Comcast Tunes Up SDV Tuning Adapters
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) confirmed Wednesday that it is making a new breed of Tuning Adapters for customers who use inherently one-way CableCARD-capable digital TVs and stand-alone TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) digital video recorders (DVRs) that require help accessing channels delivered in the operator's switched tier.
A spokeswoman said the Tuning Adapters are already available to customers in Cherry Hill, N.J., confirming reports from Comcast customers earlier this week.
Cherry Hill is one of the few markets where Comcast is testing switched digital video (SDV), a technique that improves bandwidth efficiency. There, Comcast is using Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s SDV platform as well as the vendor's overarching digital platform.
Cisco has developed a Tuning Adapter called the STA-1520, while Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) offers one called the MTR700. (See Cisco Intros SDV Tuning Adapter .)
The cable industry shifted the Tuning Adapter (previously dubbed the "Tuning Resolver") project into high gear following complaints from TiVo that the DVR pioneer's unidirectional, CableCARD-capable units would not be able to access the channels delivered via SDV. Channels in an operator's switched tier are streamed out only when a customer in a given service group selects them for viewing. (See NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag.)
CableLabs published the Tuning Adapter specs last November. The device itself hooks in via a USB 2.0 connection and uses that link to modify the firmware of the DVR or digital TV. (See CableLabs Spec Brings SDV to the Masses.)
In Cherry Hill, Comcast customers can pick up Tuning Adapters directly from Comcast or ask the MSO to install them. Comcast is not charging a fee for the device.
Comcast is also testing out SDV in the Denver area, where it's using Motorola's digital platform. It's also trying it out in St. Paul, another Motorola system, and in Minneapolis, which uses Cisco's platform. (See Comcast Expands SDV Test Pool.)
Although the Tuning Adapter solves a significant problem for some customers, it's not expected to be a huge moneymaker for Motorola and Cisco -- the only two vendors with devices approved by CableLabs. (See CableLabs Stamps SDV Tuning Adapters .) In fact, the overall need for Tuning Adapters is expected to be relatively small.
For starters, SDV is not yet that widely deployed, save for MSOs such as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), which latched onto the technology early on. Since then, U.S. operators such as Cox Communications Inc. , Charter Communications Inc. , and Bright House Networks have started to adopt it as well. (See Charter Charts First SDV Course , Cox Flips BigBand's DV Switch , and BigBand Lights Bright House.)
On top of that, there just aren't hordes of UDCPs (Unidirectional Digital Cable Products) in the market that are using CableCARDs, rather than separate digital set-top boxes, to authorize digital cable services.
In September, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) reported that the top 10 incumbent U.S. MSOs, which serve about 90 percent of all cable subs in the country, had deployed just over 374,000 CableCARDs for use in UDCPs, up a mere 2,000 since the NCTA released a similar update in June. In comparison, those same operators reported issuing more than 7.8 million operator-supplied set-tops with CableCARDs since the security integration ban went into effect last July. (See CableCARD Update V.)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News