By now it’s clear that the chapter involving CableCards and the retail part of Tru2way is closing, if not closed.
We’ll stop short of “stick a fork in it, it’s done,” because as former National Cable & Telecommunications Association attorney Dan Brenner once quipped, it’s just never a good idea to stick a fork into a piece of electronics.
Here’s how the Federal Communications Commission said it, in its April 21 notice of inquiry (NOI) on multichannel video issues: “We are not convinced that the Tru2way solution will assure the development of a commercial retail market.”
And, from FCC commissioner Robert McDowell: “To be blunt, the CableCard approach … has been disappointing.” Let’s review the facts. CableCards grew out of an FCC mandate that banned (only) cable operators from deploying set-top boxes with integrated security.
So they did. Today, some 18 million boxes are deployed with CableCards, at a cost north of $1.2 billion.
No, the new “AllVid” proposal from the FCC is for an “adapter,” or “set-back device.” The latter is so named not because it’s a setback, of course, but because it sits back. Small, unobtrusive, out of sight.
The FCC’s set-back adapter would handle signal reception, tuning and upstream (home outward) functions. Oh, and conditional access. (Quick translation: On the condition that your account is in good standing, you get access.) So much for that integrated security ban.
The adapter would hook to a different, “smart video” device, which would handle “navigation functions, including presentation of programming guides and search functionality.” That’s a biggie for the consumer-electronics industry: they’ve wanted first-screen navigation for two decades.
If you’re hungry for tech-talk, the 28-page NOI is chewy. Short list of terms to keep an eye on: DLNA, short for Digital Living Network Alliance. It’s the protocol that lets different gadgets connected to an IP network identify themselves on different screens with an icon (e.g., “hi, I’m a TV,” “hi, I’m a PC,” and so on).
Also: DTCP-IP, or Digital Transmission Content Protection/ Internet Protocol, a not-new way to enforce digital rights, using encryption, which most in the video foodchain seem to agree is OK.
Mostly, the NOI asks questions. Lots of questions. (I lost count at 22.) Some of them venture alarmingly deep into the techno-weeds. Citing how devices connected to cable’s switched digital video systems need a way to tell the switch when a viewer stops viewing (true enough), the FCC asks: “What protocols would be necessary for the AllVid adapter to query whether the navigation device still requires access to the program stream?”
That answer, and 21 others, are due back to the FCC in mid-June. Heigh-ho.