Comcast Tunes in Boxee

Encryption oF MSO's Basic Tier Spotlights New DTA

Comcast’s first foray into basic-TV encryption will have a retail twist with an over-the-top “partner.”

In addition to providing customers with digital transport adapters (DTAs) that enable TVs to receive and display those encrypted signals, the MSO has also begun to make available a new breed of DTA with home-networking capabilities that will do precisely the same for Boxee’s new Cloud DVR product.

Comcast is notifying eligible Boxee customers about how to obtain this new device, called an Ethernet-DTA (E-DTA) in “select markets” where Comcast has begun to encrypt its “B-1” tier, a spokeswoman said. The move comes about four months after the Federal Communications Commission approved a new rule that allows cable operators to encrypt basic TV tiers in all-digital systems. (See related story in Rules.)

The change was pushed by MSOs to help reduce service theft and activate and deactivate services without a truck roll.

The E-DTA was spawned to help video devices such as Boxee’s receive encrypted basic-TV channels without using a CableCard. The E-DTA supports HD video and features an integrated Internetprotocol mini server that converts encrypted QAM video channels into protected IP streams that can be shared with the Boxee device via connections outfitted with Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) technology with DTCP-IP content protection.

For Boxee, the E-DTA will allow access to Comcast’s basic TV tier while preserving the Boxee user interface. The company’s $100 Cloud DVR supports a family of apps, including Netflix.

Availability of the cloud-based DVR component is currently limited to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Houston and Washington, D.C. A Boxee spokeswoman confirmed that only the Boxee Cloud DVR (not the original Boxee Box) is compatible with the new E-DTA.

Comcast and Boxee signed a separate agreement focused on the E-DTA component of the new FCC encryption rules. However, the top six incumbent cable operators (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks), representing about 86% of all U.S. cable subscribers, agreed to let IP-based retail devices receive basic TV tiers without a CableCard as a condition of the new rules. Longer-term, CE companies will also have the ability to license that technology and build it into their products.

The new rule will affect a small fraction of cable’s video customer base, even as more MSOs cut off analog service. U.S. cable ended 2012 with about 56.4 million video subs, with 46.8 million on digital video tiers, leaving fewer than 10 million analog cable customers, SNL Kagan senior analyst Ian Olgeirson said. He estimated that 8% to 10% of U.S. cable subs still take some type of “lifeline” video tier.


New digital transport adapters from Comcast will integrate Boxee’s Cloud DVR product.