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Television Media Technology

Cable Industry to Standardize Under Tru2Way 216

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the foot-in-the-door dept.
smooth wombat writes "In a move to stave off the FCC, cable operators have now agreed upon one standard to allow TVs and other gear that will work regardless of cable provider. This standard should allow the development of new services and features that rely on two-way communication over the cable network. The core of the matter is this: there are tvs and other devices which can receive digital programming but cannot talk back to the network. As a result, subscribers must rent out boxes from cable companies. This new standard should, in theory, do away with having to rent a box. There are two downsides to this standard. First, Sony has not signed onto the cable industry's idea and second, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to put forth a proposal for a more open and competitive environment using a completely different standard."
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Cable Industry to Standardize Under Tru2Way

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  • For a moment ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by overshoot (39700) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:14PM (#21945910)
    I thought this was about CableCard, which was the last plan that would have rendered company-specific set-top boxes obsolete and brought universal interoperability.

    Now remind me how that turned out.

    • by dreamt (14798)
      So the question is, is this just CableCard 2.0 rebranded? The article mentions that this has been in the works for a long time, etc, etc, so maybe it is? One can only hope.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)
      That, and CableCard v.2 was supposed to handle 2-way communications. I think v.1 was just one way.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by KingSkippus (799657) *

        That, and CableCard v.2 was supposed to handle 2-way communications. I think v.1 was just one way.

        Does that make v.3 the one where the NSA also gets to watch what you're watching in real-time?

    • Actually, that's how all your new cable boxes *are* working.

      As of June-July of this year, all cable boxes sold are now required to be OCAP-compliant ie. they need a cablecard. You can still receive a non-OCAP box from your cable store, but no new ones can be purchased so once the existing supply runs out, all boxes will have cablecards in them. Most of these boxes have the cards locked into them, but the cards are there.

  • It's not like they are the only manufacturer to make televisions.

    Let them invent their own standard if they want to, with blackjack, and hookers!
    • by MarkGriz (520778)
      Agreed. If anything, lack of Sony's participation sounds like an upside to me.
    • by Ilgaz (86384) *

      It's not like they are the only manufacturer to make televisions.

      Let them invent their own standard if they want to, with blackjack, and hookers!

      So, you are speaking about a "standard" with very interesting quotes like:
      "CableLabs said it has inked licensing agreements with Intel Corp. (INTC) and Broadcom Corp. (BRCM) to develop chips to run the software. And Microsoft Corp. is expected to integrate the standard into future versions of its Windows operating system for personal computers."

      and you are happy that Sony, their professional division has not bought this idea. Why?

      Sony in TV broadcast scene has some amazing marketshare but they have always

  • I guess I should point out that I work for Comcast(As a drone in sector 7G), but I honestly find this an impressive device coming next year: http://www.comcast.com/ces/anyplay.aspx [comcast.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by glindsey (73730)

      I guess I should point out that I work for Comcast(As a drone in sector 7G), but I honestly find this an impressive device coming next year: http://www.comcast.com/ces/anyplay.aspx [comcast.com]

      A device which would kick ass if not for the fact that content providers will be able to choose exactly what you're "allowed" to take on the road, and how long it can sit on your portable box before automatically expiring.

      As usual, kickass technology is hobbled by greedy little shits who want to make sure you have to lease all of your content through them, in perpetuity.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by garcia (6573)
      It would have been impressive if it were competing with devices that came out in 2003 and 2004 that did exactly the same thing except without the blessings of the cable companies.

      Instead of devices that further lock you into one provider, I think that cable companies should be forced to come up with ways to allow their subscribers to get the content they have recorded onto their devices easily -- no reformatting, no slow downloading (TiVo via wifi), etc.

      They want to have lock-in permitted by the government?
      • by dreamt (14798)

        Instead of devices that further lock you into one provider, I think that cable companies should be forced to come up with ways to allow their subscribers to get the content they have recorded onto their devices easily -- no reformatting, no slow downloading (TiVo via wifi), etc.
        Isn't this the point of this tru2way -- it doesn't lock you into one provider. I think that just because Comcast is part of the announcement, it isn't going to tie you to Comcast.
        • by jedidiah (1196)
          Just think about it for a minute.

          It's an "open" interface that requires permission from an all-powerful licensing authority and comes will all sorts of string attached.

          It doesn't really matter what the "stated" purpose is. It infact gives the cable providers much more control than they would have had otherwise.

          This whole "force them to allow other STB's" notion is a total fiasco.

          Mandating STB content coming out in unencrypted QAM would have been far more useful.
    • Well, that appears to be one of those ideas that looks good until you actually think about it. Unless you live alone - what good is that? My wife and daughter are supposed to not watch television (or at least any recorded shows) while I'm away?

      I realize most of Slashdot's membership is relationship-less, but even you guys have to think about how your parents are going to watch TV while you're gone. :-D
      • by MarkGriz (520778)
        "but even you guys have to think about how your parents are going to watch TV while you're gone. :-D"

        I have my *own* TV in the basement, thank you very much!
      • by jedidiah (1196)
        Even if you live alone it makes no sense.

        What happens if you want something recorded while you're out of town?

        Take your PVR with you and you're out of luck.

        Cablecard causes this problem. You can't have a free and open cablecard
        Archos because that would be too open to hacking. So what you're left
        with is these lame cable companies trying to push their own proprietary
        ipod/archos knockoff.

    • by plague3106 (71849)
      Looks neat. Too bad I'd rather slit my wrists than pay Comcast willingly. Thank god my city rolled out some competition.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015)
      I already have an AnyPlay. It's called a "laptop".
  • I guess I have two questions. 1) will our devices report what we're watching to our cable companies now, making us all unwitting Nielsen Raters? 2) Will this just serve to lock consumers into a model like cell phones in the future?

    That is all.
    • will our devices report what we're watching to our cable companies now, making us all unwitting Nielsen Raters?

      Yes, because switched digital video (SDV) technology requires it.

      Will this just serve to lock consumers into a model like cell phones in the future?

      No, we are in the cell phone model today, and Tru2way gets us out of it. Today you pay $50/month for cable and $10/month for the box, while Tru2way allows you to pay $50/month for cable, $5/month for the card, and $500 upfront plus $20/month for the box
      • $5/month for the card, and $500 upfront plus $20/month for the box

        I'm confused. Was that a typo, or do you really mean we would be paying a monthly rental for the box (in addition to rental for the card) after buying it?
        • It wasn't a typo. Tivo charges $13/month for their box in addition to all the fees you pay the cable company. (I exaggerated slightly when I said $20/month; sorry.)
    • I see now that the Max Headroom TV series was more prophetic than most people realized at the time.
  • by Scareduck (177470) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:18PM (#21945982) Homepage Journal
    Though the proffered reason this is happening is because of FCC pressure, I wonder that the real reason for this isn't advertiser interest in seeing an end to electronic babel. With every major cable system using (effectively) proprietary hardware, detailed viewing habit data acquisition is difficult or at least complex. I would be very interested to see what kind of information will be shipped back to the provider end, and when. For instance, if you watch a time-delayed show on your DVR does it rat on you when you fast-forward past the commercials? That has to be valuable to advertisers by itself, and getting it in a uniform format regardless of provider would be helpful, too.
    • by peragrin (659227) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:52PM (#21946440)
      actually i would love a DVR that would tell the advertisers everytime i fast forward through their commericials. Maybe they would get the hint that they don't offer anything worth while.

      I watched NBC for the first time in months last night, just for American Gladiators. i could have done laundry, and dishes in between their commerical breaks. In 30 minutes of broadcasting all of 13 minutes was actually spent on the program, the rest was ads. Let's not get started by the in program advertising, brought to you by Subway.
      • by MarkGriz (520778) on Monday January 07, 2008 @05:29PM (#21946858)
        "actually i would love a DVR that would tell the advertisers everytime i fast forward through their commericials. Maybe they would get the hint that they don't offer anything worth while."

        Exactly. I Tivo most programs (ugh, there I go verbing again), and seldom watch any commercials, but mostly because they are crap.
        If there was a way to Thumbs down every feminine hygiene, Burger King, and other junk I'm not interested in, and Thumbs up things I like,
        pretty soon they'd have an idea of what I like. Then they could insert targeted ads into the commercial break (which could now be shorter
        since the dollar value per minutes would be higher since it is target specific). Then I'd only see what I'm really interested in,
        and I might actually watch a commercial or 2. Hell, if they really want to capitalize on this, why not let me push a button and get
        MORE information on the product (a detailed video clip) or have them send me dead trees if I prefer.
        • If there was a way to Thumbs down every feminine hygiene, Burger King, and other junk I'm not interested in, and Thumbs up things I like, pretty soon they'd have an idea of what I like. Then they could insert targeted ads into the commercial break (which could now be shorter since the dollar value per minutes would be higher since it is target specific). Then I'd only see what I'm really interested in, and I might actually watch a commercial or 2. Hell, if they really want to capitalize on this, why not let

  • Mythtv guide (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Neil Watson (60859) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:21PM (#21946008) Homepage
    Does that mean MythTV could get its channel and program guide direct from the cable feed?
    • Re:Mythtv guide (Score:4, Insightful)

      by glindsey (73730) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:41PM (#21946314)
      No way. CableLabs would never open up their protocol specifications for open-source use. They're trying to make this a standard so they can totally dominate the market. Interoperability? Please. What they want is for every single manufacturer using "tru2way" technology to pay out the nose to be "Tru2Way Certified" or compliant or compatible or whatever the hell the cute little sticker on the front of the appliance will say. They need complete and utter control over every aspect of the hardware and software, or their DRM won't work, see?
    • Just because they standardize, doesn't mean it'll be an OPEN standard. I would guess the answer is "hell no". The cable companies will most likely play nicely with each other, and lock anyone and everyone out that isn't charging a mint for the "privilege" of getting their data.
    • by jddj (1085169)
      More likely it means MythTV won't interoperate at all - chances are anything the Industry proposes is aimed at locking open standards off of the cable system.

      Cable companies want to get to a spot where you pay per-click each time you watch any show.
  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:22PM (#21946018) Homepage
    > FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to put forth a proposal for a more open
    > and competitive environment using a completely different standard

    Like the way we now have a separate HDTV standard than everyone else in the world because they advocated a NTSC replacement even though the existing European standard was perfectly fine?

    Perhaps they mean "standard" as in "Imperial Weights and Measures"? It's the "Imperial" part that always ends up being a problem.

    Maury
    • by Poppler (822173)
      There actually is an issue of openness with the existing standards. The Cable industry doesn't allow stand-alone devices to decrypt their signals - which means no CableCard for your home-built PVR.

      I don't know what the FCC is proposing, but I would welcome a new standard if it meant opening up the market to third-party hardware manufacturers.
    • by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:33PM (#21946210) Homepage Journal
      What existing European standard? ATSC and DVB were developed at around the same time. Arguably, those involved should have worked together, but to claim there was an existing European standard the industry could have adopted is completely wrong.
    • Uh, what? There was no established digital standard when ATSC development started. The only existing standard was the Japanese standard and that was analog - which still seems like a completely crazy idea.

                Brett
    • by rtechie (244489)
      At this point, most people would be willing to settle for ANY standard since it's the cable companies' plan to NOT HAVE ONE. They WILL sabotage "OpenCable" or "Tru2Way" or whatever the fuck they're calling it now, just like they sabotaged CableCARD, and continue to use proprietary equipment. They're already talking about OUTRAGEOUS (on the order of $200 PER DEVICE) licensing terms for "Tru2Way", which will guarantee no consumer electronics manufacturer will touch it (by design).

      The FCC spec is being pushed
    • by evilviper (135110) on Monday January 07, 2008 @11:55PM (#21949826) Journal

      Like the way we now have a separate HDTV standard than everyone else in the world because they advocated a NTSC replacement even though the existing European standard was perfectly fine?

      The ATSC (HDTV) standard in the US predates DVB by years.

      The ATSC organization was created in 1982.
      The DVB organization was created in 1993.

      The (final) ATSC standard was published in 1995.
      The DVB-T standard was finalized in 1997.

      So, you should instead be asking why Europe chose to develop their own incompatible standard, "even though the existing American standard was perfectly fine."
  • by glindsey (73730) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:23PM (#21946040)
    Tru2Way is the new name for what was formerly "OpenCable," the standard which is not open as you need to register with CableLabs and sign an NDA just to see many of the specifications.

    The protocol involves a sophisticated DRM system which can allow content providers to dictate which content you are allowed to move or copy and when (see section 6, Security, of the OpenCable Unidirectional Reciever Specification, OC-SP-OCUR-I04-060622).

    I'm guessing "Tru2Rape" was just too truthful of a name for them to use.

    • by Bryansix (761547)
      So basically it's the Broadcast Flag for cable.
      • by powerlord (28156)

        So basically it's the Broadcast Flag for cable.

        No. That was in the CableCard 1.0 Spec (CCv1).

        All of this business with a new two-way standard is driven by the Cable Companies trying to move to Switched Digital Video (SDV) which requires two-way communication (which the CableCard 1.0 standard can't provide), while at the same time they've been dragging their collective heals about approving/finalizing a CableCard 2.0 spec that would allow two-way communication.

        The FCC is getting ticked off (since the Cable

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nonsequitor (893813) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:23PM (#21946044)
    Why do I want my appliances talking back to any service provider? I value my privacy and I don't want my TV reporting my viewing habits any more than I want a smart fridge reporting my eating habits.

    What's wrong with the push method of content distribution? I am skeptical as to what value this really adds to my viewing experience. I get the feeling its not about improving the user's experience at all, but more for gathering data on viewing habits to better price advertising time. I guess I'm at a loss as to what compelling technical problem this solves. The only thing the article really mentions is a lack of standardization for how these devices can acheive 2 way communication, but it never states why that is even necessary.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by duranaki (776224)
      Pay Per View, Video on Demand, etc.
      • Those services exist without this sort of invasive technology. Maybe I'm cynical, but I don't want a device like this in my house phoning home whenever my cable company wants. Service providers have already breached a trust with blanket wire tapping of internet service. Is the NSA going to start monitoring TV viewing habits too?
        • by truesaer (135079)
          They only exist if you have a box from the cable company. If you read even the article summary you would see the point of this is to integrate the box into your TV set or other electronics equipment. That has a host of benefits...eliminates a piece of equipment, eliminates a monthly rental fee, makes it so you don't need a jerry-rigged system with high latency to switch channels with your DVR, etc.
        • by duranaki (776224)
          I agree with you in spirit, but without two-way communication it is simply not possible to implement PayPerView. How would you inform the cable company of your consent to purchase a program without an upstream? These services ONLY exist today because of invasive technology.. the difference is that now cable companies have complete control over what your box uploads as they provide both the service and the box. Like you, I'm skeptical. If the standard isn't world readable, we will still have no idea what
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mzs (595629)
            We had PPV in the '80s. We informed the cable company with a phone call before the show. I imagine today it could be done over http.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by LabRat (8054)
          It's obvious you don't grasp how modern digital cable works. This isn't about "phoning home". This is about being able to send command/control signals to the head-end equipment in order to access dynamically provisioned resources. Just as your web browser isn't "phoning home" when you open a TCP connection to slashdot in order to request the index page. Such dynamic resources include Switched Digital Video (sort of like multicast in the IP world..but not quite as granular), VOD, PPV, etc. Yes, it's true
          • Cable is dead anyway, I torrent my television. There's is no way in hell I'll invest in this technology even if its the only thing on the market after a few years. This is just another method to sell new TVs. I have no intention of buying a new one for a long time, nor should I have to. I'll be laughing my ass off when this gets hacked and every comcast subscriber sees nothing but goatse for a week. All you would need is a modded surfboard cable modem to get on the network. This is just another point
      • So, crap like Wrestling and Sports (Pay Per View) and what Netflix's Watch It Now does (On Demand). My cable company is going to end up just pushing bits back and forth to me, while I get my content elsewhere for cheaper.
    • by kebes (861706)
      What's the benefit? Well, as usual it will depend on the implementation.

      If it truly ends up being an open standard, then end-users will benefit. The two-way interaction will be used to select desired data, for video-on-demand, downloading TV-schedules to various devices, etc. With an open standard, the end-user will be able to select from a wide variety of devices or even "roll their own" (e.g. MythTV). An open standard also means that new kinds of two-way TV interactions may be invented that can't be im
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      What's wrong with the push method of content distribution?

      Because it doesn't include any sort of on-demand system in which your cable box has to call the mother ship and say "I want this extra stuff".

      For some of their stuff, they want to move beyond the constant push model so they can have more on-demand stuff -- cause there's gold in them thar hills. :-P There are probably other reasons as well.

      Personally, I'm waiting for any of the technologies they tout to ever come into existence. I thought the Cable

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tintivilus (88810)

      The AC had the right idea but the wrong link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switched_digital_video [wikipedia.org]

      In an SDV system, not all channels are present on a given segment unless they're being requested. TiVo has announced support for SDV [prnewswire.com] via an external USB dongle for the upstream.

    • by plague3106 (71849)
      Why do I want my appliances talking back to any service provider? I value my privacy and I don't want my TV reporting my viewing habits any more than I want a smart fridge reporting my eating habits.

      Perhaps then your favorite show won't be canceled, because current methods to determine ratings are inaccurate?

      What's wrong with the push method of content distribution? I am skeptical as to what value this really adds to my viewing experience. I get the feeling its not about improving the user's experience at a
    • That's fine, and you should be able to opt out of any 2 way communications, but they are talking about things like On Demand and Pay Per View programming here. You can save your tinfoil hat for later. They can *already* tell what you're watching without 2 way communications.
  • Great (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671)
    I can't think of a single good reason that I want my TV talking back to my cable company.
    • by DragonPup (302885)
      Video on Demand requires 2 way communication.
    • I can't think of a single good reason that I want my TV talking back to my cable company.
      Do you have a digital cable converter to get channels beyond the basic 99? If so, then you already are. And probably paying %$10/mo for the privilege. This just eliminates the fee they charge to spy on you, which is good. It's like they're giving free lube before they... well, you get the picture.
    • by saikou (211301) on Monday January 07, 2008 @06:59PM (#21947828) Homepage
      You do, actually. Because otherwise some channels will simply not work any more. One-way communication means all channels are broadcasted _at once_. And your card has means to decode channels A through M (but not N through Z, even though the feed is there). Now with switching video they only broadcast channels that are presently in use (A,E,L...), so in order to watch channel D your box/card/device has to be able to talk back to the node and say "I'd like channel D now" to which it gets back "Ok, it's on digital channel 1342.1" and magically that particular channel is assigned feed from D for some amount of time, after which it will be reused.
      That way cable company can offer you virtually unlimited number of channels even though the bandwidth is limited (and in worst case scenario they only need one channel per each consumer's device). Time Warner already started to move some channels to this delivery system, therefore if you have a cable card and you want to see one of those "small" channels you are out of luck. And if you have "digital cable compatible TV" then you may see some channels that keep on switching content.
      So yes, you do want a two way communication, even if you never use Video on Demand.
      • > and in worst case scenario they only need one channel per each consumer's device

        Seems like a pretty bad worst case. How many cable boxes max hang off the distro points? What is the bandwidth like between those and the head ends?
  • by icebike (68054) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:24PM (#21946060)
    How is it that an FCC chairman that wants a MORE OPEN standard constitutes a downside?

    Why should we have to buy a TV with multiple tuners, picture in picture, dual channel viewing and all sorts of neat capabilities and then be mugged by the cable companies on the way to watch the ball game?

    Cable card http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CableCARD [wikipedia.org] was supposed to eliminate this, but the cable companies refused the ability to get channel guide info for sets using cable cards.

    Personally, I think the FCC should outlawt cable companies from selling set top boxes PERIOD. Take the revenue out of their hands and standards would be adhered to, third parties would arrive, guide info would magically appear on the internet, and every thing would be much more consumer friendly. Mandate only cable card and free the strangle hold. Everybody will be buying a new TV in the next four years anyway, the time is ripe.

  • A quick look through recent Slashdot stories involving the FCC [slashdot.org] turns up a veritable cornucopia of positions from Kevin Martin. Some of them favor megacorps, others favor consumers. It's positively bizarre! No matter who put his name onto the nomination list, it's unlikely that anyone is getting everything they paid for out of this guy.

    But I guess that's what happens when you hire someone who's playing two different sports, and music on two continents [wikipedia.org] at the same time he's chairing the FCC...
  • by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdotNO@SPAMexit0.us> on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:44PM (#21946348) Homepage
    I believe that Chairman Kevin Martin calls it "No TV left behind".
  • by \\ (118555) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:45PM (#21946352) Homepage
    Why is building this stuff into a television a good idea? Even if the money grubbing cable companies weren't all about screwing you with their prices, what happens when new legit tech does get created? I'm forced to buy a new tv?
    • by jandrese (485)
      The point isn't necessarily that you need to build it into the TV, but it gives you the option to build stuff like Tivo that doesn't interact well with the traditional cable box model. Besides, Cable boxes tend to suck, universally, and people wouldn't use them if they didn't need to. The worst part is that we got away from them for a bit when TV manufacturers improved their tuners enough to be compatible with cable (Cable Ready TVs), but with the DRM requirements of new digital channels you can't make a
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cHiphead (17854)
      How is the government supposed to watch US from our tvs if they dont have 2 way communications, ala 1984?

      cheers.
    • by Buelldozer (713671) <cliff.gindulis@net> on Monday January 07, 2008 @07:53PM (#21948336)
      We already DO build all of this stuff into televisions!

      Are you not old enough to remember the original cable boxes that had tuning crystals in them? You'd either turn a knob or hit a button on a box seperate from the TV. That box would modulate it's output to TV channel 3 (or 4) and that's the channel you would turn your television to.

      As time went on and cable systems standardized televisions started getting cable tuners built into them. This is why most televisions now can tune the first 70 or so cable channels. Those analog channels were standardized sometime back in the 80s and all TVs now have tuners built into them for this.

      What people are seeking is a return to this convenience for DIGITAL cable.

      Frankly digital should have been deployed like this from the get go and I can't understand why cable companies are blocking a return to A/V equipment with built in tuners.
  • "In a move to stave off the FCC, cable operators have now agreed upon one standard to allow TVs and other gear that will work regardless of cable provider.

    Why do people subscribe to cable TV? If you are so offended by their closed standards, the solution seems pretty simple to me. All it shows is that the FCC is a completely bogus organization that ultimately hurts consumers. Cable companies shouldn't be forced by the regulators to adopt a common standard any more than consumers should be forced to subscrib

    • I still subscribe to basic cable, but only because then I can use clearQAM to get at digital feeds of local broadcast stations (our area doesn't yet have broadcast HDTV) and because it's revenue neutral since Comcast cable internet has about the same cost if you have TV service with them or not.

      Any shows that were on cable, I can get from Netflix or download from iTunes. It's really a lot nicer way to approach TV.
      • by darjen (879890)
        I used to subscribe to cable just to get their HDTV stuff. I was paying over $100 for tv and internet. Now I use an HD antenna and tuner and am pretty happy with that setup. Luckily I live in a pretty large metro area with all the local channels in HD. Netflix fills the rest of the void pretty well. I would much rather pay $15/month for 768mbps internet and $15/month for Netflix than over $100 for internet and cable! Hopefully you'll get some form of broadcast HD soon.
  • This is just 2-way cablecard, aka Cablecard 2.0, aka Open Cable, rebranded with yet another name. It's all a marketing gimmick designed to shake off the negative connotations attached to CableCard and its failure in the marketplace at the hands of the cable companies. These still aren't the droids you're looking for.

    I think every cable customer who has every had to use a shitty digital cable tuner for any period of time knows that they suck mightily. They're some of the worst consumer electronics products put into wide release in the last decade. They have horrible user interfaces, they're slow to change channels, they're riddled with banner ads slapped on every spare square inch of screen real estate, they feature glacial channel guides, and are plagued by forgetful DVRs. The list of ways in which cable boxes suck goes on and on, but cable customers have put up with it because they didn't have a choice.

    Really, the customer wants to be able to do the same things with digital cable that they were able to do with analog cable back in the 90's. Namely:

    • Use the tuner built into their TV without paying the cable company rental fees for a box or a device
    • Hook the cable directly into a recording device for time-shifting without noticeable DRM restrictions
    • See open competition in the set-top box marketplace to drive down prices and create innovative new interfaces & services
    • Do and have all of the above without sacrificing PPV, On-Demand, other new features, or any channel subscriptions they've paid for.

    10 years and an act of Congress later, Cablecard was supposed to do give us all of the above, but the implementations have been so intentionally broken by the cable companies that it's basically useless. Cable companies have intentionally made the experience of using a cablecard-equipped PC with Windows Media Center (a fine device, whatever Slashdot's biases) or a cablecard-equipped Tivo a complete nightmare. Purchasers have to put up with broken installs, untrained technicians, and then once everything is set up, the system is so fragile that without notice the devices just Stop Working for days at a time, and often don't resume function until hours are spent on the phone with Comcast support. Users of WMC or TivoHD also lose access to PPV and On-Demand, even though they still have to pay the cable company for access to those features, and any channels that are deployed on a new back-end technology called SDV are inaccessible as well. Current WMC PC's and cablecard Tivo's are already obsolete, not 2 years into their product lifespan. CableCard is a lousy deal, and the cable companies have gone out of their way to make sure it remains a lousy deal, because the last thing they want to do is open up their network to competition.

    CableCard 2.0, or 2-way cablecard, or OpenCable, or (now) True2Way, or whatever they call it, is supposed to be a panacea. These devices will allow 2-way communications with the cable company's network, and let you buy any cable box you want, complete with ppv and on-demand and SDV. But here's the rub: They use a technology called OCAP, with is four-letter-acronym for "Whatever box you buy will download and run the cable company's shitty software in a sandboxed virtual machine, and the box provider can offer no features above and beyond what is deployed by the cable company." There is no real competition under the OCAP model, because when plugged into the cable network and activated, the boxes will all be EXACTLY THE SAME. Maybe they can compete on hard disk space, but that'll be about it. You want a Tivo or WMC interface? If your cable company doesn't offer one (for the low low price of $15 a month, but did I mention that our standard cable box interface is free!) then you're screwed. You want an interface that isn't covered in banner ads? Good luck with that. The cable company remains the keyholder to the gates of the network, and there's no chance in hell they'll open up.

    All this announcement means is that y

  • to not be this guy [theonion.com] right now.
  • This "two way" standard is really only one way: straight from our pockets to the cable companies and the content cabal.

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.

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