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Can Google Fix the Cable Box?

CmdrTaco posted more than 2 years ago | from the die-comcast-die-die-die dept.

Google 223

theodp writes "In purchasing Motorola Mobility, Slate's Farhad Manjoo reports that Google will also come into possession of one the nation's biggest suppliers of set-top boxes. So, can Google work some of its do-no-evil magic on the loathsome cable box? Don't bet on it, says Manjoo. For one thing, there's no evidence that Google would be very good at remaking the set-top box (Google TV, anyone?). But even if Google managed to dramatically improve set-top boxes, it's doubtful that cable and satellite companies would buy in. First, they'd lose all those ridiculously lucrative cable-box rental fees. More importantly, they'd have to give up control of the main entertainment device in most homes, and with it the opportunity to slow or stymie competing sources for entertainment. After the merger, notes Manjoo, Google could get several billion dollars by selling off Motorola Mobility's set-top-box division — a much surer payday than taking on Big Cable."

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223 comments

But ... (4, Interesting)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128390)

But there is a lot of viewership demographic data to gather, and no one harvests ad data better than Google. They'll be able to offer an online ad that matches one that the view didn't switch away from last night while watching TV.

Re:But ... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128480)

The question, though, is whether the customers(ie. the cable companies that mass-buy STBs, not the end users) would see that as a desirable feature...

Team Cable already knows who you are, because they bill you and run a coax line to your house, and may well prefer their own in-house collection, however inferior, to Google having a chance to improve its overall advertising prowess on "their consumers".

Re:But ... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128668)

I'd imagine that Google would offer a couple of 'benefits'. They'd include a web browser with the set-top box and include your browser history as well as your TV-viewing habits to pick adverts. They'd offer the cable companies the same sort of deal that they provide to website owners: Google harvests the data, shows ads, and takes a percentage of the ad revenue. Most cable companies aren't in direct competition with each other - you generally don't have the choice of multiple cable companies in a single area - so they don't need to differentiate their offerings too much.

Re:But ... (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129146)

They'd include a web browser with the set-top box

But do cable companies want video on demand over the Internet (such as YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Netflix should Netflix go along with this) to compete with the cable companies' own video on demand service? Because once the cable box integrates the equivalent of WebTV, people not interested in sports will learn what video is available over the Internet, and many will drop TV from their bundle to save a few bucks a month.

Most cable companies aren't in direct competition with each other - you generally don't have the choice of multiple cable companies in a single area

Where I live, I can get Xfinity TV and Internet from Comcast, DISH Network with Frontier Internet, or DirecTV with Frontier Internet.

Re:But ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129004)

I'm wondering whether the cable advertisers and networks will allow this. Both groups are likely to have some kind of licensing agreement with the cable providers over whether providers are allowed to show a competitor's ad during scheduled airtime. Google might need to do ads the traditional way: inbetween airtime, inbetween ads.

you can already buy your own (2)

PatentMagus (1083289) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129076)

The FCC already has a ruling on this:
http://www.fcc.gov/guides/digital-cable-compatibility-cablecard-ready-devices [fcc.gov]

It's kinda like the way it was with telephones. People could own their own but it took literally over a decade before it really caught on. I know you could buy your own phone back in the late 1970's. However, the telcos were making pretty good money off rentals until at least the early 1990's. Lots of people just kept renting.

On the other hand, those old phones were very well engineered and were meant to last decades. You could bludgeon someone with an old bell telephone and then use it to call an ambulance.

Re:But ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128650)

Google's ad revenue mainly comes from clicks, not impressions. I doubt they're thrilled at the potential of an impression-only system. Besides, people would scream bloody murder over the addition of yet-more ads to TV. Especially overlaid ads.

Re:But ... (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128946)

Google's ad revenue mainly comes from clicks, not impressions. I doubt they're thrilled at the potential of an impression-only system. Besides, people would scream bloody murder over the addition of yet-more ads to TV. Especially overlaid ads.

True, but more very targeted ads are going to be an additional source of revenue for Google. And keep in mind that it's hard to hear the public's cries and complaints with money coming out of your ears.

Re:But ... (3, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128982)

It is already gathered. At comcast in 2002 I was gathering data from the boxes for sales. we had better data than Nielsen.

I can give you a breakdown of each box and what channel it was tuned to at that time reported every 5 minutes. it can report faster but that was the default of the boxes that comcast had deployed.

I pulled all of it into a SQL database so the sales people had real time demos in 5 minute increments of the number of boxes watching each channel INCLUDING VOD views.

This is not new. it has been going on for a while now.

Re:But ... (1)

Tharsman (1364603) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129320)

Hmmm... had not thought of that. So far I been thinking this deal will blow up in Google's face, BUT they may be able to get something out of their cablebox business.

Then again, cable companies can switch providers in a flash if they are not in agreement with any Google policy, they have proven time and time again they are bigger control freaks than Apple.

Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128408)

I never knew it was broken. It sounds like people are trying to make a problem to fix.

Re:Really? (4, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128432)

LOL, wut.. do you even own a cable box? If you made this statement I would think not.

There isn't a device in the home with so much potential that has been held back so much by backwards companies.

Re:Really? (4, Funny)

biodata (1981610) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128514)

Unless you own an ipod/pad/phone (ducks for cover)

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128596)

(Heaves iPhone @ Biodata's head, and misses as Biodata ducks...)
No, seriously... I just wanted to shatter my iPhone on the particular spot on the wall your head was blocking. Thanks for moving.
(Goes to buy a new Android handset)

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128646)

What's wrong with today's cable boxes? My cable box is a DVR, and a streaming movie device, and an app platform, all on top of serving its primary purpose of receiving cable. All while being considerably cheaper than things like Google TV or Tivo.

What more do you think it should be doing? Considering that of all the things I listed above, about the only thing I use it for is, well, watching TV.

Re:Really? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128762)

Well, I could imagine some add-on services (I don't own a cable box, so if one of them already exists, just ignore it):

Imagine for example the box being connected with a sufficiently advanced movie search engine. For example, you remember seeing a science fiction movie you don't remember the name of, but you do remember that it featured a monolith and a computer saying "Sorry dave, I cannot let you do that" (yes, I know, it's unlikely not to remember the name of that movie :-)). Then you'd fire up a movie search, enter e.g. monolith "Sorry dave, I cannot let you do that" and it would instantly identify the movie and offer to play it.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129016)

Wanting a new function out of hardware doesn't make it broken. My OP was to question more the wording of title than to say the cable box is perfect. I guess that went over some people's heads.

Re:Really? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129012)

30 second forward skip and 5 second back skip.. NO NOT FFW and REW... skip.

That makes your cable DVR garbage to me and anyone that has ever owned a TiVo or Replay TV.

Re:Really? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129328)

My Motorola DVR with Comcast doesn't behave that way. Now mind you, it wouldn't qualify as reliable because I've had it get "stuck" in FFWD a few times, but that's a bug, not a "feature".

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129488)

That's ironic, because the 30 second forward skip is a feature that the cable DVR DOES have, but that Tivo removed. (There's an easter egg that can reenable it, but even that was removed from more recent versions of Tivo. You know, that you can't opt out of installing.)

Re:Really? (2)

KingMotley (944240) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129394)

Mine? It's slow, it stutters, it often loses the guide information for days to a week at a time. Often the DVR will say it's recording something, but it goes under "Not available" since the guide info is missing. Sometimes it'll miss a show too. The guide is in SD format. It can't stream things from my home network, and doesn't support AirPlay. It can't stream things from netflix or hulu. It can't browse the internet, nor are there any "apps" for it. The USB/Sata port is disabled so I can't just attach a big hard drive to it. It won't allow me to place shift even within my own house.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129828)

What's wrong with today's cable boxes?

Well, for one, there was just a Slashdot article about how power hungry STBs are. They're so poorly architected and underspec'd that they consume a ton of power. The average consumer doesn't realize that they're paying over $100 per year by just having the box plugged in (since the power draw is almost entirely unaffected by turning the unit off.)

And if you've ever tried Google TV, you wouldn't be asking the question. It's better in almost every single way and, at $99 for the Revue, I find it hard to believe that the crap STBs are "considerably" cheaper.

Re:Really? (2)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128760)

I doubt he owns a cable box. Since they are leased.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128934)

You can buy your own box and insert a cablecard into it to handle decryption. The FCC requires it to be an available option.

Re:Really? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128804)

That must be in the US. Here in the UK I am very happy with my Virgin cable box.

The only potential changes I would like would be for them to enable the usb/sata/ethernet ports on the back of the thing so I could add external storage or for viewing content not from the box itself. The ports are there, but the software isn't yet - presumably due to licensing issues with the content providers (I mean, why ship them on production boxes with custom circuit boards if you didn;t have plans for them?).

Re:Really? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129202)

The ports are there, but the software isn't yet - presumably due to licensing issues with the content providers

A lot of camcorders implement the USB Mass Storage or Media Transfer Protocol class. What objection would "content providers" (I take it you mean the cable TV networks) have to people plugging in their camcorders and watching home movies?

(I mean, why ship them on production boxes with custom circuit boards if you didn;t have plans for them?)

I've seen TVs with a USB or Ethernet port labeled "SERVICE". These are supposedly used by technicians for diagnostics and firmware upgrades, not by end users for watching videos.

Re:Really? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129432)

The point is, the port is completely disabled, so if you enable USB Mass Storage then sure you can connect your camcorder, but you can *also* connect a hard drive or USB stick and save/view recordings you have made on the box itself. There's a reason that the storage on the DVR itself is limited when it would be trivial to enable the box to save out to an external disk or array, networked or otherwise. They don't want you recording and keeping shows - they want you to buy the DVDs.

I'm pretty sure the ethernet port on my cable box was from the days when the box acted as a cable modem as well as a TV cable box, but Virgin just split the coax at the entry point to the house now and put a separate cable modem/wireless AP wherever you want it, so the port is redundant and disabled.

The ports are simply labelled as you'd expect them: eSATA, USB, Ethernet, but it is conceivable they are for service purposes - this is not my model of V+ box, but it's similar: http://images.knowhow.com/TV%20Home%20Entertainment/TV-connect-V-HD-box.png [knowhow.com]

Re:Really? (1)

RalphSleigh (899929) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129442)

Here in the UK the TV I got 8 months ago happily plays mkvs off USB drives. I would assume its quite standard in set top boxes as well?

Re:Really? (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129564)

It's unlikely you'll get external storage - Freeview in the UK started encrypting the EPG a few months ago; the only way to get decryption keys to put in your STB is if you agree to make it difficult for people to get recorded programs off the box. I can't see Virgin Media's agreements with the TV companies being dramatically different.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129664)

Fully agree. Just look what a real set top box can do: free.fr, french tv/ip/telephone provider, 1st iptv operator in the world, is light years ahead of your average thing...

Re:Really? (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129562)

Actually, I concur. It's not like it's explicitly broken, it's just that it lacks a lot of ridiculously obvious features and the tie-in from the cable companies is annoying. Restricting obvious features with a surcharge is pretty stupid and is contributed to a loss of cable (tv) customers.

Uh? I think that's the wrong company.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128430)

They purchased Motorola Mobility, not Motorola....two different companies.

Re:Uh? I think that's the wrong company.... (1)

Daniel_is_Legnd (1447519) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128470)

Motorola Mobility includes cable boxes.

Re:Uh? I think that's the wrong company.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128578)

No, Motorola Mobility makes mobile phones. Motorola makes all the other stuff.

Re:Uh? I think that's the wrong company.... (1)

Braedley (887013) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128670)

From the wiki [wikipedia.org] :

Motorola Mobility is comprised of the Mobile Devices business which produces smartphones and the Home business which produces set-top boxes and end-to-end video solutions.

Re:Uh? I think that's the wrong company.... (1)

headhot (137860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128652)

Your right, Google gets the whole cable division. What used to be GI. Set top boxed, MPEG Encoders, Sat receivers, conditional access systems, all the outside plant equipment. Absolutely everything one would need to deploy a cable system. A shitty cable system, but a cable system non the less.

Re:Uh? I think that's the wrong company.... (3, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129032)

Oh yeah like Scientific Atlanta is any better. they all are shitty. Absolutely no CableTV equipment vendor for headend or STB is "non-shitty" they all pile on heaps of "shitty" as a selling feature.

Re:Uh? I think that's the wrong company.... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128604)

The naming is slightly misleading: "Motorola Mobility" encompasses their cellphone line; but also a bunch of STB, cable modems, and other consumer electronics widgets. "Motorola Solutions" is their government and enterprise customer brand(which includes a bunch of mobile RF stuff, just not the consumer focused gear).

There could certainly be some re-shuffling that happens during the merger; but "Mobility" presently includes a variety of hardwired consumer products.

Here's an idea (2)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128434)

Can I have an HD version of my old ReplayTV? Fantastic interface, incredibly easy to use. Just add room-to-room streaming to make up for the loss of transferring every recording. (And I didn't even have the one that did automatic commercial skipping.)

Re:Here's an idea (1)

cskaryd (448412) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128634)

ReplayTVs DO HAVE room to room streaming. Been using that feature for years. In conjunction with DVArchive, the ReplayTV could never be bested. Lack of HD doesn't bother me.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

plover (150551) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128656)

Yep. definitely miss that interface. Every cable box I've had sucks rocks in comparison.

Maybe Google will improve it, though. Even if all they did was let me create my own channel ordering and use it as the default when I hit "guide", it would go a long way toward improving the usability.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129052)

Room to room streaming has been there cince 2000. Did you even try to hook up tow of them in your home?

Also the ReplayTV allowed you to extract the TV shows. there is a nice program that existed that acted like a ReplayTV on the network and extracted the TV recordings for you.

Cable? (1)

Amtrak (2430376) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128440)

People still watch cable? I mean I have it but I don't think Ive watched anything in at least a month. I mean with Netflix and bit torrent who needs cable as long as I got my fast internet connection. Now, if the cable company would let me order there high speed internet without getting basic cable that would be an improvement.

Re:Cable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128476)

I mean, yes, they do.

Re:Cable? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128506)

People still watch cable?

Yes, hundreds of millions of people.

I mean I have it but I don't think Ive watched anything in at least a month.

Because we all know that your habits are clearly those of EVERY OTHER PERSON IN THE WORLD as well. Oh right, they're not.

Re:Cable? (0)

surgen (1145449) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128554)

[...] and bit torrent who needs cable [...]

Yes, piracy does make a purchased content service irrelevant.

Someone please mod this man's discovery insightful!

Anything Netflix doesn't carry (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129278)

I mean with Netflix and bit torrent who needs cable

You need cable Internet or fiber Internet for Netflix, and you need cable TV or satellite TV for anything Netflix doesn't carry. See archived pros and cons [pineight.com] . As for BitTorrent, which owners of copyright in video make their videos lawfully available over that?

Re:Cable? (1)

Bengie (1121981) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129576)

I can get cable internet without basic cable, but basic cable costs only $15 and if I don't bundle basic with internet, the price goes up $10. So it's effectively paying $5 for basic... /sigh

I do pay for extended, almost entirely for Discovery, TLC, History, and Cartoon.

In Canada you can buy the same boxes or rent them (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128456)

In Canada you can buy the same boxes or rent them. Some cable / satellite systems even have rent to own.

And when you buy them there is no per box outlet / mirroring fees.

But over hear in comcast land new software like tivo on the Motorola cable box does not make it out of the testing area.

Stuff like E-sata is locked out (a few other cable systems have it turned on)

Other cable systems have auto HD where they can tune to the hd channel when you enter the old SD number. Comcast has the half backed pop up the ask you to hit a button to go the HD channels (does not show up all the time)

The new Xfinity Spectrum box with 4 tuners is in testing but right now in test you have 2 and half tuners working and no AnyRoom DVR right now.

Re:In Canada you can buy the same boxes or rent th (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128636)

In the US you can purchase your own DVR (TiVO) too (Dish/DirecTV people excluded). For most people, however, the cost is not worthwhile as they either don't know better or aren't bothered by the lacking features and issues with their provider supplied box. It hurts that I paid (IIRC) about $600 for my HD, ~$14/month for cable cards, and ~$20/month (haven't wanted to recommit) for the TiVO service, but I still think it's worthwhile after suffering on Verizon's Motorola POS for about a year before I caved and went back to TiVO (previously had a DirecTiVO).

Personally I wouldn't want a Google DVR simply because I think they have too much information on me already, but that's me. That said, they couldn't do anything but improve the Motorola units (though to be fair as I understand it many of the issues are due to the cable companies ordering them with slower processors and less ram than Motorola recommends). I also disagree with the summary that Google would be going against the cable industry if they remade the devices in their image. They've proven they can work with similar industries (Android/cell phones) somewhat successfully. I think they could do the same here, but I'd wonder what the end result would look like and how (to the Techies) it would be much different from existing offerings after all the cool stuff we would want (e.g. you can forget shell access) is stripped out. I just don't see them going it alone like TiVO, at least not until they've built a good foundation of users and can then offer something above and beyond. Even then I'd expect they'd keep providing a locked down version for the cable companies and then offering an "elite" line for the small segment of people that want more from their DVR/TV.

Re:In Canada you can buy the same boxes or rent th (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128908)

Stuff like E-sata is locked out (a few other cable systems have it turned on)

That is something I miss about Adelphia - they had the e-sata ports enabled. When I call Comcast about it the answer is invariably "it's in beta" - riiight. In other words, it's enbled in the Adelphia markets they acquired, but not on the the nodes running off the heads Comcast deployed.

You would think they would enable it - instead of customers breaking DVRs to get upgrades, they can enable the e-sata ports and let the customer plug in larger hard drives. When I lived in an Adelphia town, I had a 1GB HDD attached to the DVR, which gave me five times the capacity the cable company delivers. It might sound like a ridiculous amount but when you consider how much disk space HD recordings take up, it really is not all that much space.

Other cable systems have auto HD where they can tune to the hd channel when you enter the old SD number. Comcast has the half backed pop up the ask you to hit a button to go the HD channels (does not show up all the time)

IMHO retaining SD channels is a good thing; you can stretch out capacity by recording SD rather than HD. Is there a difference in quality? There sure is. But honestly, I still think native HD is overrated. I'm still happy with upscaled DVD most of the time. I do buy Blu-Ray discs from time to time but even though the video quality is amazing, it does not impress me nearly as much as the upgrade from VHS (240-line-at-best-but-usually-smeared-and-bloomed resolution plus poorly-encoded Dolby Pro Logic) to DVD (480 lines of resolution with perfect color all the time plus Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Digital Surround EX or DTS). Cable HD is generally over-compressed so you get MPEG blocking and color smearing, which decreases the apparent resolution, plus many cable providers only give you 720p, so you're looking at over-compressed 720p which may not look as good as DVD (480p) viewed at 1080p courtesy a high quality video scaler.

Re:In Canada you can buy the same boxes or rent th (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129024)

I had a 1GB HDD attached to the DVR /s/1GB/1TB/

Re:In Canada you can buy the same boxes or rent th (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129748)

the system with auto HD moved the SD channels to new numbers IO cable moved some of them to 1000's and rogers did this http://www.rogersautohd.com/ [rogersautohd.com]

Windows Media Center (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128484)

Ditch the set top box, get a Windows 7 Machine with a cable card (or just hook up an antenna), no fees, and the media center 7 interface kicks the but of any other DVR.

Why MSWIndows? Why not Apple TV with a USB tuner? (1)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128566)

Why MSWIndows with a cable card?

Why not Apple TV with a USB tuner? Makes about as much sense.

I'll just buy a tuner card or USB box for the Fedora box I use here. Or not. We've done fine without TV for about seven years now.

Re:Why MSWIndows? Why not Apple TV with a USB tune (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128752)

My understanding is that, if you wish to use any encrypted cable service, you either suck it up and rent the company's cable box, or you enter the delightsome world of cablecard 'compatibility' with so-called "host" devices. At present, because of the somewhat onerous [cablelabs.com] (incidentally the 'open' in "opencable" appears to be a piece of gallows humor, not an actual description) certification requirements, specific Wintel hardware configurations are the only ones DRMy enough for the purpose, along with a number of STBs and TVs and similar appliances.

Apple's continued lack of enthusiasm for DRM systems other than their own makes adoption of Cable Card on any of their platforms less than entirely likely, and I'm pretty sure that there is a standing order at Cable Labs HQ that any Linux system not thoroughly Tivoized is to be stopped at the door and ejected by security.

If you are dealing with OTA signals, or snarfing analog feeds from STBs, or using non/weakly DRMed digital media, you have options; but if you want to talk to a commercial cable network, not so much...

Re:Why MSWIndows? Why not Apple TV with a USB tune (1)

spectro (80839) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128876)

CableCard devices requires your PC software to follow DRM restrictions (copy once, copy never). So far only Windows Media Server have them implemented, any other OS/software such as MythTv will only receive the cable channels marked "copy freely" from the CableCard device (no premium channels, PPV, etc)

Re:Windows Media Center (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128640)

Or go even further and get a Linux box with XBMC on it. Now with Netflix!*

* netflix only available in a virtual machine:)

Re:Windows Media Center (1)

SengirV (203400) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128726)

I recently dumped the TV portion of Verizon. It was costing me around $100 a month for JUST TV, and that was with what I would consider a small setup. The misses was all for it, EXCEPT for the need for a DVR that was simple for her and my son to use. Not really for them to program, but for them to get at shows that are programmed. We live in area with TONS of channels OTA with an antenna. I ended up getting the Channel Master CM-7000PAL. That and netflix streaming, and I'm paying a fraction of what I used to, and I'm only really missing out on Pawn Stars and Storage Wars - which were both rotting my brain anyway.

I know it's not the wiz-bang solution others would recommend, but for non-tech folks, it's a pretty good alternative, provided you can get OTA channels.

Sure it can (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128542)

You come home, turn on the TV, and it'll ask you for your Gmail account.

Chrome Media Center (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128550)

It'd be interresting to see what Google could come up with.

Re:Chrome Media Center (1)

aenea (34844) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128602)

They recently bought sage.tv, I suspect what they come up with will look a lot like that.

Loss of rental fees? They just rename the fee. (1)

AvderTheTerrible (1960234) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128594)

I don't know how the Cable Companies do things, but one of the things I looked into after becoming a DirecTV subscriber was getting boxes that I owned outright instead of boxes I leased. What I discovered is that even if you own the box, they still charge you 5 or 6 bucks a month to use it with their system by calling it a "mirroring" fee.

Considering that everything I've read about IPTV boxes suggests that they have to actively request the content from a central line, and the more advanced cable boxes all need to interface with the central system for the purposes of knowing what channels are and aren't allowed, PPV ordering, and on-demand access, I can safely assume that there is no way you could slip some kind of box on to the system and have it just magically work in some kind of passive mode the way you could just hook up your old cable ready TV to the old analog systems. The companies are gonna know its there, and they're gonna charge you a fee to use it, regardless of if you own it or they do.

Cable is dying already (1)

Grizzley9 (1407005) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128598)

More importantly, they'd have to give up control of the main entertainment device in most homes

Interesting if true. I would have thought with Hulu and tons of other entertainment that cable's glory days were behind. I'd really like to know the % of homes that still have cable as I'm sure with the economy, many are considering other, cheaper alternatives.I know many that have ditched it in the past couple years and those that do have it, it's mainly b/c of ESPN/sports. At least around here, it is a non-trivial amount to add basic cable to your internet service, let alone any premium packages.

Re:Cable is dying already (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128836)

I think the latest figures still have cable penetration at > 90%. While the economy has shed a few, and others like myself have left by getting fed up with too many ads and an overall lack of quality, the exodus hasn't quite picked up enough steam to really make a dent in subscriber numbers. Plus, there's too many people that don't want to lose access to their favorite shows, and the stunts this summer that Netflix pulled by raising their rates 60%, combined with Fox putting their shows on Hulu after eight days, and "Syfy's" stunt of putting Eureka/Warehouse 13/Alphas up on Hulu at the end of the season – has a lot of people thinking twice about pulling the plug. I still think the days of traditional cable are numbered, and more will leave as quality goes out the window. But the "good ole boys" aren't going to go without a fight,...

Re:Cable is dying already (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129530)

Syfy is (owned by) a division of Comcast. It isn't that shocking that they would make the subscription distribution more attractive.

Googles own system (1)

headhot (137860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128622)

Google is deploying fiber to the home. I'm sure there will be a video offering, what else are they going to do with that bandwidth? So, why does google care what Comcast or Direct TV thinks? If they make a better box they can use it for themselves. If they find a better way to generate revenue with it, then maybe the other operators my take a look at it.

Neilsen is shitting themselves (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128666)

Google could do some real evil and start adding onscreen ads, or just make ads clickable to go to an informational website while buffering the remainder of the show. If Google splits the click revenue with the cable cos, they would almost certainly go along.

More like dump it while it has value (1)

Zaphod-AVA (471116) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128672)

So called 'big cable' only has a future as internet providers. Broadcast media, the already anachronistic channel paradigm, and tiered services are all as doomed as Blockbuster.

This won't be popular (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128674)

Apple TV* improved on the cable box more than anything else could -by removing it-

Now that I have an aTV, no one company controls what I watch on it; I can switch between my ipad or pc and tv in an instant and I can play *my* music instead of those stupid bloody cable radio channels. This all comes (nominally) from a single device that costs $119 up front and never requires you to pay another dime.

Cable TV is a dying (should already be dead) dinosaur of an idea. Even in canada where tv shows are expensive through itunes (we don't get 99c rentals) I would have to religiously watch about 16 entire seasons of tv shows a year in order to make up the money I used to pay for cable. The distinct plus of this is that I own those shows after I pay for them and can archive and re-watch them anytime. They're also of equal quality vs. the HD Cable (since nothing but sports is broadcast above 720p anyways)

Bottom line, Google is late to the party. Other companies have been doing it badly for years, and Apple finally raised the bar enough to make it great. The only thing that cable still offers is sports (which I still can't understand watching on tv). That said, for the people who watch sports AND a lot of serials, cable makes sense... just don't expect any innovation; everyone else is moving on.

*Yes, I am aware of the non-apple options, but since I don't have an irrational hatred of everything apple I recognize that aTV is just miles and miles ahead of all the other options.

As an addendum to the AC post above... (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128832)

I will also point out that even if you hate everything Apple with an irrational hatred of a thousand burning suns, an aTV makes a sweet XBMC box, then you really can be in ultimate control of the software on the box.

Re:This won't be popular (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128868)

I love when people imply that once someone does something well enough we can just give up improving it further.

Motorola Wireless Broadband Equipment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128684)

I wonder if this purchase includes Motorola Wireless Broadband Equipment ?

Comcast... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128690)

Given almost the entire Comcast cable network uses motoral equipment from front to back I could see Google and Comcast working to spice up xfinity with a googletv version. The original GoogleTV was pretty crappy but by all account the honeycomb based updates is alot better interface wise but by no means is it perfect. We probably won't see GoggleTV done right till ice cream sandwich is out running on arm based boxes. I don't know wth Google was thinking with the x86 android version used for GoogleTV it over complicates the code base when they should focus on a common arm based platform

Google could write the set-top software. (1)

wootcat (1151911) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128758)

Story submitter really doesn't have a good idea how the cable industry works. Not that I do, but I at least know that Google would not be selling the boxes directly to the end consumers. They sell the boxes to the cable companies, who then turn around and sell/lease them to subscribers. Google is in a much better position to write improved software for the boxes.

Re:Google could write the set-top software. (1)

NJRoadfan (1254248) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129436)

Motorola never controlled the software on their cable boxes. The providers are the one who load/customize the guide software. The hardware usually isn't the problem, its usually the crap software providers use.

Cable boxes use more power than fridges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128768)

Hopefully Google can do something about this too.

Atop TV sets, a constant power drain [nytimes.com]

Re:Cable boxes use more power than fridges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129118)

No kidding. Some cable boxes use more power when turned off than my Core 2 Duo server does under moderate load.

The set-top box is already fixed... (1)

mattgoldey (753976) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128792)

It's called TiVo.

Google? No. Apple? Maybe. (1)

Eponymous Coward (6097) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128798)

I'm not sure Google can pull it off. They have the engineering talent, but I don't think they would be able to negotiate with the content creators or put an elegant face on their software and hardware.

There are persistent rumors of Apple being interested in making a television and I think they could pull it off. They already have a bunch of deals with content people in place. They also have the ability to look at a market and see what could be rather than what is. They reshaped the music industry and cell phone industry and I think they could do the same for televisions, amplifiers, and all the other boxes surrounding my television. I would love it if they could do something about the mess of wires and confusing remotes that I have lying around. I bought a Logitech Harmony 1100 because I thought that might make things simpler, but it is a deeply flawed device and now I have another remote sitting beside my television.

Re:Google? No. Apple? Maybe. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129520)

Apple will only make a TV in order to sucker you into paying too much for a device by putting an apple logo on it and giving you an apple sticker to put on your car so everyone knows you paid too much because you thought it would make you look cool. I'll pass thanks :)

Re:Google? No. Apple? Maybe. (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129864)

Considering Apple charges $999 for a 27-inch screen now, I'd hate to see their TV prices.

Tivo by Google (1)

Nerftoe (74385) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128926)

Tivo will be a target for Google. This will happen within a year. Mark my words.

Design a TV (1)

rasmusbr (2186518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37128984)

I think you need to ask yourself a more general question. What can Google do to maximize their ad revenue per person per hour spent in the living room? Well, obviously all the ads that the user sees should be personally tailored Google ads. How do you achieve that? Now keep in mind that you have the R&D muscle to design the innards of a TV from scratch and give away the blueprints to Sony et al. Okay, so let's design a TV...

1. The TV shall have an active internet connection. The obvious answer is to ship every TV with a built-in WiFi chip.

2. The TV shall be running Google software or Google web apps. The answer seems to be to put a version of Android or Chrome OS on every TV.

3. There needs to be a fun and simple way for the user to control the TV. This is probably the most part difficult part to get right. Perhaps it should be something like the Wiimote, or something like Kinect. Perhaps it should be a traditional button remote and on-screen menu system. Lots of work needs to be put into this.

4. There needs to be a huge amount of content available through Google-affiliated content providers that operate through the web so that Google can control the flow of ads that the user sees. These providers would be direct competitors to the cable companies...

So in other words it doesn't seem like there is much opportunity for cooperation between Google and TV cable providers, except for the fact that Google needs the cable providers to stay alive, because a lot of users connect to the internet through cable. The cable companies will probably want a cut of Google's ad revenue. Google will probably try to outmaneuver the cable companies by some form of mobile internet connection scheme and that is where it gets interesting from a nerd perspective. Is it possible to have everyone in a city watch HDTV (including live broadcasts) over some form of radio connection? What kind of technology could achieve that?

Perhaps it is possible to get the cable companies to morph into internet-based Google-affiliated content providers and avoid the conflict altogether.

mod down (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37128994)

charnel house. LOG ON THEN THE I burnt out. I elected, we toofk

The cable companies will run in fear (1)

oliverk (82803) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129002)

Let's be really clear here for a moment that the cable companies are NEVER going to let Google implement what's possible or what the consumer desires in the way of a proper set top box. Don't you just implicitly expect things like Slingbox to just, y'know, work? Nope...impacts revenue. How about HBO GO? Hmm...no again, that's a problem from a demand forecasting perspective. The cable companies win today by limiting choices (options, bandwidth consumption, etc) and Google would invariably want to uncork that. Not going to happen. Oh, here's my other favorite: what happens when someone tricks out the API and gives the entire customer base free access to everything?

The cable companies are the RIAA of the airwaves and will never tolerate this happen. Expect more of the same...unless Google intends to start laying their own fiber, too. Oh, wait...

There's already a better cable box.... (1)

HerculesMO (693085) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129030)

Build a Windows Media Center PC, add a CetonTV card, and rent a CableCard from your cable company for around ~$3 a month.

I can record four shows at one time, have a much better guide and interface, save a lot of power (because cable boxes don't give a damn about power usage, and you'd know that if you plugged in a Kill-A-Watt into it), and just in rental fees, I save over $400 a year for two cable boxes. I use my WMC PC in one room (and it's whisper quiet), and an Xbox to extend the DVR to another room.

If I want to extend it again, I just buy an XBox on ebay for ~$100 or so. Nicest thing is that regardless of what cable company I have, I will always have a good DVR.

and you give up VOD and have to use SDV tunners (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129346)

and you give up VOD and have to use add on SDV tuners in SDV cable systems.

Also can you get out of market sports packs on cable card? Event PPV?

$3 month ok but some systems hit you with a outlet fee and maybe even a cable card HD fee.

There is lots of Free VOD and cable systems like comcast are cutting down on HBO, SHOW, MAX and STARZ HD and they say that alot of that in on VOD in HD.

SageTV (5, Interesting)

GrumpyOldMan (140072) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129124)

Google bought a small company called SageTV a few months back. They were one of the only companies offering a "whole house" PVR solution via tiny thin-client media extenders running on multiple TVs, and PVR software running on PCs. They had an extensible UI, as well as a number of features (like local media file management) that cable company DVRs either don't do, or do very poorly.

My guess is that they intend to apply the SageTV team to making cable boxes suck less; especially whole house solutions. Obviously they won't be using clients PCs as the server any longer, but a lot of the technology is applicable.

Re:SageTV (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129512)

I have SageTV and was rather dissappointed by the news that they were bought by Google, but seeing this gives me hope that Google will come out with a TiVo-killer. SageTV has one of the best scheduling algorithms.

I think the biggest problem I (and probably a lot of other people have giving up cable is that fact that there are still a lot of shows that are not streamed, or are sandboxed in a network's website. I don't want to have a computer with a web browser hooked up to my TV, I want to watch TV off a clean, consistent interface. Even Netflix is a bit of a kludge to me.

If Google can manage all the DVR functionality and also the web video stuff all through an excellent UI, it will be awesome.

no box is best box (1)

misfit815 (875442) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129154)

We dropped our cable subscription a few months ago when they forced set-top boxes on us. We were already paying for something we hardly used, and the idea of adding even more electronics to our setup was distasteful. Our main home theater unit already has too many devices to list here, and two of the three other TV's are wall-mount with no reasonable place for a set-top box. I actually shopped around for satellite before realizing that every one of those providers force you to use their equipment as well. So now we have just basic OTA HDTV, yet get a lot of video from Netflix and a lot of other online sources.

My only regret is live sports. I'm a fan of one particular sport that is carried on a cable sports channel, and has virtually no online availability.

Re:no box is best box (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129754)

My only regret is live sports. I'm a fan of one particular sport that is carried on a cable sports channel, and has virtually no online availability.

That's why the only sport I watch is porn.

In the company of friends and family. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129784)

When it comes to subscription television, I am glad three years ago managed to disconnect from the hive... some people may not see it as being in a hive state of mind, but for some reason people pay for a subscription tv serivce only to have the damn box turned off, or worst watch the same shows, movies and commercials over and over again Not anymore for me, I refuse to watch reruns of Law and Order on multiple channels
And all it took was a ASTC DVR box, OTA HDTV antenna and DVD's for my favorate shows per season.
Oh, and when it comes to sports - I visit someone stuck in the hive... and bring beer, lol... Problem solved, I am $150 richer (minus the beer money of course)

fiber to the home (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129272)

Now hiring ftth engineers... google tv to google set top, via google isp

cable companies drive them (1)

Twillerror (536681) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129382)

The cable set top box wouldn't really stay in Google's control. The cable companies themselves have to drive them.

Do you think they want Netflix running on your cable box that they subsidize?

If Google can get some kind of profit sharing model with the cable companies when it comes to advertising then they will get some traction.

Google also got into the whole ad scheduling space as well. This might give google the ability to insert local ads into youtube streams, which could be a decent revenue stream and really start getting way more customized ads into the streams.

Cisco is the other big holder by buying scientific atlanta a while ago.If google started doing dumb things cable providers could plop back to their products.

Re:cable companies drive them (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129592)

The cable company really can't subsidize a cable box. I suppose they could, but the only way they would actually subsidize a box is if the government forced them to; otherwise, they are, on some level, building the costs to provide it into their package prices.

Let me sum up... (1)

freeze128 (544774) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129560)

Can google fix the cable box? No.

The Author Obviously Knows Shit About MSOs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37129628)

This dude has no clue of what the fuck he's talking about. Motorola is a market leader in Headend (TV), DOCSIS (Data/Internet) and cable systems end-user CPEs (setup boxes, cable modems/MTA).

If anything, they can potentially cause a market shift, since the bought all that marketshare. Now there's chance for them to be completely on every living room on Earth. In fact, the only reason Google TV failed is because pretty much Cable Operators lock their users to their setup boxes, now that Google owns their setup boxes things change.

This doesn't harm the cable industry at all, if anything it helps it - gives it a "cool factor" vs Dish or DIRECTV. Most MSO/Cable operators already buy Moto setupboxes and rent them. So, I can't see how this would change what they already do (rent boxes which they purchased from Motorola or any other vendor).

This is great news for cable operators AND cable subscribers. Deal with it.

Not another Google privacy encroachment (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#37129718)

They're already in my phone, PIM, and POOM data, I don't need them harvesting my viewing habits for the Feds and advertisers as well.

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