Double Whammy on Digital TV Date


Monterey, Calif. -- There’s another digital-technology-deployment date that independent cable operators will be paying attention to in the first quarter of 2009.

As if it weren’t enough that operators had to worry about handling a complete conversion of all local broadcast TV signals to digits, from analog waves, on Feb. 17, 2009.

Now, they also have to be preparing to deploy “downloadable” security to set-top boxes and digital-TV sets at the same time.

Set-top boxes and TV sets that can take instructions on how to access cable-TV services in the form of software downloads will be hitting retail outlets in the first quarter of 2009, Keith Bechard, acting vice president of engineering for technology-services firm PolyCipher, told attendees of The Independent Show here Tuesday.

PolyCipher is a joint venture owned by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications that licenses its intellectual property to Cable Television Laboratories, the industry research consortium, for managing the downloads. Polycipher is based in Denver; CableLabs is in nearby Louisville, Colo.

For operators, preparing a headend and a cable network for handling downloads of instructions for controlling who gets access to what services is “fairly ambitious,” Bechard said Tuesday, after his presentation to independent operators.

And, “yes, it’s another big thing” for operators to worry about between now and the first quarter of 2009.

But, he said, so far, discussions and planning sessions with cable architects have not indicated that the operations of systems will be “stressed out” by managing both the transition to taking in digital-TV signals from local broadcasters and the transition to controlling access to cable systems by remotely controlled and transmitted digital instructions at the same time.

A “second wave” of testing of the downloading process is now under way, Bechard said. System testing will begin in the first quarter of next year, field trials in the second quarter and, by current estimates, deployment of complete systems in the fourth quarter of 2008.

By moving to instructions that can be downloaded as software, the cable industry expects to reduce the costs of set-top boxes long-term and to lower operational costs, as well. With instructions in digital form, newer forms of security can be delivered to set-top boxes and digital-TV sets via the cable network. And services can be turned on and off from central operations centers.