Cable Tech

Express Lane for Off-Air Box

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. (CableLabs) ain't fooling around about that proposed new set-top box for delivering off-air digital broadcast TV signals to cable subscribers.

Dick Green, president and CEO of CableLabs, made that point abundantly clear in a recent interview with Cable Digital News. Even though the R&D consortium hasn't issued a formal request for information (RFI) to cable tech vendors yet, he said, it's shooting to develop a prototype off-air DTV set-top well before the end of this year.

"We're serious about it," Green says. "This is not something that's going to languish. It'll be something that we'll execute."

In fact, Green noted that ideas for the new digital set-top are already flooding in from equipment suppliers, including some suggestions that hadn't occurred to consortium engineers. "There's a lot of supplier interest," he says.

When CableLabs unveiled the off-air set-top initiative a couple of weeks ago, there was much speculation that it was doing so mainly to throw a scare into broadcasters seeking retransmission-consent fees for their local stations. Several blogs and columns, including this one, suggested that the cable guys wanted to show they could stage an end-run around the broadcasters by simply plucking the station signals out of the air. (See Retrans Relief?.)

Green, of course, firmly denies that retransmission-consent concerns played a big role in the announcement of the off-air box project. "It was not motivated by a single call" from Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Chairman & CEO Brian Roberts or anybody else, he says.

Instead, he argues, the timing just happens to be right because of big advances in solid-state tuners, digital circuitry, and software over the last couple of years. "The hardware's better, the software's better," he says.

Plus, he noted that cable's satellite TV rivals already deploy digital set-tops with integrated off-air signal reception. "So there's a lot of prior art," he says. "We think we can take it another step forward."

— Alan Breznick, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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