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'Tuning Resolver' Faces IP Hurdles

The technology behind a special device that will allow current-generation TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) digital video recorders and other "one-way" Digital Cable Ready (DCR) devices to access networks in a cable operator's "switched" tier must pass an intellectual property review before CableLabs can release the official specifications.

Once those hurdles are cleared, the specifications should be issued by early 2008, says CableLabs chief technology officer Ralph Brown.

That so-called "tuning resolver" will ensure that one-way Unidirectional Digital Cable Ready Products (UDCPs) that use CableCARDs can access switched digital video (SDV) programming, which is delivered only when a customer (DOWC) in a given service group selects them for viewing. (See CableLabs Spec Brings SDV to the Masses.)

The resulting adapter will handle upstream signaling so that the UDCP can join SDV streams and essentially turn the inherently one-way TV or set-top/DVR into a device that can communicate interactively on the cable network.

"UDCPs don't have an upstream, so they can't signal this intent [without the help of a tuning resolver]," Brown says. This new outboard device will perform the upstream signaling on behalf of the UDCP.

Firmware modifications on digital TVs and set-tops will be performed via the UDCP's USB 2.0 port. Brown says this will solve the issue "for the greatest population of devices as possible," noting that, according to CableLabs research, roughly two-thirds of existing digital TVs with CableCARD slots have the necessary USB interface. (See NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag.)

More than 500 companies on the CableLabs non-disclosure agreement (NDA) list are poring over the concept, with the expectation that they'll submit comments and raise any possible intellectual property issues before CableLabs can publish the final specs.

Although a large number of companies are looking at the technology behind the project, CableLabs has already identified five key participants: TiVo, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Scientific Atlanta , BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), and C-COR Corp. (Nasdaq: CCBL).

"Those are companies that are in the cable market delivering components of switched digital video today," Brown says. "Clearly, they are the companies that have the technical leadership in this area."

They also represent the companies that, so far, have signed contribution agreements linked to the tuning resolver project. The NDA list will ensure a "broader sweep" of the consumer electronics market.

Once the specs are issued, CableLabs also expects to conduct tests on the home-side client device. While "certification" is required for cable modems before they can be released through retail channels, the tuning resolver device is not expected to be offered at retail, and likely will be distributed to consumers directly by their local cable operators.

No one has released pricing targets for the tuning resolver, but we're starting to get an idea of potential form factors.

Mari Silbey, a resident "Connected Home 2 Go" blogger for Motorola, disclosed last week that Motorola's version of the tuning resolver will probably look much like the DCT700, a small, all-digital cable set-top. (See picture below.)



"It's been a very rapid program for us," Bruce Bradley, director of product management for Motorola's Home & Networks Mobility division tells Cable Digital News.

He expects his company to have a tuning resolver adapter ready to go by mid-2008.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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