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FCC Opens Market for Cable Boxes

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the this-changes-everything dept.

Television 222

fistfullast33l writes "The FCC rendered a decision today against a Comcast appeal that centers on integrated security features in set-top cable boxes. The decision comes at the end of a long standing feud between the FCC and cable companies over the matter. The result is that starting July 1st, cable boxes distributed by cable companies must not be tied directly to a cable provider via internal security features. This rule is viewed as the first step in creating a market for set-top cable boxes. Comcast does have the right to appeal and has said they will do so. From the article: 'Several major consumer electronics manufacturers have argued that if set-top boxes weren't directly linked to the provision of cable service, they could enter the set-top market. Consumers could get a cable card from their service provider that they could insert into a set-top box purchased at a consumer electronics store. The cards would ensure that consumers could only access channels that they paid for.'"

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222 comments

step one... (4, Insightful)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567826)

The result is that starting July 1st, cable boxes distributed by cable companies must not be tied directly to a cable provider via internal security features.

Now if only they could accomplish this same feat for mobile phones.

Re:step one... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17567862)

Well actually they have. You can legally unlock your cell phone. The big thing that holds phones from transferring from one provider to the next is the network type. This is more or less the design of the phone. Think of it like an 802.11b device and an 802.11b network. This is not to say that it wouldn't be nice to have a unified cellular network, but that's very unlikely.

Re:step one... (1, Offtopic)

ForestGrump (644805) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567912)

In the US, it's mainly a subsidized market where part of your bill goes to paying for the free/discounted phone. In order to keep you from signing up for a phone and immediately dumping the carrier, they lock the phones. (it's also to their benefit if you switch cause then they tell you to buy a new phone). However, it is my understanding that tmobile/cingular will give you unlock codes if you call up after ~3 months on the contract.

As for me, I've either purchased an unlocked phone (I used to work for a phone mfr), or get a nokia and generate my own unlock code.

Note: If your contract is up and you plan on keeping your phone for another year or 2, it's probably in your best interest to renew the contract and get a "free phone" out of it. hey, you're paying for it having the free phone or not.
Grump

Re:step one... (1, Offtopic)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567986)

My biggest problem is that even if you buy your phone outright, you still don't get a discount on your bill, so you're paying for that free phone anyway. Granted you can switch providers any time you want, but there's still all the other hassles that go along with it. People won't switch providers every 2 months when a better deal comes along, just because they can. If they offer good services at competitive rates, then they shouldn't worry about people switching providers all the time. So my advice is that same as yours. If you don't have a problem with your current provider, sign the contract, and get a free/cheaper phone out of the deal. Any other way you're getting ripped off on your bill.

Re:step one... (1)

Arker (91948) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568008)

The problem is there's no actual competition for customers who own their own phones. The companies are so used to inflated profit margins they draw from those they can talk into long term contracts with all the useless frills, people that just want phone service at a decent price aren't even on their radar.

Re:step one... (3, Interesting)

KillerCow (213458) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568240)

people that just want phone service at a decent price aren't even on their radar.


I think that Virgin is going after them.

Re:step one... (1)

macadamia_harold (947445) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568290)

As for me, I've either purchased an unlocked phone (I used to work for a phone mfr), or get a nokia and generate my own unlock code.

I wish it were that simple. As an example, the phone I want (Motorola Q), is locked to verizon, is not offered in an unlocked version, and is not available for Sprint. (yet)

Many people are going to have a similar problem when the Apple iPhone is released-- if they want it, they'll be tethered to Cingular service. There will be no Apple iPhone for TMobile, at least not for a very long time.

Re:step one... (1)

azuretek (708981) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568896)

I wouldn't be so sure about that, a quad band phone could technically connect with many different providers. If the phone needed to be unlocked it wouldn't be too hard to do considering it wouldn't require changing the phone in any way.

step two... (2, Funny)

nullchar (446050) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567970)

step 1) Cut a hole in a box

step 2) Put your junk in that box

Re:step two... (1)

phoenixwade (997892) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569286)

step 1) Cut a hole in a box

step 2) Put your junk in that box

3) ???????
4) Profit!

Re:step one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568014)

Ehh, the cell phone industry would be the first one to come to mind where they've been doing this for years. GSM phones accept standardized SIM cards which contain information about the subscriber. You can move the card from handset to handset while keeping your phone number and even address book.

The fact that some providers "lock" phones so that they accept SIM cards issued only by that provider is somewhat separate. It's only done if you are receiving a discounted price for that handset and I would consider fair. You can still walk into a store and get unlocked handset, put your card in it and place a call.

Oh, and silly providers like Verizon in US that don't use GSM are, well, silly..

Re:step one... (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569192)

"Oh, and silly providers like Verizon in US that don't use GSM are, well, silly.."

As a transmission mode, GSM's TDMA is quite lacking compared to Verizon's CDMA. Don't knock the transmission mode just because certain implementations don't provide some of the features available to certain implementations of another mode.

Frankly, I think SIM cards themselves are a bit of a kludge. You shouldn't need a tiny, delicate memory chip to switch phones or phone providers. You should be able to do it just by entering some numbers specific to your phone into a website or by entering a number specific to you into the phone itself.

Re:step one... (4, Insightful)

troll -1 (956834) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568542)

Now if only they could accomplish this same feat for mobile phones.

Be thankful cell phone companies aren't running the Internet. If they were you'd buy your computer from your ISP and it wouldn't work with any other ISP. Your equipment would come with Internet access but no email, that would be extra. If you wanted an email sound alert, you could always 'shop for sounds'. Access to overseas sites would be charged at a higher rate and your ISP bill would list every site you visited that month. Cell phone providers pay billions in license fees to the FCC for the privilege of being able to nickel and dime you for every trivial service they can think of.

comcast (2, Insightful)

nikros (1037028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567850)

Good for Tivo. Bad for Comast.

Re:comcast (1)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568102)

Bad for Comcast = Happy for me

Doesn't this already exist... (1)

ForestGrump (644805) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567854)

Don't higher end TVs have "integrated digital cable tuners" where you put a card in and be able to receive the digital channels? From my understanding, the only thing you'd be missing is the "special" services from your cable provider, mainly guide information.

Like this tv:
http://www.amazon.com/Sony-KDFE42A10-Rear-Projecti on-Television/dp/B000A2K3XW [amazon.com]

Grump.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

fistfullast33l (819270) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567888)

From TFA:

The deadline has already been extended twice; companies were initially supposed to have been compliant by July 1, 2005.

If the initial deadline was 2005, the rule must be at least a year or two older than that. So obviously consumer electronics companies had plenty of time to get their hardware ready in anticipation. Plus, I noticed that your link is out of stock on Amazon, so it can't be too widely available yet.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

ForestGrump (644805) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567964)

dahaha my dyslexia tricked me again!

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

Steve B (42864) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568400)

If the initial deadline was 2005, the rule must be at least a year or two older than that. So obviously consumer electronics companies had plenty of time to get their hardware ready in anticipation.

Yes, but how much effort would they put into it until they had good reason to believe that the cable companies wouldn't succeed in lining up enough coin-operated politicians to stop it altogether?

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567978)

the problem is that CableCard specs/access/existence is treated as TOP SECRET BURN BEFORE READING and why bother with a HD TV + CableCard when all you will get is SD cable (no PPV No extras No Bling) heck i have an ATI Radeon AIW 7500 that is pulling down basic TW cable (interceptor force 2 on scifi ATM)

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (2, Informative)

BecomingLumberg (949374) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568200)

I have seen plenty of TVs with Cable Cards that get HDTV just fine. The only thing they cannot do is On Demand. Now, given the cable company doesn't make it easy to get a CC, they still provide them.

Cable CC? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568684)

given the cable company doesn't make it easy to get a CC

You know, for a moment there, I thought CC meant credit card. Just what we need, cable companies issuing credit cards. Hmm... I give it about five years.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

DragonPup (302885) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569224)

CableCARD 2.0 should hit sometime this year, IIRC. They will do OnDemand.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

UserChrisCanter4 (464072) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568026)

Actually, the guide information is transmitted in the stream. Because part of the ATSC (digital TV) standard was a system for broadcasting a guide, the QAM (digital TV over cable) systems allow it as well. The actual rendering of the guide info is up to the TV, so it can be as pretty or hideous as they design it. Every one I've seen has looked pretty primitive compared to the standard digital cable/satellite boxes, but it is cool that you don't need another box in the media cabinet.

The big downside to the cablecard system (what you're describing) is that communication is one-way; hence, Pay-Per-View requires a set-top box. In my area, Time Warner charges the same monthly fee for cablecard or an HD tuner box, so I'd assume most people would end up getting the tuner box for the occasional PPV order.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (4, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568028)

Don't higher end TVs have "integrated digital cable tuners" where you put a card in and be able to receive the digital channels? From my understanding, the only thing you'd be missing is the "special" services from your cable provider, mainly guide information.

Current CableCard technology is one-way only. So you can't order PPV or control VOD programming. CableCard 2.0 is supposed to support two way communication, but it isn't out yet. It also will be a different card interface. So if you bought a TV that includes a CableCard slot, guess what, you have to buy a new TV to use the 2.0 cards.

Also, cablecos are not yet required to offer CableCards yet. The FCC's plug and play rule that covered it does not take effect until July. So if your cableco currently does not want to offer CableCards, you're SOL.

I'm not sure what the ownership rules are for CableCards, but from what I've seen it appears they are still the property of the cableco and you still pay a monthly fee for them (you just don't have a big, hot running box to keep around).

If this rule is allowed to take effect (translation: a bunch of cableco lobbists don't pop up and stop it) soon hooking up digital cable will be as easy as hooking up analog cable. The converter box can be built into the TV the same way we transitioned from having to get a box from the cable company twenty years ago to having "cable ready" TV's. It would help clear the way for people to not have to pay "per box" for their service. DVR recorders can be built that can tune all the channels themselves.

I think this is fabulous, it's a step to reversing the nickel and diming cablecos and the entertainment industry as a whole have been doing the past ten years.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568932)

You know, until I read this post, I had no idea what this thread was about. I haven't had cable/satellite/rabbit ear TV since the time when the "analog" cable boxes started dying out, and being replaced by "cable ready" TV's, when you plugged the coax straight into the TV (SO much better than those ugly boxes). I had no idea that this new "digital" cable went back to requiring those boxes. The idea that people would tolerate that was so absurd, that I didn't even think that it was a possiblity.

What are TV consumers thinking? Is what you're getting *really* worth putting up with that shit, never mind the monthly fee, and all of the advertisements?

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (2, Informative)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569298)

I had no idea that this new "digital" cable went back to requiring those boxes. The idea that people would tolerate that was so absurd, that I didn't even think that it was a possiblity.

It's quite true. In fact, not only do people put up with boxes (and far bigger boxes than before; they're the size of VCR and put out heat like the bastard stepchild of a Pentium IV and a coffeepot), they pay extra for the pleasure. The reason is that these boxes are currently the only way to get "digital cable" (which is not to be confused with digital television, since the picture is still NTSC, not highdef, in most cases). The selling point of this is that you can have many more channels than before: hundreds of them, compared to the 90-100 with standard analog cable.

The point of this move by the FCC is basically to give people the capability of doing the "cable ready" thing, where you just run a length of coax from the wall to your TV, with digital cable. Unfortunately, it'll never be as easy as in the analog days; even though these new systems won't require a box, they'll still require the rental of a decrypter card, which I assume the cablecos will charge as much for as they charged for a box.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (3, Informative)

Mousit (646085) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569144)

> Also, cablecos are not yet required to offer CableCards yet. The FCC's plug and play rule that covered it does not take effect until July. So if your cableco currently does not want to offer CableCards, you're SOL.

> I'm not sure what the ownership rules are for CableCards, but from what I've seen it appears they are still the property of the cableco and you still pay a monthly fee for them (you just don't have a big, hot running box to keep around).


Actually, just FYI. The FCC has required cable companies to offer CableCards since July of 2005; they must provide them and cannot deny you them. This new ruling today affects set-top boxes, wholly separate thing.

The ownership rules are that the CableCards belong to the cable companies. You rent them just like you rent a cable box now, except that the FCC has also capped the rate at around $2/mo. That sure beats a cable box which, depending on the company, can be anywhere from $5 to $20/mo to rent.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568250)

I just purchased one of these sets and I can attest to it's tuning capabilities even without a cable card but I was told Sony has removed the cablecard slot on all it's 2007 models because of all the service calls they receive concerning incompatible cable cards. Seems the cable companies are going out of their way to make the cards just unruly enough through firmware "upgrades" they no longer work in existing cablecard slots.
To rent the cable box from Time Warner in South Texas is $7 and up depending on the features. To rent the cablecard is also $7 so they remove almost all incentive to use the cablecard.

Re:Doesn't this already exist... (1)

jbevren (10665) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568800)

Nice TV. However, this won't work in my community at all. Also, I somehow doubt the IDT works with comcast cable, as their systems don't use a digital customer ID card.

Appeal? (1)

matr0x_x (919985) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567896)

Could someone with a bit of knowledge on this please enlighten me as to approximately what the percent chance Comcasts appeal will work? Is this guarenteed to happen or could the appeal actually work?

Re:Appeal? (5, Insightful)

eclectro (227083) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567932)

approximately what the percent chance Comcasts appeal will work?

It's directly proportional to the wad of cash they give a senator. The FCC doesn't understand technology anyway. Also, consumers are too dumb to be able to make choices for themselves.

Re:Appeal? (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568336)

It's directly proportional to the wad of cash they give a senator. The FCC doesn't understand technology anyway. Also, consumers are too dumb to be able to make choices for themselves.

Where's my + 1 Cynical mod?

Anyway, (a) true, (b) false, (c) where's my Blade of Carnage?

Re:Appeal? (2, Funny)

aztec rain god (827341) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568770)

12%. Yes.

Re:Appeal? (3, Interesting)

symbolset (646467) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568788)

Comcast and other cable companies have a nearly unlimited budget for "lawmaker education" for this chainbreaker. Shortly after your congressman gets back from his junket to Bali to see how other countries handle this problem, he's going to introduce a bill that makes the decision of the court moot.

Oddly enough, it will be titled "The Protection of Children from Video Terrorism Act" or "Cable Television Deregulation and Child Protection Act" or "Homeland Security Budget for Fiscal 2008".

This is what you get for paying $100/mo for 157 channels of "nothing's on."

Good (2, Interesting)

QueePWNzor (1044224) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567904)

Cable companies are right now huge monstrosities, leaving no space for creativity because of their market shares. If other companies could produce boxes that could have new features, like maybe a TiVo in the box, consumers would have better options. And, with every company advertising the pluses to their services, you could have a firmer grip on deciding what to chose, and they could have fairer competition from external companies. I hate monopolies.

Re:Good (2)

Dance_Dance_Karnov (793804) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568316)

My cable box is a DVR. Infact I don't know of a cable company that doesn't offer some kind of DVR/cable box. That said, I would like to be able to get a 3rd party, easily modifiable one with all sorts of nifty features that you would get if the people making the hardware weren't also pushing the content.

Re:Good (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568974)

Sorry, but no Cable Co that I know of makes the hardware. Time-Warner, Cablevision, Comcast, and Charter get their settops from Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta (now a part of Cisco).

Re:Good (0)

Vskye (9079) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568798)

Cable companies are right now huge monstrosities, leaving no space for creativity because of their market shares. If other companies could produce boxes that could have new features, like maybe a TiVo in the box, consumers would have better options.

Now, another way to look at it from the Cable company. These "special" features that the box you buy. Why would they support these features? Would the software "at" the cable company work with features of say box, a b and c box? The software at these cable companies is specialized. I should know, I work in tech support at one. There is now way in hell that they will support a box they do not provide unless the manufacturer of said box releases the information required. Simple. The customer will get referred to the manufacturer. Another thing, say you spend $300 on a box and spill coffee in it. You buy a new one. If you had OUR box, it gets replaced, free. Same as the cable modem.. you're takes a crap, you buy another one, we will replace it free. I really don't see any cost savings here. Plus feature wise, you'll lose out.. at least as far as our VOD and such. (video on demand)

How many freakin' choices do you need? (0, Troll)

mrshermanoaks (921067) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568804)

Why is everyone complaining about not having choices?

1. You can get a cable box or DVR from your cable company
2. You can get a TiVo Series 3 with HD and CableCard support right now, no cable boxes needed.
3. You can get a standard DVR and have it control your cable box via IR control.
4. You can get DirecTV or Dish and use their PVRs
5. You can get DirecTV or Dish and use your own DVR with IR control.
6. FIOS, U-Verse, whatever else is on the way...
7. This is Slashdot - build your own PVR that automatically gathers content via a Perl script from thousands of sources worldwide.

I hate the cable and satellite companies as much as the next person, but the issue isn't that there aren't choices.

Re:How many freakin' choices do you need? (1)

ThePlissken (824615) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569306)

I for one chose.... well, um 7.

This benefits me how? (1)

markhb (11721) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567914)

So, I can use the same cable box with a built-in DVR that I have now, or I can go out, spend a couple hundred for one (or for a TiVO), and plug in a cablecard for which I will probably pay the same monthly rate I am paying for the existing setup. Net result: I'm out of pocket the cost of a box which does the same thing the one I already have does. So long as the cable company doesn't decide to stop providing the existing boxes, I can ignore this whole thing.

Re:This benefits me how? (1)

aesiamun (862627) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568020)

Cable cards are quite a bit cheaper than Time Warner HD DVRs. I pay $10 or $12 a month for the HD DVR, but the cable card only costs $3 a month.

The real issue is that Cable Card v1 sucks. Its only one way which means you don't get anything that you benefit from Digital Cable but HD. You can't get onDemand, "start over", or any other interactive feature that the SciAt box offers. Some may belive that it's a benefit, but I do enjoy watching some movies onDemand when I get board of my DVD collection and nothing good is on Discovery, Science, History, FoodTV or etc.

But it does open the market for choice. The problem before is that if you hooked up a Tivo to your digital cable, you'd only get the analog choices. Now, hopefully this forces scientific atlanta and the cable companies to do useful things or at least make the dvrs suck less

Re:This benefits me how? (1)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568138)

So, I can use the same cable box with a built-in DVR that I have now, or I can go out, spend a couple hundred for one (or for a TiVO), and plug in a cablecard for which I will probably pay the same monthly rate I am paying for the existing setup. Net result: I'm out of pocket the cost of a box which does the same thing the one I already have does. So long as the cable company doesn't decide to stop providing the existing boxes, I can ignore this whole thing.

Consumer choice will benefit you whether you switch or not. Your cable provider will need to compete with set top box features instead of their current luxury of forcing your purchase/rental of a one product because they have a monopoly on a different product.

Re:This benefits me how? (1)

Leftist Troll (825839) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568148)

So long as the cable company doesn't decide to stop providing the existing boxes, I can ignore this whole thing.

If you're happy with your existing box, then feel free to ignore it. Not everyone is happy with them though; the Comcast DVR is unresponsive and buggy. Compared with Tivo or MythTV, the interface is ugly and has a clunky feel to it.

This decision at least allows some competition, which in theory should encourage Comcast to come out with a better box. Of coarse, what would really be useful would be for them to allow the sale of standalone cablecard readers that could be installed in any home theater pc, but they're much to obsessed with content control for that to happen.

This benefits me thusly: (1)

freeze128 (544774) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568188)

This week the hard disk died in my cable company supplied DVR for the third time. The last failure was less than a year ago. It's only because the Scientific Atlanta boxes that Time Warner was renting me had the crappiest Maxtor drives in them that were probably the cheapest at the time.

I would gladly buy my own DVR box if it also meant I could install a QUALITY hard disk in the damn thing, and not have to lug it to the cable office, get a replacement, and then re-program all my favorites MANUALLY (The thing has a USB port on it, but what's it for?) and re-add all my scheduled recordings.

Re:This benefits me thusly: (3, Insightful)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568364)

The USB port is there so that once the Cable companies figure out how to charge for it's use.

Re:This benefits me how? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568284)

Odds are you've either already bought a box or you're paying a monthly rental fee for the box. I know my cable provider charges me a monthly rate for renting my cable modem and my digital cable box. I can have the fee waived if I buy my own cable box or cable router. Right now I don't find it's worth it to buy the box, but if I found a nice cable box that had a Dual Tuner PVR with a DVD burner with no restrictions on what I could record, with an option to record only audio (For the music stations) I would seriously think about buying a box. Or I could just make my own.

Re:This benefits me how? (1)

fistfullast33l (819270) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568428)

Are you sure you're getting charged for the Cable Modem? I have TWC and they aren't charging me, or at least they don't itemize it.

Re:This benefits me how? (1)

FoogyFoo (726938) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568568)

It's included in the bill. There was a class-action settlement with them not too long ago for all those who owned their own modems. IIRC, joining the settlement got you a whopping $1 off your monthly bill for a year or two.

Re:This benefits me how? (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568626)

The benefits lie not in what's available now; the benefits lie in what will become available later once the cable companies are forced to stop stifling innovation!

Re:This benefits me how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568790)

Benefit you this how. Cheaper can the cable boxes be made. More features will they have.

Now stop talking like Yoda.

What about sattalite? (2)

leon.gandalf (752828) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567916)

Is this a double standard or what? Both DirecTV and Dish Network use locked in boxes..... Will they be required to allow the use of SAT cards any time soon, if ever?

Re:What about sattalite? (4, Informative)

Quarters (18322) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568142)

It's not a double standard at all. Cable companies and Telco's operate under the idea of regional monopolies. Local/State governments give providers monopolistic contracts to service an area to entice the provider to come in and create the necessary infrastructure. I can't get anything other Insight Cable where I live. The same is true, but with different providers, for the majority of the country. The set-top box with DVR that Insight offers is F'ing abysmal. It's about as programmable as a VCR. Other than an over priced Series 3 TiVO with an extra monthly charge I have *no* choice in how I can receive and record Insight's digital/HD programming. Due to Insight's approved local monopoly I am stuck with their crappy system if I want to subscribe to their service.

Satellite services don't operate under the same monopoly based business model. Space is open to whomever has the cash to toss a ton of satellites up there and start providing signal. I can freely choose from Sirius or XM for my radio and Dish or DirecTV for my video. If I don't like the channel lineup or available hardware for one I can always sign up with the other service.

Re:What about sattalite? (1)

CityZen (464761) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568584)

Yes, I'm hoping that the US eventually catches up with Europe on this point. In Europe, satellite broadcasters use standard DVB boxes, and you can choose any standard DVB receiver to work with any provider. For security, you just plug in the appropriate CAM module from the provider, just like CableCard.

Dish Network already uses DVB, but they have their own security system, and they wouldn't let you subscribe your own receiver even if you did have a CAM that would work with it. With a standard DVB receiver, you can receiver the (very few) unencrypted Dish channels (such as NASA and the preview channels).

DirecTV doesn't use DVB (unless they've changed something recently.) With the changeover to MPEG4, it would make sense if their new boxes were DVB-capable, but I don't know if they would do this. (Although I guess DVB is strictly MPEG2 at the moment, huh?)

Re:What about sattalite? (2, Informative)

man_ls (248470) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569290)

The current iteration of technologies -- DVB-S -- is the standard MPEG2, Standard FEC, and has the optional crypto wrapper which is handled with PCMCIA CAMs and Cards.

DVB-S2, which is being implemented, is MPEG4, 8PSK/8VSB, Turbo FEC, and still has the optional crypto wrapper. I think DirecTV has, likely, already gone to this standard or some close cousin of it. Dish Network is in the process of moving to it and will likely be finished with this process, which involves a lengthy and expensive equipment swap, in a few years. Their new receivers -- the ViP series -- are already MPEG4 and likely fully DVB-S2 capable.

Many European set-top boxes are already MPEG4/DVB-S2 capable, the only thing stopping them from being used with U.S. Pay TV providers is, as noted, the fact that you need a CAM which it is likely that Dish Network or DirecTV will never make available in that manner. (Interestingly enough, however, both Kudleski Group/Nagrastar and NDS make CAMs for other providers which are more standardized.)

Small problem with Cable Cards (3, Informative)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567930)

They don't provide two-way communication. This is VERY IMPORTANT as two-way communication is REQUIRED for cable networks that use switched video broadcasting technology. Time Warner in Austin, TX is one such network. I would expect most of not all the digital channels will move to swiched video by the end of 2007. This isn't a problem as a digital box already is required for the digital feed.

Second problem. You won't be able to order PPV or view any on-demand content with cable cards.

Until Cable Cards move to a new spec that support two-way, they're rather worthless these days...and a total scam by themselves anyway.

Re:Small problem with Cable Cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568060)

Don't give them any more damn bright ideas, please. If you give them two-way communication, they'll use it for DRM authentication.

Television should remain a half-duplex medium for as long as we can keep it that way. It's difficult to lock down content that's beamed into the stratosphere in bulk using an analog signal. Give that up for some damned interactive guide channel and some higher image resolution? Before you know it, all free television programming is gone.

I'll stick with NTSC for now, thanks.

Re:Small problem with Cable Cards (1)

aesiamun (862627) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568078)

oops...

This was meant for this thread...
http://hardware.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=21646 6&cid=17568042 [slashdot.org]

Re:Small problem with Cable Cards (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569206)

Oh, way to get my hopes up. I thought somebody was actually paying attention to me.

God, I'm so lonely.

Re:Small problem with Cable Cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568092)

Second problem. You won't be able to order PPV or view any on-demand content with cable cards.

This is likely the biggest reason why the cable companies are against allowing 3rd party set-top boxes...

Re:Small problem with Cable Cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568204)

In theory, an OCAP capable box with a cablecard can support the interactive services.

A bigger problem is support. Cable systems are complex enough with single vendor systems (either Motorola or Cisclanta); when a customer calls Com-Warner-Vision to complain that their settop from Best-Circuit-Mart doesn't work, who is the MSO going to call to fix it?

Re:Small problem with Cable Cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568124)

you are dumb.

Not true! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568914)

actually cablecards DO provide 2-way communication ... it's the boxes (largely TVs at this point) that they are embedded in that don't. This is largely the cable companies fault as it's their entity "Cable Labs" that specs cablecard and they've chosen restrictions that make it MUCH harder to make 2-way boxes

Better cable box UIs (2, Informative)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 7 years ago | (#17567980)

Does this mean we'll have a choice of boxes with better UIs? I hate having to go through several button presses in the menu to access the one and only feature I ever use (listings, sometimes filtering movies only). Worse, the remote has a rather slow repeat rate and a very cheap feel to the button presses. That alone makes me feel like I have to fight the box to watch TV.

Re:Better cable box UIs (1)

aesiamun (862627) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568042)

The fact that cable cards are 1way mean little when it comes to switched digital video. That happens on the backend or at least at the switch hub for your location.

You're right that you won't get some features, but digital cable is the least of your worries, especially if you like onDemand.

Re:Better cable box UIs (1)

CheSera (176903) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569292)

This is totally incorrect. You have to have 2 way communication for the device to request a new stream for Switched Video to work. As the channels aren't being broadcast unless someone is watching it, your device (cable box) has to ask for a new session to be set up. Cablecards and other one way devices cannot access Switched Video content.

Good or bad? (1)

Mikachu (972457) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568004)

This could be great because you have a competitive market where companies will try and add space and features, but...

First of all, couldn't this render a company's DVR useless? I mean the DVR could be completely controlled by the cable box at that point, so... the service would be obsolete. Second, does this mean that on July 1st, a Comcast guy is going to come to my house, take back his cable box, and hand me a card, expecting me to go out and buy one? I seriously hope the company still intends to supply me with a cable box.

I don't like where this is going.

Re:Good or bad? (1)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568062)

Why would they do that? You're already paying for the box in your cable bill; indeed, if you went out and bought a cable box, then called Comcast to pick up theirs, you'd still be paying for it.

Comcast dont pick up boxes (1)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569338)

Try and downgrade from digital to analog cable. Comcast will make you return the box, and not just to your nearest comcast location, it seems they arbitrarily pick one a long way off.

I'm remarkably happy with my $11/month basic cable from them. Even figuring in Tivo, i'm running about a third of what their cheapest digital service would cost me.

Re:Good or bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568118)

First, your cable provider won't come take away your existing box. Your current box has the security element built-in and will continue to work.
Second, if you do get a new box (because you upgrade to a DVR box, or an HD box, or DVR+HD), you'll get a box from the same settop manufacturer and a cable card that works with that box.
Third, as has been pointed out elsewhere, a CableCard won't allow you to get Video-On-Demand, PPV, and other services, that is, unless you have a box that supports OCAP. Each CableCard manufacturer should supply a "POD" Handler which provides the proprietary glue that allows VOD and other services to work with their CableCard. But the POD Handler requires Java and the OCAP interfaces. And not all settop manufactures have a POD handler.

Re:Good or bad? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous McCartneyf (1037584) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568216)

No, Comcast won't just take your cable box away.
This sort of thing happened with telephones a while back; when they broke up the original AT&T, they also allowed anyone with the means and desire to make and sell phones. Customers no longer had to rent the phone from the phone company--but many people still did rent phones. I think it's possible to rent phones from phone companies even today; some of them seem to encourage it.
As it was with phones back then, so it will be with cable boxes if this ruling holds. Perhaps someone will soon make an independent cable box that you can buy outright and use with any cable provider anywhere. (Yes, even one with a DVR.) But you'll still have the option of renting the cable box from Comcast, and it's almost certain that Comcast will encourage people to continue renting their boxes.

Re:Good or bad? (1)

DavidShor (928926) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568660)

Seriously? That sounds interesting, where can I read up on that?

man (3, Insightful)

Trelane (16124) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568022)

now, if only we could get a MythTV (i.e. abiltiy to create a Free DVR) clause in there, we'd be golden....

Re:man (1)

Diffusion (125352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569184)

It's coming... all we need is a tuner card that can accept CableCard [engadget.com] (and hopefully version 2, later on). Well...and maybe something to force the cable companies to give us a CableCard instead of requiring us to use a set-top box.

Once a CableCard 2.0 capable device hits the market, SageTV and Myth users will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

No different than AT&T decision... (4, Informative)

Constantin (765902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568158)

... many years ago, it was illegal per AT&T to attach anything but AT&T-approved equipment at home or in a business alike to their network. Eventually, the anti-trust folk, PBX equipment vendors, etc. broke up that racket, IIRC. At the time, AT&T made dire predictions about network reliability, etc. if "non-approved" devices were attached to it. In the end, it was clearly a rear-guard action designed to maximize the lease-money that AT&T was deriving from equipment rentals. This Comcast rethoric is no different, they want to lease a $30 cable box for $4 month ad infinitum.

So, I would very much welcome a requirement to open up the the consumer choices with regard to cable boxes. Ideally, someone at the FCC will have the foresight to look to the EU or other places that have already gone through the trouble of designing a secure option and require an "open" standard instead of allowing content providers to reinvent the wheel yet again to create a NA-only product. While cable-boxes are definitely not as portable as let's say cell-phones (and hence will not derive as much value from being interoperable), economies of scale definitely apply in this business and the more competition, the better for the consumer.

Plus, interoperable product ensures that if cable content providers ever get competition, that cable boxes don't get discarded simply because provider X has a different encryption scheme than vendor Y. Besides the unnecessary lock-in at the set-box level, I would also like to see a requirement by the Feds to allow consumers and content providers to chose their packages à la carte (i.e. disallow bundling requirements). This is the only means of breaking the oligopoly of the content providers and to restore some semblance of consumer choice to the market.

Re:No different than AT&T decision... (1)

dosius (230542) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568236)

Only $4? Shit, Time Warner gyps me outta $5.50 a month for the box.

-uso.

Re:No different than AT&T decision... (1)

ffejie (779512) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568906)

To be fair, Cablevision (Time Warner as well) only charges me $6.95 + $5 (I think) for box + DVR and my HD DVR is closer to a $600 box. Sure they buy them en masse from Scientific Atlanta (Cisco) and get them cheaper, but I'll be happy to let them do the buying at discount and lease it to me. Last week, it broke and you know what? I got a new one THAT DAY! Hot damn, for free!

Based on my calculations of going through 2 boxes, it would take 100 months of this agreement for me to start losing money. Also, that's assuming no interest and everything.

Cablevision is happy because I'm hooked on their service. And I'm happy because I'm getting a great service for what I see as reasonable. I'm no cable company lover (not by a long shot) but I have to commend Cablevision on their good service and EXCEPTIONAL prices. (~$90/month for HD DVR, ~200 channels - no movie channels, 15/2 Internet, unlimited VoIP phone -- I'll take it every time.)

Rest of the world? (2, Interesting)

Plutonite (999141) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568194)

From what I have seen, people in the middle east and north africa have had this for ages. And, on a related note: mobile service providers like Vodafone have nothing to do with the actual handsets people buy from various vendors. You simply insert standard SIM cards and can swap them between phones.

These people can never understand restrictions like the one that has just been removed, and for a good reason: they don't make sense. Is there some sort of survey of the countries that have a standard de-linking between service provision and hardware? It would be interesting to know.

MOXI, as an example... (3, Interesting)

jbarr (2233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568208)

When we had Digeo's MOXI HD DVR through Charter, my biggest beef was that its feature set was completely dictated by the cable company. One example is the "skip" button on the remote. Many DVR's have a 30 or so second skip button. MOXI has the capability of having a 30-second skip button on the remote (actually, the box could be configured to pretty much any skip value) but the value is specified by the cable company, not the consumer. The bottom line was that Charter felt that it was in their best interest to make it a 15 minute (yes, minute) skip instead of a 30-second skip.

By opening this up, it could provide consumers with more choice on features.

Re:MOXI, as an example... (2, Funny)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568326)

15 minutes sounds pretty reasonable to me. I mean unless you LIKED Borat.

Borart nice man (1)

SimonInOz (579741) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568958)

What you mean mean you no like Borat?

Borat is your friend. I am sixth most famous man from Kazikstan.
How come you no like him? I am come to Amerika to find friend and prostitutes to take home with me. You are not friend then you be prostitute?

Borat am still your friend. Come to Kazikstan and you get good welcome party, no?

You mean ... (1)

taniwha (70410) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569032)

like this? [digeo.com]

Mobile Phones should follow (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568334)

Good. This should pave the way for mobile phones to be operator agnostic.

Re:Mobile Phones should follow (1)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568772)

For the most part, have you ever heard of a SIM card?

Re: FCC opens market for cable boxes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568486)

What a coincidence.

There's been several stories about Microsoft releasing it's "Windows Home Server". Which, with the right MS approved hardware, sounds like it'll replace a whole cabinette full of dedicated entertainment devices including the set-top box.

If I was cynical, I could too-easily imagine a future where every sports team I watched and every musician I listened to (on my way-innovative Windows Communication Console) was owned by Microsoft.

That'd bring a totally new and all-encompassing meaning to the term "Windoze".

so what (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568540)

They can and will always be able to cut you off for any reason. It says so right in the contract. Same with most ISPs that cut off people who use way too much bandwidth (AOL). It says they don't need a reason to cut you off, they just can whenever they want "by their discretion." So yeah you won't get fined or go to jail for using a custom cable box that steals HBO, but they can stop giving you service all they want so it's still pretty pointless.

Dog bites man. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568570)

"The FCC rendered a decision today against a Comcast appeal that centers on integrated security features in set-top cable boxes. The decision comes at the end of a long standing feud between the FCC and cable companies over the matter. "

Whaaat!? Is this the same FCC that slashdot claims is in bed with big business? How dare they bite the hand that buys them.

Why would anyone want an aftermarket cable box? (2, Informative)

ChangeOnInstall (589099) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568622)

I mean, the Comcast one I have works great! It only took ten minutes to program it to record "The Office" this evening. It showed it as a season pass, but didn't indicate it was going to record tonight's until I set a manual recoding. There were no scheduling conflicts....it apparently just didn't like tonight's episode.

To make matters worse, the *reason* I'm programming the DVR right now is because it deleted all of its content and scheduled recordings last week.

And the formerly fast user interface is now running quite slow. Unplugging/having Comcast reset it does not improve the situation.

It'll be going straight back to Comcast once I get my MythTV set up.

Consumers Lose (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17568652)

This sucks. Now we'll will probably miss out on further Comcast innovations, DRM, and lower prices in the future. :-(

We need this in Australia (1)

ross.w (87751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568654)

In Australia, if you want the PVR function, you have to pay Foxtel A$500 for a box you don't even own.

Great! So it will be like it used to be! (2, Interesting)

Buelldozer (713671) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568658)

I'm old enough to remember when cable came out in Omaha, Nebraska. You had to lease a special cable box with pushbuttons on it that tuned the channels. Eventually everyone got standardized and the various CECs (Consumer Electronics Companies) started building support for the 70 odd "standard" cable channels right into the Televisions and VCRs of the day allowing you to tune pretty much anything without leasing a box from the cable company.

With digital cable the cable companies recreated the same situation they had in the late seventies and early eighties. You have to have the digital box in order to get the digital channels. Which not coincidentally is where they hide most of the "good" channels. Why did they do this? Well, a lot of reasons but trust me when I tell you that the charge for leasing the cable box you need to tune your channels isn't making them feel bad.

With this decision the CECs of the world can get busy putting standardized digital receivers back into Televisions and the DVR. It's about damned time too.

Good for Consumers (1)

adambha (1048538) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568878)

This is basically a monopoly, so opening up the market for this (or any) product creates competition, which generally drives down prices and creates innovation (i.e. new cool features).

Hope this goes for Direct TV! (1)

toy4two (655025) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568884)

Maybe they could come up with something better than the HR20 DVR that Directv is cramming down everyone's throats with a 2 year agreement. It would be nice to use a TIVO Series 3 on Directv.

Open cable, Cable cards, set top boxes (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 7 years ago | (#17568962)

I really can't figure out why the cable companies are so against this. Most people who use DVR functions don't like the DVRs from the cable companies (or the dish companies for that matter), there is a lot of equipment that has to be warehoused and maintained, and there's no indication that there will be rampant theft of service if boxes are sold at Best Buy (there is not much evidence of people stealing Internet service, for example, and the one big example was due to a security hole that should have been plugged long before the cable modems were released anyway). Typically, about 50% of the subscriber base has at least one set top box. The long term for cable companies is that 100% of the televisions connected to a cable system will have a set top box (all digital service). That is an enourmous amount of equipment that has to be bought by the cable company, inventoried by the cable company, installed by the cable company (or fixed when the subscriber doesn't install it correctly), recovered by the cable company, and warehoused by the cable company. 10,000 set top boxes take up a lot of room in the warehouse.

Now compare that to the cable card: you buy a set top box. You take it home and call the cable company. They come out and make sure the signal is OK (at least they should), install a PCMCIA-like card in the back, show you what channels you get, and if it doesn't work, well, that's your problem. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you stop by the cable company office on the way home with your new box and pick up a cable card.

The cable cards are kept in a large safe in the back of the office. The office manager and GM get bigger offices. The extra warehouse guys start doing installs. Live, while not good, is getting better.

All this is possible now with one way cards. When the second part of OpenCable is implemented (2 way cards, DOCSIS communications) you will see set tops in the stores. Hopefully it will be very soon. Comcast is fighting this because the back office stuff isn't ready... In fact I don't know that any equipment is certified for Opencable at this time. The TiVO box might be, but I'm not sure, and I think might not be due to the fact that there's no equipment to test it on. And don't forget the billing systems...

Free Me from Scientific Atlanta! (3, Informative)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569002)

I've had to endure the worst version ever for these damned Scientific Atlanta cable boxes. I use them with standalone TiVo boxes, but I've had to disable Suggestions and pad all recordings by a minute before and after just to get them to work with the latest update forced upon me by Time Warner Cable.

It's all about their new guide data system. Now, if you try to change the channel at the hour or half hour when the channel you're leaving has another show coming on, the data update can throw out some or all of the digits your TiVo sent to the box so you are left on the same channel or tuned to the wrong channel, both cases recording the wrong show.

But that's not the worst of it! Another failure mode is the cable box crashing, restarting, and staying off until you physically press the power button again. *Every* *single* *Wednesday* *morning* the box crashes as a result of TiVo recording their Teleworld Paid Program without any padding and I have to make sure to turn them back on again before I go to work.

Further, I've had it crash twice on HBO without an attempt to change channels, both right after the last two episodes of Real Time, so even if I could find a way to bias the TiVo by 5-10 seconds to avoid the critical window, spontaneous crashes will still occur!

Time Warner Cable is completely unsympathetic and doesn't give a damn about my complaints, not even to roll back my boxes to a functioning revision. I'd go buy a Series3 and get two unidirectional cable cards if I could afford it now and had assurance that the same glitch won't follow me to those cards. (I don't give a damn about PPV or other OnDemand programming and have thought about putting a unidirectional trap on the line to keep my boxes from requesting their guide data.)

I'm even considering switching to DirecTV, even though I've seen how much they compress the hell out of animated programming to practical unwatchability.

I'm not sure I can even last until July when I can (theoretically) get my own cable box and return their buggy units.

Re:Free Me from Scientific Atlanta! (2, Interesting)

CheSera (176903) | more than 7 years ago | (#17569258)

Oddly enough, none of your described symptoms have much to do with the code. The current approved code is 1.4.2 for Sara (SciAtl) boxes. The idea of the box crashing every single wednesday, due to a recording, really can't have much to do with it. I assume you've swapped your cable box out? The one real advantage you have here is the ability to get a new one for free, so if you haven't yet, do so. The Tivo can't really cause the SA box to crash, since its just going to communicate via an IR transmitter, which the box will just view as the remote control. Honestly this sounds like bad hardware, but it could be a bug. But i've had to deal with the SA boxes a lot lately, and I haven't heard anything like this at all.

Cable TV is for lamos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17569220)

I just hope the suckers keep paying so my cable internet prices stay low. Who watches TV, I mean force fed advertisements, anymore?
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