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New Specs, Adapters Allow CableCard Devices to Get Switched Digital Video

Cable companies have been promising big things and big capacity from switched digital video technology, and cable executives have said that 2008 will see the technology roll out in force.

That promise got a boost this week when industry consortium CableLabs announced (along with TiVo, Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta, BigBand Networks and C-COR) that it has developed specifications for a new external interface to allow certain Unidirectional Digital Cable Ready Products (UDCPs) that use CableCard security systems to access switched digital services previously unavailable to such devices.

TiVo said it will introduce a new external adapter using the technology for its high-end boxes that use CableCards—the TiVo 3 HD DVR and the TiVo HD DVR. Cable companies will make the adapters available to viewers in the first quarter of 2008, according to a statement from TiVo and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

The idea behind the CableCard policy was to allow consumers to buy their own boxes that would work across cable systems; they would rent the small security cards—instead of set-top boxes—from local cable operators. But cable industry leaders have noted the slow deployment of devices that use CableCards and fought the ban on so-called “integrated” set-top boxes, those with security and tuning features together. Since the ban went into effect in July, many cable companies have had to deploy new, more expensive, CableCard-ready boxes, which they note cost more for consumers while delivering no new features.

So, CableCard-ready devices that can tap into the promise of switched digital video could be a boost for the deployment of the CableCards. And every box owned by a consumer is one less the cablers have to buy, deploy and maintain.

Cable operators will work with TiVo to alert TiVo customers about the new adapters.

“We’re strongly committed to ensuring that our subscribers who use CableCARD-enabled retail devices, including TiVo DVRs, have a satisfying and successful installation experience,” said Mike LaJoie, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Time Warner Cable, which has been a leader in early deployment of switched digital video.

In an FCC filing Tuesday, TiVo also said the cable industry has agreed to work with TiVo to resolve the company’s concerns with the OpenCable Applications Platform (OCAP), which the cable industry wants the FCC to adopt as the platform for bidirectional set-top boxes.

Tivo said it and the industry will try to adjust OCAP to enable TiVo to build a box with a “TiVo” mode, displaying all linear channels (including switched digital video channels enabled by OCAP), as well as a “cable mode,” running OCAP and all related cable services without TiVo’s DVR functionality.

TiVo told the FCC that the “TiVo DVR with OCAP” balances the concerns of both TiVo and cable and is preferable to DCR+, the solution proposed by the Consumer Electronics Association. OCAP opponents have said the platform gives cable operators too much control over the devices.