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How The Cable Industry Plans to Cheat 10+ Million HDTV Owners-an HD GURUâ„¢ Investigative Report

April 15th, 2008 · 14 Comments · DVR, LCD Flat Panel, Plasma

April 15, 2008
In 1996 Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, which included a provision requiring cable companies to move cable security (descrambling) to external devices. The purpose was to break the cablebox duopoly and to open up a competitive market for cableboxes, as well as for televisions with built-in cable tuning and descrambling capabilities.

The external device was given the name CableCARD. The TV makers quickly responded by building over 10.1 million HDTVs with CableCARD slots through 2007 and has plans to add another 4.87 M+ HDTVs in 2008 (Consumer Electronics Association forecast). For the first time, consumers (with a CableCARD ready set) could hang a flat panel on the wall and watch all subscribed to standard and premium cable content without the extra wires and a shelf required for a cablebox. Now the cable industry has begun to roll out its plan to disable at least part of the content accessible to the CableCARD in CableCARD equipped HDTVs!

Time-Warner and Cablevision have announced they are adding a new technology to their systems that will keep CableCARD ready HDTVs from receiving a number of HD channels. Furthermore, a cable industry source told the HD Guru that all of the major cable providers will be incorporating this new system called “Switched Digital Video” (SDV) into their respective areas over the next few years. The result will be that the extra money consumers spent for the convenience of CableCARD ready HDTVs will have been wasted!

How did this occur? After Congress passed the telecommunications law, the FCC was put in charge of getting the cable and consumer electronics industry to incorporate it. The FCC granted the cable providers several delays, and when they ran out, the FCC allowed the cable industry to approve a limited function CableCARD that is unidirectional, preventing consumers to access video-on-demand (VOD) or impulse pay per view programming. The cable industry was also required to add CableCARD slots to their own cable boxes, but miraculously, its own boxes, (with over 90%) supplied by either Cisco (formally known as Scientific Atlanta) or Motorola, maintain the bi-directional functionality needed for impulse pay per view and VOD (and coincidentally SDV). The Cable industry got to maintain a two class system, one level of functionality for consumers that wanted cable tuning built into an HDTV and a higher level for consumers that chose to rent (at higher cost) a cable box from the provider, effectively bypassing Congress’ intent to open up a competitive market.

This one-way/two-way issue, is the reason you will lose HD programming if you continue to use a CableCARD in your television. The cable industry’s current systems lack the bandwidth to allow them to keep adding new HDTV channels. With satellite providers Dish Network and DirecTV promising over 100 HD channels by year’s end, the cable industry says they need to increase its capacity and “Switched Digital Video” allows them to add more channels without expanding their systems. However, once your cable provider enables SDV, any channel that is “switched” will be blacked out to consumers using a CableCARD in their HDTVs.

What’s The cable industry’s response? They claimed in November 2007 that through its testing, standards, and research arm called “Cablelabs” it has developed a “Tuning Adapter” that will allow CableCARD devices such as HDTVs and HD TiVos to continue to receive all subscribed HDTV channels. Here is an excerpt for the press release “The adapter will work on any (CableCARD) Unidirectional Digital Cable Ready Product (UDCP) that has a USB connector and necessary firmware. The cable industry is working with TiVo to ensure that installation of CableCARDs and the adapter will be easy and seamless for the consumer.” The press release goes on to say it will be available in the 2nd quarter of 2008.

Now for the reality. The HD Guruâ„¢ has surveyed several makers of CableCARD ready sets, and all said their sets were never designed to add such a device and even if their respective sets have USB ports, they will not be able to accept such an adapter.

So this leaves only the owners of high definition TiVo DVRs. The adapter device should work with HD TiVos, however, according to a Cisco spokesperson, its version is now undergoing testing at Cablelabs and is not expected to be released until sometime this summer. A Motorola source would not provide any status or a release date, likely missing the promised availability in the second quarter 2008.

So you now own a CableCARD HDTV, what will happen to you and what can you do about it? I contacted Cablevision, a NY metro cable provider for answers.

Cablevision will begin its rollout of SDV beginning April 15, 2008. CableCARD users will immediately lose all of Cablevision’s 15 HD Voom channels which represent one-third of all its high definition channels. (Are more HD channels going away? I could not get a response) Cablevision has offered current CableCARD subscribers a Cisco HD cablebox for one year without charge to maintain receiving all of its HD channels. After the year you must pay $6.95/month for the box. (Its CableCARD rental fee is less than $2 a month). If you want to hold on to your CableCARD, you will pay the same subscription fee as you did last month, no discount for the lost channels, one heck of a deal.

If you own a CableCARD HDTV and are not happy with this, the HD Guru™ suggests you file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, they have complaint forms at their website http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html . You should also write a complaint to your Representive (find him/her at https://forms.house.gov/wyr/welcome.shtml) and your state’s US Senators. They are the ones that passed the Telecommunications Act.

Copyright ©2008 Gary Merson/HD Guru™. All rights reserved. The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission.

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • MRS LAUREL J INTRIERI

    I JUST PURCHASED A PASONIC T.V. ..HI DEF.
    ALL THIS MUMBO JUMBLE IS WAY OVER MY HEAD.
    WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME IS THAT I SEE LITTLE RECTANGULAR SHAPES ALMOST EVERY TIME I CHANGE CHNLS AND IT ALSO APPEARS ON THE SITES EVEN DURING THE PIC.

    I HAVE A FRIEND WHO IS INTO THIS ELECTRONIC FIELD BIG TIME AND HE EXPLAINED THAT I AM ONE IN ABOUT 40 PER CENT OF THE POPULATION THAT CAN SEE THIS…

    SOME OF MY PICS ARE BLURRED, AND I GO INTO THE KIT AND TURN ON MY LITTLE $100 SET, SAME CHNL AND GET A CLEAR PIC….

    THEY HAVE MADE A MESS OF MY SET, I NO LONGER ENJOY T.V…..I’M IN THE HOLE HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS FOR A “TOY” I CAN NOT ENJOY.

  • Glenn

    Certification just completed for the Cisco and Motorola Tuning Adapters/Resolvers. Motorola’s now isn’t expected to ship until 4Q08, a delay of 6 months from the original “expedited” date which was obviously just bull. Don’t be surprised if these deploy very slowly and you can’t get one in your area for a year or more.

  • Debra Brown

    This doesn’t suprise me at all. Comcast cable is the one who offered me internet for $19.00 a month for three months. When I hooked it up, they realized they were mistaken. They could give me a deal afterwards for $39.00 a month. Oh but when the bill came in I called them and they stated that they could not do it for 39. It would have to be $59.00. The price changed twice after it was hooked up. SUPRISE!!
    You know what? Stealing is stealing in any form. At&t did the same thing with some phone service. It is getting disgusting out there.

  • Ken

    Well I love my cable card so I guess its going to be goodbye Cox Cable and hello Verizon Fios

  • Baylink

    > supplied by either Cisco (formally know as Scientific Atlanta)

    Um, does that mean “formerly known”?

    Really: spelling and grammar? Important. Especially if you’re going to elevate your blogging to the exhalted status of “investigative report”.

    (Much less ‘Guru’. Plonk)

  • Derrik Pates

    Not exactly accurate to say that consumer-electronics vendors “chose” to produce unidirectional devices. CableLabs tried to force OCAP on the consumer electronics vendors, who didn’t want any part of it – they’d have had to make far more expensive equipment, and would be limited to writing software in Java (the OCAP subset of it anyway) and thus have far less flexibility in determining their own futures. Fortunately TiVo managed to eke out a compromise; the tuning resolver is a byproduct of that (they got TiVo to back the tweaked OCAP, now tru2way, instead of DCR+, in exchange for a solution allowing the installed base of UDCR-equipped TiVos to work with SDV).

  • Dave Zatz

    Hey Mike, Drop me a line some time. I’d like to chat. davezatz@yahoo.com

  • Mike Schwartz

    Your article above has a few errors. We have entwined comments into the text of your article below. Contact me at the above email address and I’ll be happy to send you an email which contains the same info but would make more clear the distinctions between our comments and your article.

    In 1996 Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, which included a provision requiring cable companies to move cable security (descrambling) to external devices. The purpose was to break the cablebox duopoly and to open up a competitive market for cableboxes, as well as for televisions with built-in cable tuning and descrambling capabilities.

    The external device was given the name CableCARD. The TV makers quickly responded by building over 10.1 million HDTVs with CableCARD slots through 2007 and has plans to add another 4.87 M+ HDTVs in 2008 (Consumer Electronics Association forecast).

    As of March 19th, the total number of actual subscribers using CableCARDs with retail products is only 347,000 units based on reports by the ten largest cable operators who serve 90% of the cable subscribers. http://www.ncta.com/DocumentBinary.aspx?id=717

    For the first time, consumers (with a CableCARD ready set) could hang a flat panel on the wall and watch all subscribed to standard and premium cable content without the extra wires and a shelf required for a cablebox. Now the cable industry has begun to roll out its plan to disable at least part of the content accessible to the CableCARD in CableCARD equipped HDTVs!

    Actually, nothing is being “disabled”. These sets were never intended or designed to receive content that requires a two-way connection. Content available on cable networks is changing all the time. New services are added, some are redesigned and others are removed.

    Time-Warner and Cablevision have announced they are adding a new technology to their systems that will keep CableCARD ready HDTVs from receiving a number of HD channels. Furthermore, a cable industry source told the HD Guru that all of the major cable providers will be incorporating this new system called “Switched Digital Video” (SDV) into their respective areas over the next few years. The result will be that the extra money consumers spent for the convenience of CableCARD ready HDTVs will have been wasted!

    Actually, this SDV technology is designed to expand the range of services offered by cable operators, not reduce them. This new technology will enable cable operators to add a virtually unlimited number of new services – services that are very specialized or designed for niche audiences. These services will include both HD and SD programming. Unfortunately many CE companies chose to implement receivers that lack the necessary circuitry to provide a full two-way cable experience with the CableCARD. Since those unidirectional receivers are not able to support many of the advanced features and services available on digital cable systems today, the FCC had enough foresight to mandate that the manufacturer properly label the product accordingly so that consumers of these products are not disappointed. If the consumer is dissatisfied with he limited functionality of those sets, they should complain to the manufacturer. [CFR Title 47 part15.123]. The other option, available to all CEs, is to build a fully capable tru2way device that will ensure subscribers can receive not only today’s cable services, but also tomorrows innovations.

    How did this occur? After Congress passed the telecommunications law, the FCC was put in charge of getting the cable and consumer electronics industry to incorporate it. The FCC granted the cable providers several delays, and when they ran out, the FCC allowed the cable industry to approve a limited function CableCARD that is unidirectional, preventing consumers to access video-on-demand (VOD) or impulse pay per view programming. The cable industry was also required to add CableCARD slots to their own cable boxes, but miraculously, its own boxes, (with over 90%) supplied by either Cisco (formally know as Scientific Atlanta) or Motorola, maintain the bi-directional functionality needed for impulse pay per view and VOD (and coincidentally SDV). The Cable industry got to maintain a two class system, one level of functionality for consumers that wanted cable tuning built into an HDTV and a higher level for consumers that chose to rent (at higher cost) a cable box from the provider, effectively bypassing Congress’ intent to open up a competitive market.

    Not exactly. It really happed like this: In response to the 1996 Telecom Act, the FCC required the Cable industry to offer removable security cards available for subscribers who requested them for retail devices built to the CableCARD standard. The FCC was specifically mandated NOT to prohibit Cable Operators from being able to also offer their STBs. The cable industry defined and delivered the required removable security CableCARDs (at the time called POD modules) by the July 2000 deadline after investing millions in the project. However since there was no mandate by the FCC on consumer products, there were no retail products produced to make use of CableCARDs.
    Notwithstanding the lack of precedent in the 1996 Telecom Act, the FCC moved to ban the use of “integrated” security in Cable operator set-top boxed in the name of “common reliance” (which phrase does not appear anywhere in the law or regulations); Cable Operators would have to use separable CableCARDs instead. This requirement was enforced as of July 2007, forcing the cable industry to pay over $600 million to redesign their set-top-box products in a way that offers no benefit to subscribers. The cable industry met this requirement and in the 9 months since has successfully deployed over 4,184,000 operator-supplied set-top boxes with CableCARDs (recall the CE industry has only produced about 347,000 units to date). Now that is some “common reliance” insurance policy.
    The same CableCARDs are used by both consumer products and operator-supplied boxes. The CableCARDs have always been capable of providing two-way services, but the manufacturers of UDCP products chose to design and sell products that lacked the two-way features needed to fully support advanced digital cable services. The first fully two-way cable-ready consumer product was certified by CableLabs in August 2005. [Press Release]

    This one-way/two-way issue, is the reason you will lose HD programming if you continue to use a CableCARD in your television. The cable industry’s current systems lack the bandwidth to allow them to keep adding new HDTV channels. With satellite providers Dish Network and DirecTV promising over 100 HD channels by year’s end, the cable industry says they need to increase its capacity and “Switched Digital Video” allows them to add more channels without expanding their systems. However, once your cable provider enables SDV, any channel that is “switched” will be blacked out to consumers using a CableCARD in their HDTVs.

    What’s The cable industry’s response? They claimed in November 2007 that through its testing, standards, and research arm called “Cablelabs” it has developed a “Tuning Adapter” that will allow CableCARD devices such as HDTVs and HD TiVos to continue to receive all subscribed HDTV channels. Here is an excerpt for the press release “The adapter will work on any (CableCARD) Unidirectional Digital Cable Ready Product (UDCP) that has a USB connector and necessary firmware. The cable industry is working with TiVo to ensure that installation of CableCARDs and the adapter will be easy and seamless for the consumer.” The press release goes on to say it will be available in the 2nd quarter of 2008.

    Now for the reality. The HD Guruâ„¢ has surveyed several makers of CableCARD ready sets, and all said their sets were never designed to add such a device and even if their respective sets have USB ports, they will not be able to accept such an adapter.

    Perhaps the Guru asked the wrong questions? No product was ever originally designed to work with this new Tuning Adaptor including the exiting Tivo UDPC products. In order for them to work, they will need new firmware to connect to this new device. Think of this new firmware as the installation of a USB driver. Since consumer products don’t use Microsoft Windows, they don’t have plug-in drivers. Instead a new firmware update is needed to include the necessary driver controls to interact with this new external device. Makers of any existing UDCPs that already have a USB port (there are many) are just as able to provide new firmware as Tivo, if they chose to do so.

    So this leaves only the owners of high definition TiVo DVRs. The adapter device should work with HD TiVos, however, according to a Cisco spokesperson, its version is now undergoing testing at Cablelabs and is not expected to be released until sometime this summer. A Motorola source would not provide any status or a release date, likely missing the promised availability in the second quarter 2008.

    Q2 includes a portion of “this summer”.

    So you now own a CableCARD HDTV, what will happen to you and what can you do about it? I contacted Cablevision, a NY metro cable provider for answers.

    Cablevision will begin its rollout of SDV beginning April 15, 2008. CableCARD users will immediately lose all of Cablevision’s 15 HD Voom channels which represent one-third of all its high definition channels. (Are more HD channels going away? I could not get a response) Cablevision has offered current CableCARD subscribers a Cisco HD cablebox for one year without charge to maintain receiving all of its HD channels. After the year you must pay $6.95/month for the box. (Its CableCARD rental fee is less than $2 a month). If you want to hold on to your CableCARD, you will pay the same subscription fee as you did last month, no discount for the lost channels, one heck of a deal.

    If you own a CableCARD HDTV and are not happy with this, the HD Guru™ suggests you file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, they have complaint forms at their website http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html . You should also write a complaint to your Representive (find him/her at https://forms.house.gov/wyr/welcome.shtml) and your state’s US Senators. They are the ones that passed the Telecommunications Act.

    Instead, complaints should really be directed to the manufacturer of the products that lack the necessary two-way circuitry to fully interact with advanced cable systems. Instead consumers should look for products identified as to ensure they will be able to get all the new and advanced services their digital cable systems can deliver.

  • Wrong Comments on One-Way verses Two-Way

    HD Guru’s comments on One-Way are false. The CableCARD’a have always been a 2-way capable device.S-Card’s and M-Card’s. The CE industry is the one who chose to give their devices only 1-Way capability.The Cable Industry told the CE industry that they were already deplying 2-Way services when the Plug and Play rules were being written. The Cable Industry’s boxes have been 2-way since they started deployng them years ago.

  • Maurice

    This is absolutely unacceptable. Day after day, the average consumer continuously receives the fetid shaft, straight from the a of the corporations. The reason this continues to go on is because we are complacent sheeple. Apparently, we enjoy losing our freedom… War on Terror – ha!

  • Robert

    Can I ask for a credit for the HD channels I”m paying for and not getting. And or file a class action law suite??????

  • Mike Scott

    Of course, the offer of free STB rental doesn’t do much for CableCARD DVR owners, who are used to being able to tune and timeshift every channel to which they subscribe (except VOD).

  • TS

    Oceanic Time Warner Hawaii is doing exactly this, using SDV to push sales of their terrible HD cable boxes and enforcing a block out of CableCARD users.

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