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TiVo à la Mode

Jeff Baumgartner

Is anyone getting the sense that TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and the cable industry are quickly becoming the bestest of friends?

After cementing an arrangement earlier this week that will soon ensure that legacy, unidirectional TiVo boxes (such as its new HD-DVR) can access channels offered in a cable operator's "switched" programming tier, it now appears that cable has also stepped up to make a few tweaks so TiVo can develop two-way, interactive DVRs based on the OpenCable Platform, a CableLabs -specified system that uses a common set-top middleware layer. Combined with separable security, OpenCable aims to create a retail market for set-tops and drive innovation from the consumer electronics industry.

TiVo, which already has direct deals with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cox Communications Inc. and a well established consumer CE brand, fits the bill nicely. (See TiVo Set-Tops Trickle Out .)

But TiVo is also shaping up as a strong political ally to cable as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) pushes a different, non-OpenCable proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called DCR+. In addition to throwing a monkey wrench into OpenCable plans, operators argue that DCR+, if the FCC forces cable to support it, will not only be expensive to implement but will not support some advanced features and applications such as TV-based caller ID. (See Two-Way Battle Reaches FCC.)

In the FCC filing this week, TiVo notes that cable has agreed to make a few "clarifications or adjustments" to the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) in ways TiVo believes are necessary to build a "viable retail DVR" powered by the CableLabs-specified middleware.

Those "adjustments" will enable TiVo boxes with OCAP to run in two modes:

  • TiVo Mode: In addition to displaying all the operator's linear channels (and those offered via switched digital video techniques), this mode will preserve the TiVo user interface and tap into the box's full DVR functionality.
  • Cable Mode: Running OCAP, this mode will give customers access to general programming services and other MSO-supplied set-top applications via the cable operator's native user interface, and toggle off the device's DVR functions.

Using two modes should also clear up issues involving OpenCable's monitor application, which polices and prioritizes how the box's processing resources are shared among applications native to TiVo and/or the cable operator. Without those controls, it's possible that OpenCable devices may crash if too many applications are drawing resources. But who is to control the monitor application -- the cable operator or the CE manufacturer -- has been a major source of contention in the two-way "Plug & Play" negotiations.

In an opinion that will surely rile the CEA, TiVo also said this refined version of OCAP "was a preferable solution to DCR+ for a variety of reasons, including time-to-market and the ability to receive all of cable's two-way services."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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