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There is no CableCARD 2.0

Ben Drawbaugh

With the July 1st CableCARD mandate right around the corner, we have really wanted to know how the cable companies are going to continue to provide VOD -- and other bi-directional services -- without CableCARD 2.0. Thanks to our friend Mari over at ConnectedHome2Go, we got to spend some time with Mark DePietro, the Vice President of Strategy of Motorola Home and Networks Mobility, and he filled us in on some details about CableCARDs. The most shocking thing we learned was: there is no such thing as a CableCARD 2.0 -- it's a standard, not a physical device.

Currently 3rd party CableCARD devices hosts can't get certified by CableLabs for bi-directional (CC 2.0) uses, but it isn't the hardware that is holding up the works, but the standard. The CEA and NCTA just can't come to an agreement about what should be required for bi-directional certification. According to Mark, the reason is complicated, and his understanding is that it has a lot to do with OCAP. If we had to guess, we'd say that the CEA is on our side, but honestly we just don't know. Until this happens, it means no VOD or SDV for CableCARD host devices -- like the TiVo Series3.

On July 1st, 2007, cable companies all over the US will deploy bi-directional capable CableCARD host devices. They will use the same CableCARDs that are available to everyone, and they will support bi-directional services. These cards -- which are already in the wild -- are also multi-stream cards (M-Card), which means that dual tuner DVRs will only require a single card to authorize content for both tuners. The TiVo Series3 has an M-Card slot (slot 1), but the software isn't there to support it, and Mark's colleague Greg is under the impression that TiVo will be updating the Series3 to resolve this very soon. While it would be nice for Series3 owners to only need one CableCARD, this still will not enable the bi-directional functionality of the card because the Series3 hardware just isn't equipped. TiVo is working to find a solution, but we will just have to wait and see how it turns out.
Motorola CableCARD STBs

One of the other questions we had for Mark, is why are there are so many problems with CableCARDs? He said that Motorola has done a lot to help make them work; not only have they worked with CE manufactures to work out the bugs, but they have even sold head-ends and CableCARDs so they could set up their own labs. In the end it seems that most manufactures have stopped shipping TVs with CableCARD slots, and while no one really seems to know why; we still think it's to reduce the number of customer support calls caused from the cable companies blaming the manufacturer for all the problems. We don't know about anyone elses experience, but in ours, we can tell you that the cable company did whatever it could to convince us not to use a CableCARD.

One thing is for sure, the FCC isn't ready to give up on the OpenCable dream just yet; let's just hope they intervene and get bi-directional CableCARD host support for everyone sooner, rather than later.

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