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CableCARD's Mid-Course Correction

11:35 AM -- Remember those new CableCARD rules that took effect last fall, setting the stage for operators to begin deploying simple Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) with HD capabilities? Well, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has since come forth with some important "modifications and clarifications." (See The New CableCARD Rules .)

Chief among the tweaks, issued Wednesday (Jan. 26), is one that still lets those devices use IP interfaces, but doesn’t allow them to use that connection for operator-supplied video-on-demand and DVR services.

For the FCC that's a pretty important distinction because the Commission originally granted a blanket exemption on HD-DTAs with embedded security so long as the boxes couldn't be used for "advanced" services like VoD.

By hobbling the IP interface in this way, the HD-DTAs won't be able to set up VoD streams or connect to operator-supplied DVR services, leaving the HD-DTA pretty dumb, largely relegated to broadcast video coming downstream.

But there's a big DVR caveat that looks to protect retail entities like TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO). The FCC rules do allow those DTAs to use the IP interface to connect to a DVR purchased at retail.

Still, the FCC's adjustments don't appear to address a technical option that could theoretically enable a one-way DTA to access cable-supplied VoD services. Although DTAs don't have a traditional cable return path, it's still possible to "force tune" the DTA by sending a signal downstream to the device from the headend. (See Comcast: DTAs Can Be 'Force-Tuned' and To Xfinity... & Beyond!.)

One practical purpose is to ensure that the DTA is capable of receiving emergency alert system messages. However, with some additional work, an MSO could let a subscriber set up a VoD session from an IP connected device (such as an iPad).

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) already uses force-tuning in tandem with Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) so its Xfinity Remote app for tablets can change channels on the set-top box and set up VoD sessions. However, it developed that for its two-way digital set-tops, and has made no move to extend similar functionality to DTAs. (See EBIF Coming to DTAs .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable



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