Video hardware

Clear QAM Fades to Black

Several major cable companies are now encrypting basic digital cable signals after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled to lift a ban on the practice late last year. (See New Cable Video Security Rules to Get Real.) Comcast Corp. has dominated recent headlines, but subscriber reports indicate that Charter Communications Inc. and RCN Corp. have also begun encrypting QAM signals that were previously broadcast in the clear. The FCC's rule preventing basic encryption was a major thorn in cable's side. Clear QAM broadcasts allow any digital TV or retail set-top with a QAM tuner to access select cable stations without a cable box. However, cable operators argue that clear QAM also makes theft of cable services easier, and that subscribers without a set-top require a truck roll any time service has to be activated or deactivated. The ban on encryption stayed active in part because retail IP set-tops like those from Boxee and Simple.TV have made use of clear QAM as a way to avoid the expense of integrating CableCARD technology. As a compromise between cable and CE combatants, the FCC mandated last year that the six largest cable companies still have to support basic channel access for retail boxes even as new encryption is implemented. A new class of digital terminal adapters is making that condition easier to meet. On its website, Comcast details the specific type of Ethernet DTA, or E-DTA it will provide for free for two years to Boxee customers. (See also New DTA Will Extend Cable TV to Retail Devices, and Cable Cleared to Encrypt Basic TV Tiers.) — Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable

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