that engineers from cable and TiVo were working on a solution, but offered no technical detail.

In its filing Friday (Aug. 24), the NCTA did not break any further ground on who might make the Tuner Resolver or offer an estimate on device unit costs.

Among consumer electronics companies, TiVo has plenty of skin in the cable game, whether it's with CableCARD-based DVRs offered through retail or in partnership with MSOs. Its top-of-the line Series 3 DVR as well as a cheaper HD-DVR introduced in July both house CableCARD slots. TiVo also has DVR software and service deals in place with Comcast and Cox. (See Comcast to Kick Off Boston TiVo Party.)

The NCTA noted the cable industry "has worked with CE companies such as TiVo" on the "small" Tuner Resolver device, which is also being referred to as a "set-back" device because, as envisioned, it could be installed on the back of a TV set.

If this optional device is indeed made, NCTA suggested that its licensing and testing would be provided under the existing DFAST (Dynamic Feedback Arrangement Scrambling Technique) agreement. DFAST refers to a copy protection technology originally developed by Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). CableLabs licenses DFAST to consumer electronics companies that make one-way plug-and-play televisions as well as unidirectional CableCARD-capable set-tops and DVRs.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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