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An End To Unencrypted Digital Cable TV and the HTPC

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the so-I-can-be-both-ahead-of-and-behind-my-time dept.

Encryption 345

Talinom writes "AnandTech has a writeup on how ClearQAM appears to be headed for an early death. From the article — 'At this point there's no reason to believe that cable companies won't deploy Privacy Mode across their networks, so it's a matter of 'when,' not 'if' this will happen. It goes without saying that if you're currently enjoying the use of a ClearQAM tuner to receive EB tier channels, you'll want to enjoy what time you have left, and look in to other solutions for the long-haul. At this pace, it looks like cable TV and computers will soon be divorcing.'" Update: 08/27 23:59 GMT by T : "EB" here stands for "Expanded Basic (cable service)"; Wikipedia as usual has a time-sucking, digressive, fascinating explanation about the tiers of cable TV service in the US.

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345 comments

HOW SMALL IS IT?!?! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223033)

CmdrTaco's penis is so small that when he was at the glory hole last night he was mistaken for a 2 year old.

Re:HOW SMALL IS IT?!?! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223421)

You give him too much credit. The girl on the other side of the glory hole thought she was looking at a pussy.

Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternative (5, Informative)

QuesarVII (904243) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223051)

DVB-S cards can use smart cards to get premium (encrypted) channels as long as you have a subscription. They don't lock you out like cable does.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (3, Informative)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223509)

Actually there is a way and it is supposed to be provided by your cable provider on request by law if you are a subscriber. Just get a tuner that takes a cable card. What's that you say, your cable provider doesn't have that? well now is the time to start screaming to the FCC. Make the Cable companies follow the existing law.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (2, Insightful)

Iphtashu Fitz (263795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223593)

I'm sure the cable company will be more than happy to provide you with a cable card if you need it. That'll just be an additional $9.95 per month rental fee for the additional outlet.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223687)

That's illegal in the US too. Believe it or not, the government CAN catch on.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223731)

Comast at least doesn't charge for the first card (and their wording on fees for additional cards makes it sound like they are limited to charging $2.05/month/card).

http://www.comcast.com/customers/faq/FaqDetails.ashx?Id=2651

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (5, Informative)

QuesarVII (904243) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223739)

CableLABs, the guys that control cable card, refuse to allow pci/pci express cards to be sold to the public that accept cable cards. There is 1 model made by ati, but officially you can only buy it in a premade htpc from someone like Dell. The card even scans the dmi info of the bios to make sure it is an authorized system.
Also, the card only has Windows drivers.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (2, Informative)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224139)

Yep. That's exactly right. They're expensive, too, so in addition to the overpriced vendor-built and CableLab certified PC, you'll be paying an additional ~ $250 for the cable-card capable tuner. Don't forget you'll need 2 of them if you want to record one show while you watch another.

Which is why my home-built DVR only records HD from the local broadcast channels. SD still works out of the cable box, though.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29224155)

Windows drivers, fuck that. If it works right away after I install it, then I am not interested. I would rather waste hours and hours looking for Linux drivers. Plug and play is for suckers who hate dicking around with their machines for days. Now on to find some wireless drivers - I have cleared the next month on my schedule!

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223521)

Does that work with DirecTV? I can't seem to find info on some simple googling...

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (1)

QuesarVII (904243) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223777)

Yes. You put the smart card that would normally go in the set top box into the pci express card instead.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (2, Informative)

Wesley Felter (138342) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224095)

Classic DirecTV is not DVB compatible, although it looks like they are transitioning to DVB-S2. Also, the DirecTV smart cards are quite different than DVB CI cards.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (5, Informative)

edwardd (127355) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223749)

DVB-S cards can use smart cards to get premium (encrypted) channels as long as you have a subscription. They don't lock you out like cable does.

Unfortunately for American viewers, there is no legal way to do this. Although DVB-S is an international standard and widely adopted, current laws within the US prohibit using off the shelf hardware to decrypt the video signal. Doing this is considered signal theft.

Dish Network uses Nagra 3 encryption, as do some other providers in Europe. There are no legal conditional access modules available for this crypto system, so any use of these smart cards in devices other than what the provider supplies is considered theft, as well as a violation of the DMCA.

DirectTV uses it's own proprietary system and can only be legally used with their hardware.

It really sucks paying to loose control.

Re:Check out twinhan DVB-S cards for an alternativ (1)

QuesarVII (904243) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223849)

Do you have any links about this? Everything I've read about has said this all works and is legal. I haven't seen anything to the contrary. I'm not doubting you, I just want to learn more about it.

Decryption on computer (5, Funny)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223057)

If only there were some way to make a computer decrypt an encrypted signal...

Oh well, I guess that's game over.

!?!?

Re:Decryption on computer (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223087)

Exactly. Secondly can't a 56-bit DES cipher be broken quite easily these days?

Re:Decryption on computer (4, Informative)

swimin (828756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223165)

But the key changes every 2 minutes or so. You can't watch tv if you can't break it in much less than that.

Re:Decryption on computer (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223209)

Well mine was more just a question of whether it can be done as I wasn't sure. Last I heard a few years back was that someone could break it in 9 days. From what I've now found, apparently a brute force attack is still pretty slow.

Correction... (5, Interesting)

Asmor (775910) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223267)

You can't watch live TV if you can't break it faster than that.

Unless I'm missing something, it should theoretically be possible to cache the stream and decrypt it on your own schedule. Would largely be invisible to anyone used to time-shifting the shows they watch anyways-- if I'm not planning to watch the new episode of [insert show here] until the next day after it airs, what do I care if it takes hours to decrypt?

Re:Correction... (2, Interesting)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223949)

It would depend, I would expect, on what layer they are encrypting. If N channels consist of N encrypted streams, being multiplexed onto the cable, then you could pull out and save a single encrypted string, for offline decryption.

However, if the encrypted is done after the multiplexing, you might not be able to pull out individual channels. You'd have to grab the whole stream, getting all N channels, decrypt it offline, and then pull out the channel you want. That space requirements for that could be prohibitive.

Re:Decryption on computer (1)

lattyware (934246) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223939)

So, someone sets up a distributed computing project that decrypts them, and broadcasts working results online, everyone grabs them and watches TV.

Re:Decryption on computer (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223197)

yeah it probably won't be a technical problem for long but I'm guessing that someone will use the DMCA to try to stop it all.

No, its not game over (5, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223247)

You don't seem to understand the percentages, and how the big picture works.

Let me try to help: .0001% of your hardcore customers find a way around your DRM and you lose a few cents at most.. While the actual paying customers are locked in to their changes and continue to feed the beast that makes it harder to get around and buys more laws.

They really don't care if a few hardcore tech types get around it. Really they don't, since you end up viewing ads in the process anyway and STILL make them money..

In the end, they win. Hell they already have.

Re:No, its not game over (4, Interesting)

andymadigan (792996) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223385)

On the other hand, I canceled my $120 since I couldn't get all the channels I wanted on my PVR (HBO, for instance). Now, I watch TV from Hulu and OTA. I switched to DSL as well. I hope others do as well.

Re:No, its not game over (2, Informative)

Haxzaw (1502841) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223559)

Yep, have to agree. I haven't had cable in over eight years. I also use OTA, Hulu, and DSL. It just doesn't make sense to pay so much for cable to have a lot of channels I couldn't care less about just to have the very few I do care for.

Re:No, its not game over (2, Interesting)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223585)

I'm about to do the same. They just started blocking some of the OTA stations for me, so off goes cable.

Re:No, its not game over (2, Interesting)

jebrew (1101907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223903)

On board with you...been without the cable for nearly a year now. Netflix, Hulu, OTA, and Google supply me with all the entertainment I should bother with anyway. If I can't find what I want in less than a minute, I shouldn't be sitting on my fat ass anyway, so I go outside. I think it's a really good paradigm shift. I've lost loads of weight since I got rid of cable.

Re:No, its not game over (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223795)

It might not be game over, but it is end game. Because if I can't watch paid-for TV the way I want when I want, which is the fundamental principle the cable companies are messing with and for which there is good legal precedent that I am allowed to do (i.e. time-shifting), then what's the damn point of paying the exorbitant monthly fee when A) most of what is on TV is stupid reality shows anyway, and B) there are other legal options?

Putting it another way, no, I won't waste my time and/or money trying to circumvent the DRM if they engage it. I'll just cancel the service, because by including that DRM they will make cable worth less to me. I'm not paying the same price for lesser service and greater inconvenience. I'll buy selected content legally from some other source, and the cable companies can pound sand. Sure, maybe 99% of their customers won't care, but if the quality on TV keeps dropping (seems inevitable), the hassle to enjoy it keeps increasing (DRM restrictions), and the price keeps going up, their customer base is going to peak and start to decline eventually. Advertising dollars will follow.

What's worse is, everybody knows that what they're doing won't stop broadcast shows from appearing somewhere on the Internet within an hour of release anyway (that 0.0001% of your customers that will bother decrypting). Why are these companies wasting their time and money with this nonsense?

Re:Decryption on computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223303)

The game never started where I am. I have Charter and the only clear QAM channels they have are locals. If you want the Expanded Basic channels that have gone digital, rent a set top box.

There's not one single "cable" channel in clear QAM. Just 4:3 mirrors of all the locals and FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS in HD. That's it.

Re:Decryption on computer (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223315)

I doubt it'll have much direct effect on the pirates of the world(as it looks like the gimped the hell out off the crypto to make it run on super-cheap devices, rather than using the actually fairly tricky stuff that ordinary higher-end cable boxes use); but it is still bad news.

With computer hardware, cost is overwhelmingly a function of production volume(there is a floor somewhere, of course, you can't make free stuff through infinite volume; but the difference between mass market and niche gear is considerable). If clearQAM gear is widely useful, out of the box, by nontechies and nonpirates, it'll be available in substantial quantity, from a variety of vendors, in a variety of configurations(PCI, PCIe, expresscard, usb, little network appliances, etc.). Same goes for supporting software. Larger market=lower cost per copy and/or greater developer effort per copy.

If clearQAM becomes effectively useless without h5x0r skills, hardware to suit will disappear from nonspecialist shelves soon enough, who would want the support headache? There'll still be new-old stock and chinese pirate hardware vendors and things; but it will be more expensive and not as good. If you are really unlucky, you'll even have to deal with DMCA flavored challenges that such tuners, sold outside of fully locked-down systems, no longer have any substantial non-infringing uses.

there is a way to decrypt a stream (1)

CHRONOSS2008 (1226498) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223343)

im just not telling , i'm done trying to help morons that blab it to THEM and then they change it regularly etc

suffice it to say its a device in between your computer and hte incoming stream
DONE stupid attempt like DRM.....
WE have all your major DRM schema now so don't bother, its all cracked

Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (1, Interesting)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223103)

you'll want to enjoy what time you have left, and look in to other solutions for the long-haul.

I highly recommend podcasts, vidcasts, and similar. I am in the process of transitioning away from all mass media and switching entirely to user generated content. I have to say, once you get over the initial withdrawal, it is better. The stuff being produced by the indies is grittier and more real.

It is somewhat lacking in the pure entertainment aspect -- the writing isn't as tight, and the production values are clearly less polished. But it makes up for that, at least for me, in the... texture? I don't know the right word -- somebody more versed in media would be able to say it better. As an added bonus, there are a ton of podcasts focused on hobbies and how-to. As a hacker, me likey a lot.

JM2C -- as one who is making the transition, I have to say -- it is not that hard to dump big media.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223327)

There is one advantage of broadcast media -- ability to get information to a lot of people without burning up large amounts of Internet bandwidth. It takes up a lot less bandwidth to do one 1024p HD channel on a dedicated line than streaming the same content to millions of viewers.

However, by end running around the Audio Home Recording Act with DRM, it only means technical viewers will find other sources for viewing, a market will be created for decoder boxes, or more people will end up hitting the P2P systems for content.

One compromise -- if Joe User wants to watch Fox News on their media box, let them. Advertisers benefit because Joe User will see their ads on the machine. The broadcast place benefits because advertisers may target Internet-savvy users more, thus more income from that.

Best of all worlds -- have broadcasters have a standard, well documented, streaming interface to a PC that requires nothing more than a cable, so people can use their PC as a TV or a DVR to their heart's content.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (1)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223555)

There is one advantage of broadcast media -- ability to get information to a lot of people without burning up large amounts of Internet bandwidth. It takes up a lot less bandwidth to do one 1024p HD channel on a dedicated line than streaming the same content to millions of viewers.

I like leaf caching, wi-fi mesh, and autonomous intelligent content retrieval as the solution to this. It'll take some time to build it up, but a neighborhood shouldn't be downloading one copy of The Wood Whisperer for each woodworking household. One copy should come over the backbone and the rest should be locally distributed over the mesh.

That can't happen with the cloisterers, but it works great with content producers who want their content to reach their audience by any means necessary.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (4, Insightful)

Thinboy00 (1190815) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223809)

[big snip]

Best of all worlds -- have broadcasters have a standard, well documented, streaming interface to a PC that requires nothing more than a cable, so people can use their PC as a TV or a DVR to their heart's content.

Advertisers: "Eww, people can timeshift with that!!"
MAFIAA: "No DRM?! How will we protect helpless copyrights from dangerous pirates?!"
Broadcasters: "So if we sell a cable box/service package to John Smith and he decides to switch to [competitor], then he keeps the box and uses it with them?!"
Lobbyists^H^H^H^H Congress: "Ain't gonna happen. Not via a new law, anyway."

Mods and other speed readers, please be sure to notice the presence of the quotation marks -- these are not my opinions.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223467)

That does little for sports nuts, like myself.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223675)

Go to a stadium/court/rink/whathaveyou and watch a game. Or you could join a league, fatty-fatty-bo-batty!

Nah, but seriously - you don't need TV for sports.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223709)

You do when you follow teams and can't exactly travel around the country to watch them.

Yes I watch local sports, and I play some too, but I can't follow the colts from stadium to stadium.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (3, Interesting)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223583)

I have another suggestion: just get a Netflix membership. The cheapest level, which I have, is only like $7/month, and lets you watch all the online content you can handle. Unfortunately, it does require Windoze/Silverlight (anyone know how to run it on Linux?), but other than that, it's quite handy, and certainly much, much cheaper than your typical cable TV package.

It's pretty cool being able to call up any episode of Star Trek I want to see at the moment.

Personally, I just don't see the point in cable TV. There's so many movies I've never seen (Netflix has a large selection of foreign movies, which are really fun to watch) that I can easily spend all my entertainment time watching those, without ever going to a theater or watching live TV. The only thing worthwhile (barely) on live TV is local news, and that's free with rabbit ears. Wait, there's also some good stuff on PBS, which again is free with rabbit ears. And sometimes there's a decent show on network TV, like Lost, which again is free with rabbit ears. For other things, there's always BitTorrent.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223645)

"It is somewhat lacking in the pure entertainment aspect -- the writing isn't as tight, and the production values are clearly less polished."

In OTHER WORDS, it's SHIT, and you're deluding yourself so you can run around and be self-righteous.

Go ahead, 'enjoy' your SHITCONTENT -the rest of us will either find a viable alternative, or remain with our "oooo so evil" genuine entertainment.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (3, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224003)

How much time do you spend sifting through the crap? I watch about an hour of TV a night before bed. Stewart, Colbert, and the first half of Conan. By that time of night, I just want to veg. Trying to decide whether something is going to suck or not is way too much work for 11pm.

Re:Podcasts, Vidcasts, &c (3, Insightful)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224121)

It is somewhat lacking in the pure entertainment aspect -- the writing isn't as tight, and the production values are clearly less polished. But it makes up for that, at least for me, in the... texture?

The phrase you're looking for is "snobishness." There are a few less-harsh synonyms you could use, but it's the same general feeling of "my choice is better than yours" that folk who watch community theater over a TV broadcast of the same play have.

Not happening (2, Interesting)

Sax Maniac (88550) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223117)

I told my wife years ago that I wanted to cancel extended-basic cable ("EB") but she balked at missing Stargate. So, the deal was, I'd get her any Stargate series on DVD rather than pay $60 a month for digital cable.

It turns out it was never necessary since I get EB over QAM with my analog basic cable. I'm sure they want to kill people like me off. But if it comes to pass, I simply will let it slide and buy the shows on DVD. I hate to be one of those "I don't have a TV" snobs, but I don't want to pay $60 per month, which goes up $10 every few years. And I most certainly do not want to rent any equipment.

Re:Not happening (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223319)

In any case, there are plenty of good shows streamed legally online by most of the major networks. When I move into my new condo, I think I'll be fine with just the internet and maybe a broadcast tv tuner.

Re:Not happening (1)

grahamwest (30174) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223539)

I ditched TV reception years ago and have never looked back. $600+/yr is a bunch of DVD boxsets and there's no additional DVR costs in order to be watching them on my feast/famine viewing schedule instead of the once per week dripfeed.

Re:Not happening (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223711)

We just gave up, watch it on Hulu and OTA. OTA seems to have better quality in the Sacramento area. The only problem we've found is that PBS moved to a VHF frequency in June, so we don't get that stuff for the kids until I buy a VHF antenna.

John

Re:Not happening (1)

gabebear (251933) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223745)

Pretty much everything I watch is available on Hulu... except Craig Fergeson, and you can just setup a torrent download. I pay for basic cable because Charter charges you an extra $30 if you don't have TV service, and basic cable is only $10...

Charter basic cable sucks for me... it doesn't even have all the CW, which I get with my rabbit ears.

works for now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223161)

Hauppauge's HDPVR 1212 uses component for its input and this is not encrypted.

NewSpeak ++Good. (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223163)

Anybody else struck by the fact that a broadcast DRM system, used by the notoriously grasping and controlling cable cartels, is referred to as "privacy mode"?

TV sucks anyway (1, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223183)

Make it too hard to view the garbage they put out these days and they will just lose more customers.

Re:TV sucks anyway (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223289)

---- Booth was a patriot ----

---- Booth was a murderer ---- You think you can put any old crap in your sig and not get called on it?

Re:TV sucks anyway (4, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223411)

In his own mind, Booth was a patriot. Maybe thinking you are a patriot isn't always a good thing.

Re:TV sucks anyway (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223649)

George Washington and the other militia members in the late 1700s were also "murders", and even "traitors". Nowadays they're revered as heroes.

Re:TV sucks anyway (0, Flamebait)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223503)

I have sigs turned off (for a reason), but if what the AC is saying is in your sig is actually in your sig, you are an idiot.

Re:TV sucks anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223647)

nurb might be an idiot, but it doesn't change the fact that TV sucks.

Buy a book, rent a movie or, better yet, get off your backside and go out into the world. You might be surprised at how much your health improves from sunlight and fresh air.

Not Sad (4, Insightful)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223235)

At this pace, it looks like cable TV and computers will soon be divorcing.

As part of the divorce proceeding, I and my computer have been separated from cable for some time. We've been hanging out with a new mistress, Online Video. I can tell you that the divorce is only a formal proceeding and we will be much happier once it has taken place.

TimeWarner almost there (2, Informative)

rrp (537287) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223263)

I've got TimeWarner Cable in the Los Angeles area. As it stands I only get 3 EB channels and 2 Digital only channels in ClearQAM. And they keep moving analog EB channels to Digital only tiers and not offering them in ClearQAM either. Overall the number of channels you can get without their box has been reduced by at least 10 channels in the past 5 years.

badtitle (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223265)

I'm assuming this is something to do with ClearQAM from the cable box to the television/computer, because I do believe they're required to send ClearQAM signals of broadcast stations? I don't see anything over ClearQAM other than those, where I am, but we also don't have digital cable.

title is fine, though a bit vague (1)

rrp (537287) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223473)

This story is about the ability to watch Expanded Basic channels with a simple digital tuner. Expanded Basic (EB) channels are the ones you get in analog channels above 20, such as TBS, TNT, ESPN, CNN, etc. Those are being moved slowly but surely to digital only, and one day your only option to watch EB channels will be through their digital cable box or a Tru2way compatible TV with a cable card (that you have to pay almost the same for per month as a box), with no options available to watch them on a HTPC. And for HD EB channels, you can just forget about them. There is no way you'll ever get any of them without paying the cable company to be able to decrypt them (the fact that for instance you can get ESPN in SD on analog, but to get ESPN in HD you have to have a box or cable card seems ridiculous to me)

Re:badtitle (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223651)

I've got digital cable with Comcast in Denver, and the fuckers have just recently started screwing up the signal for certain local channels. I can't get a lock on them any more, but I used to be able to.

Re:badtitle (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223697)

There is no such thing as ClearQAM from the cable box to the television/computer. There is only digital video (DVI/HDMI), analog video (component, svideo, composite), or analog RF (modulated over coax). This is about plugging your tuner card right into the cable line. As you mention, they ARE required by law to provide unencrypted feeds of the broadcast stations, but some cable companies offer more channels.

The big issue here is that you formerly could receive all your extended basic cable channels over analog cable. However now, Comcast is shutting down analog extended basic, shifting those channels over to digital with these inexpensive DTA boxes. If they are allowed to turn on the encryption on those DTAs, you no longer have any way of directly recording those channels, and so you suffer loss of service.

Re:badtitle (5, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223719)

I have Comcast digital cable in Atlanta. Currently, Comcast sends SD (480i) extended basic cable stations (e.g. Discovery) in ClearQAM, albeit on weird frequencies (e.g. channel 103.5 for the afore-mentioned Discovery). The set-top box is allegedly "required" not in order to do any decrypting, but rather merely to translate the channels to their "official" frequencies (e.g. channel 40 instead of 103.5). Now, what they're planning to do is to start encrypting those channels for no good reason.

There are several major problems with what Comcast is doing:

  1. Comcast's boxes are the shittiest piles of garbage on the face of the Earth. When Comcast shut off the analog History Channel I tried them, but after going through three that would work for a while and then flake out I gave up and just did without until I figured out how to tune to History Channel via QAM (channel 82.7, by the way).
  2. It's a blatant money grab: by turning on the encryption, Comcast is instantly forcing everyone to fork over an extra $5 or so per month, per TV (give or take the single "free" box Comcast "generously" "offers" with certain types of accounts).
  3. It's a blatant power grab: with unencrypted QAM, there can be a free market for digital TV tuners (and "digital cable ready" TVs) -- a situation which is intolerable to the fascists running Comcast. This way, they control the only supply of devices that can decode the signals, which means that they can hold features hostage, lock out competitors, etc.
  4. It's fucking absurd to begin with, because there's no legitimate reason whatsoever why I should have to have an extra stupid box with an extra stupid remote (that isn't compatible with my TV, by the way) when my "digital cable-ready" TV is perfectly capable, sans Comcast's meddling, of tuning the damn channels itself!

In other words, the situation that's developing now is exactly like how AT&T used to control telephone equipment 30(?) years ago: it's monopolistic, murderous to technological process, and should not be allowed!

And that brings me to my final point: I really want to do everything I can to stop and/or punish Comcast for this. Is anybody planning to sue over it, and/or do you know of a class-action I can join?

Re:badtitle (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224169)

And that brings me to my final point: I really want to do everything I can to stop and/or punish Comcast for this.

That's easy: Cancel all Comcast services. Find other source of entertainment or other ways to access the shows you want to watch that do not involve paying Comcast. Tell you friends to do the same.

Kill your cable (5, Insightful)

szquirrel (140575) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223275)

I finally got tired of the $75/month, the cable box meltdowns every three months (Scientific Atlanta FTL), and the generally craptastic quality of over-compressed video from Brighthouse. Six months ago I told them where to shove it and never looked back. Now I get TV series on DVD from Netflix, occasionally catch a new show on Hulu, and use some good ol' rabbit ears to get my local channels (which look great in over-the-air digital, better than they ever did through the cable).

Screw cable. I'm done with paying for a raft of crap I don't need to subsidize their other businesses. And I'm certainly done with their obsessive consumer lock-in.

Re:Kill your cable (1)

rm999 (775449) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223689)

Some of us like to watch shows as they come out, instead of waiting one or more years for them to come out on DVD or praying Hulu will play them. A lot of TV shows never even comes out on DVD. I personally think cable is worth it just for the half dozen high-quality shows HBO puts out.

Re:Kill your cable (2, Informative)

Mr2001 (90979) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224113)

Some of us like to watch shows as they come out, instead of waiting one or more years for them to come out on DVD or praying Hulu will play them.

For most shows with any sort of following, a torrent is usually available within a couple hours after the live broadcast.

Re:Kill your cable (1)

C3ntaur (642283) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223699)

Amen to that. I've been running MythTV and receiving OTA broadcasts for years, and I always have at least 100 hours of yet-to-be-watched backlog. It's only gotten better since the final digital cutover, and I use my Netflix subscription to fill any gaps. I figure the money I've saved in cable bills has paid for my MythTV hardware several times over by now.

Re:Kill your cable (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223955)

Funny story. I'm in the same boat. Netflix and Hulu streaming to everything with PlayOn and a PS3 and Popcorn Hour box. Comcast begged me to sign up for television. They're giving me a year free (I was already paying $60/month for high speed internet). I consider it a nice thing to have to watch stuff like the Food Network until more stuff moves to Hulu-like broadcast methods. Once my free year is up, back to internet only and getting all my content for free online (and my $16/month Netflix subscription).

Ridiculous (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223281)

These DTAs approved are only SD and are instead of CableCARD enabled boxes.

The fact is that the FCC doesn't allow operators to encrypt HD locals, which is not going to change.

So if you love SD, then I'm sad for you, but for the rest of us that have moved on to HD, there's nothing to see here, move along.

That is not quite correct (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29224149)

"The fact is that the FCC doesn't allow operators to encrypt HD locals, which is not going to change."

Time-Warner cable operators regularly encrypt the stations that are local to their customers. If it were not allowed they would not be doing it because the FCC fines would be fairly large.

Right now, in some markets, Comcast is sending local stations 'in-the-clear' but that will change in the very near future. In some other Comcast markets, they're already encrypting the local stations.

Simply put, the FCC has very limited power of control in regards to the cable television providers. Cable providers could distribute hardcore pornography if they wanted to and the FCC could not do one thing about it, with the possible exception of issuing a Rule that requires some method of restricting access so that children can't stumble across it accidentally.

Congress has passed no law requiring cable providers to send local stations 'in-the-clear'. Such a law might actually be unconstitutional. The FCC may or may not have made a Rule about it. If they did make a Rule about it, enforcement of that Rule is obviously lax. If it were merely a Recommendation, then there is no enforcement.

Welcome to America.
Bend over, please.
Thank you.

bah (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223305)

I gave up my satellite TV subscription about a year ago, and I gotta tell you guys, I don't miss it.

Sure, UFC is nice...but $10 at my local watering hole is a pittance.

I was pirating sat TV for years, but to tell the truth, it's just too much work!

So last year I transitioned to a DNS-323 with a custom BT client and scripted RSS feeds. Easy as pie. This setup, with a couple soft-modded Xbox's around the house, make for easy, cheap, and commercial-free TV on-demand.

Who needs cable TV ? There are other choices now.

Will cross that bridge when we get there (2, Interesting)

vivek7006 (585218) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223339)

"Hauppauge's HD PVR that can redigitize the output of STBs for importing into a computer."

Widows7, sagetv, beyondtv and mythtv support HD-PVR. So either I will switch to HD-PVR, or install an antenna and pull the OTA signal. In anycase, I will not be paying compact for their crappy DVR

(right now, I use XP-MCE with HDHomerun)

Already happened on my local cable (1)

Black Cardinal (19996) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223349)

I put together a Mac-Mini based HTPC using an EyeTV in February. The EB channels were broadcast in Clear QAM (I had already been able to receive them live with the QAM tuner in my TV for a couple of years). Three months later, shortly after turning off the analog feed for all EB channels, Comcast encrypted the digital EB channels. Now only the most basic of channels come over Clear QAM. Fortunately, Hulu picks up a lot of the slack. I think this move will simply erode cable market share in favor of distribution by the internet.

Close, but not quite right... (2, Insightful)

Puzzleer (309198) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223399)

In fairness, the FCC requires the equivalent of the channels that you would receive over-the-air to be unencrypted (so-called "must-carry" channels). So in reality, you should expect pretty much everything other than those to be encrypted (so channels like TBS, TNT, USA, etc will be encrypted but channels like NBC, CBS, Fox will continue to be unencrypted).

Inflammatory headline much? (5, Insightful)

blhack (921171) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223419)

All this means is that the same techniques that HTPC users currently use for satellite will need to be used for cable as well.

You clip an IR transmitter to the front of your cable-box, and it changes the channels for you. The analog out on the cable box goes into the mythbox, and the mythbox goes out to the TV.

This is a pain in the ass, but not THAT much of a pain in the ass.

Re:Inflammatory headline much? (2, Informative)

vivek7006 (585218) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223489)

What you are suggesting is good enough for SD content, but for HD you will need a new capture card that can digitize HD signal coming via component video cables (analog hole). Hauppauge HD-PVR does the job, but its expensive.

Re:Inflammatory headline much? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223667)

ClearQAM needs to be mandated by the FCC. Further, changing the translations needs to be limited to once a year for existing channels.

The parent obviously doesn't understand that cable boxes output SD and HD shows in ClearQAM are at whatever resolution (1080i, 720p, 480p) and appear beautiful on my digital TV (without a cable box).

Why must I chose between
a) pay for another digital cable box ($7/month) or
b) get a free SD-only cable box that shows channels 1-78 only at 480i

Obviously, this doesn't apply to premium content, but we've had "cable ready" TVs for years and years. That should continue.

It's bad enough that my 3 VCRs don't work anymore after my cable company went 98% digital earlier this month. Only channels 2-22 are still analog. OTOH, there are many, many more HD channels now that I can't get without a set-top-digital cable box.

Re:Inflammatory headline much? (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223685)

It's a bigger pain in the ass than just connecting the cable to my machine. And I'd have to get another capture card, which is a non trivial expense. Fuck that. I'm canceling cable, going Netflix + OTA.

Re:Inflammatory headline much? (1)

CSMatt (1175471) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223921)

It's still a problem because now your recordings will suffer from generation loss due to the conversion to analog and back again.

Not to mention that fact that it will now become impossible to watch any channels from cable the way people have been doing so for the last 2 decades: plug the cable straight into the set. "Cable-ready" TV sets started coming into existence precisely so that people could avoid the stupid box and watch the channels right on the set. It appears that cable companies are poised to take that away, even for sets that are perfectly capable of receiving the digital signal. Almost every ATSC TV set made and sold today works with clear QAM, since it isn't much of a hassle to implement and it's beneficial to do so for the customer. Cable companies have always been adamant about encrypting their signals on the digital tier, but until now you could still get the analog feed on any set or tuner you choose. Now it appears they want to take that away too.

Who needs cable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223469)

I think this is great. Cable TV providers are so busy making themselves irrelevant that no one actually has to put them out of business. They will do it themselves. I got tired of the DVR that didn't record or wouldn't change channels. I got tired of being charged an extra fee for digital TV and then another extra fee for HD. I got tired of customer service that didn't care and didn't speak English. I got tired of tech support that was totally clueless and took anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 weeks to fix an outage. I got tired of cables laying on my lawn that they refused to bury. About a year ago, I called up Comcast and told them to turn it off, take their cable box/DVR and jam it. I haven't missed it once. Every single thing I want to see is either available online or over the air for free. I now have an extra $140 a month to do with as I please.

Pleased I Live in the UK (1)

segedunum (883035) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223535)

When I read stuff like this it makes me feel reasonably glad that I live in the UK, pay a TV license and get all the channels I need on Freeview or Freesat. I've tended to find that I don't need any paid cable or Sky TV because it's generally full of adverts, full of repeats and all I watch on there is the sport.

I feel for you guys over the pond. TV seems to be dead.

Re:Pleased I Live in the UK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29223827)

I generally pitied UK folk, after hearsay horror stories of people w/o TVs still getting harassed for not paying their reception license fee, or people with only a computer at the residence being charged the license, regardless of whether or not they use it to try and access TV content. Always sounded like a socialist scam to me... mandatory support of an entertainment industry by a citizenry held hostage in their own country, regardless of actual usage.

One might see a case for common taxation to provide for public services which supposedly benefit all (police / fire / road maintenance / etc.), but not for an optional entertainment medium of often-questionable value.

"CS Docket 97-80" section 47 C.F.R. 76.640(b)(4) (5, Interesting)

Roogna (9643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223621)

How does this effect the FCC requirement for 1394 ports to be made available?

http://www.1394ta.org/consumers/FCC_complaint.html [1394ta.org]

While I don't know how useful the 1394 port is for building home based DVRs, it's still a legal requirement (from what I understand, I'm not a lawyer) for the cable companies to provide. And you CAN complain to the FCC if they won't provide a box with a working port. And by all means, if they won't provide it, complain! The cable companies (and phone companies) really don't like people complaining to the FCC, and the FCC in my experience from days gone by where I worked for a cable company, takes complaints seriously. Assert your rights!

Yet idiots welcomed HDMI and BD+ (4, Insightful)

grapeape (137008) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223693)

Is this really a shock? Did people think that cable companies have any interest in user rights, hell if they could get away with just making you pay $50 to broadcast nothing but commercials they would do it in a heartbeat. People fell for the "oh look its shiny" HDMI push early on even though component was and is fully capable of 1080p. People fell for bluray even though it has much stricter content restrictions. Now we get to welcome our broadcast flag overlords. Hope everyone is happy...

On another note...Time Warner and Comcast announced plans to start trials of their TV Everywhere product which is basically an slingbox type service that will stream video on demand for a "nominal" fee. Of course some may see this as a way to get the sheep to accept bandwidth caps and show the govt they are "promoting" streaming video to cover their ass for the few brave enough to complain.

Re:Yet idiots welcomed HDMI and BD+ (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224051)

Yeah, way to mix stuff up all crazy like. What does HDMI have to do with anything? Personally I think you're retarded if you want an extra D/A and A/D conversion in your video loop, and further retarded if you don't want audio and video in one cable.

More importantly, name one thing that HDMI has prevented you from doing compared to, say, DVI which has none of your hated "teh DRMz!" in it. Do you have a DVI video input device in your computer? If so, you must be loaded.

HDMI is sweet, and nothing wrong with Bluray either. I rip that shit straight to ISO and play it back from my media center. What DRM?

Stop paying for cable! (3, Informative)

SeePage87 (923251) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223725)

Most of us probably download most all our shows anyway, and with RSS it really doesn't take much effort to get everything you want. It'll help send a message to the cable companies, you'll save money, etc. The only catch is you're less likely to run across new shows by accident, but a little effort on the internet will give plenty of suggestions (e.g. look at number of seeds on a torrent). Cable is obsolete (sorta).

Damn these people want out of the business (4, Insightful)

Cajun Hell (725246) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223959)

I loved analog cable, because it worked. Plug it into any tuner, and you can watch, record, etc. As a result of this, they got my money, month after month, for 8 years.

Encrypted cable is the reason they don't have me as a customer anymore. If I could be assured that stuff would just work, I would sign up, plug the cable into a HDHomeRun, and that would be the end of it. Or rather, that would be the end of it, except for the money that I would be paying them every single goddamn month.

Instead of that monthly money that they choose to not collect, I'm bittorrenting over Qwest.

Brilliant business model, Comcast. It just goes to show American business ingenuity: if you really don't want customers and are willing to do what it takes to prevent yourself from collecting revenue, there's always a way. Losing money might not be easy and the the best way to lose the most money and really stick it to your damned stockholders might not be obvious, but if you persevere, it's possible to do. Encrypted cable is the best solution -- the solution -- to the problem of excess cable TV revenue. Good job, boys.

I only pay for one channel on cable (1)

Taibhsear (1286214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29223979)

It's called the internet. The rest I see over the air on bunny ears in crystal clarity (much better than the compressed stream from comcast). I just wait 1 hour to 1 day from original broadcast and I can get any tv show I want to watch from online. $7/mo extra to rent a box (that I can't buy like my modem) to do what my hdtv does natively, yeah good luck with that.

tru2way (1)

bill_kress (99356) | more than 4 years ago | (#29224069)

Cable companies are going to switch over to a card format that can be placed in any device--this is called "tru2way". You should be able to plug your cable card into your TV or even, I suppose, your computer.

I'm guessing this is a precursor, once they can put a card in an arbitrary DVR, TV or computer they have no reason to broadcast unencrypted signals.

This will also involve displaying extra applications, tools, and other "enhanced TV programs".

Until they can actually deliver with this, however, I assume they will continue to broadcast some unencrypted signals.

CableCard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29224165)

In theory the solution for this is what is called the CableCard

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CableCARD

Any device you want to use encrypted cable from needs to support this Card to decrypt the signal. As I understand it the cable company is required by law to provide these if requested. You may actually find this card in your current cable box if it is relatively new and your cable provider is already encrypting its signal.

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