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Where BusinessWeek Got It Wrong

Did you happen to read Steve Wildstrom’s set-top story today in BusinessWeek? Unfortunately, it fails to mention a few key facts.

Wildstrom segues into a discussion of CableCARDs by talking about how much he hates his Motorola hardware. He explains he’s fed up because “the program guide is awful, I can’t search for shows, the hard drive is too small, and the remote often fails to respond.” Know what? None of those complaints has anything to do with Motorola’s technology.

Motorola does not make the software that is delivered on its hardware (at least not in the U.S.), and the amount of hard drive space included is directly related to keeping the cost of the hardware down for the many, many consumers who don’t want to spend more than a few bucks a month on a set-top.

Do I agree that the software interface could be better? Always room for improvement. Am I glad that retail innovation is likely to spur operators to do more with set-top UIs and even add new set-top features? Yup. But does Motorola deserve top-paragraph blame for why Mr. Wildstrom is not happy with his TV experience? No way.

Wonder if the Motorola set-tops are actually as good from a hardware perspective as I think they are? Consider that the top operators in the country (not to mention the world) have selected to deploy Motorola’s hardware, including Comcast, Verizon (people love the FiOS 2.0 interface) and AT&T. Even with the bigger choice in hardware provided by CableCARDs, Comcast recently committed to a multi-year purchase agreement for next-generation Motorola set-tops. I doubt it’s cause their executives enjoy sitting down to lunch with their Motorola account reps.

By the way, know who’s making CableCARDs possible so consumers can have a choice about what set-tops they use? Among others, Motorola is currently shipping single-stream and multi-stream CableCARDs by the boatload.

8 Responses

  1. Sure Moto helped bring CableCARDs to market, but they are also partly responsible for dragging their feet on CC 2.0.

    I would love to see a post by you, explaining what could possibly be so difficult, about making 2-way features possible for 3rd party vendors. Other than Moto’s desire to lock their customers (the MSOs) into using their boxes after purchasing Moto’s head-end.

    Long time fan of the blog btw, keep up the good work.

  2. Ben- Great starting point for a whole other discussion. I have some off-the-top answers, like the fact that this CableCARD 2.0 stuff is not easy and that there are actually benefits to Motorola in opening up the market, but I want to bring in the big guns. Stay tuned.

  3. Ben – It’s not as black and white as you surmise. To point the finger at Moto and accuse them of “dragging their feet” on CC 2.0 is somewhat disingenuous. Moto helped lay much of the groundwork for CableLabs development and adoption of an OpenCable standard, from One Way CC 1.0 to M-Card CC 2.0. Much of the problem lies with getting the 3rd party CE manufactures online with adopting the standard and implementing it into their products, submitting to CableLabs for certification, and bringing them to market. You really get into this whole chicken and egg scenario where CE manufacturers want to see a finished CC 2.0 “product” and POD manufacturers (Moto, SA, etc) want to see a finished portable host.

  4. Actually I had a similar conversation with two developers of software for the Motorola DCT-6XXX series boxes. This was about 3 years ago but both said the HW was a big factor, in the responsiveness issues I was raising. They described enough detail about command ACKs etc they were having trouble with that I was convinced. STB development isn’t easy. The Moto boxes are still a wonderful product given the limited resources that can go into the box.

  5. Sean- Whenever possible I try to verify internal Motorola claims (you know, the kool-aid I drink) with independent sources. A recent conversation with an independent software developer confirmed for me that the set-tops are top-notch hardware. This doesn’t prove anything, but I found it a useful data point from outside the Motorola walls. Also, consider that AT&T also uses Motorola hardware and responsiveness (at least fast channel changing) there is essentially a non-issue.

    It will be interesting to see how OCAP changes the cable set-top software development landscape.

  6. Mari,

    Good point on the AT&T IPTV stuff. Obviously Microsoft is capable of writing stuff on those STBs. I think though that you’ll find those STBs are different, and that Microsoft actually required a lot more hardware to gets its UI working reasonably. Which as you point out, the cable MSOs have not done.

    Nevertheless the fact that the cable MSOs don’t want to pay much for your hardware doesn’t change the fact that your hardware is partly responsible for the lousy performance of typical US cable UIs.

    We’ll see if the Tivo on MOT stuff is any better. If it is, you’ll be truly in the clear. If it isn’t, your argument will look a little doubtful.

    p.s. If you think that all those MOT head ends and Digicypher encryption systems that locked in the cable MSOs to MOT a long time ago have nothing to do with them ordering more boxes from MOT, you’re dreaming. Its not (just) that MOT makes great hardware.

  7. The thing is, whether it’s Moto’s fault or not, their name is on the box. They should be working harder with their partners to deliver a customer experience that doesn’t suck. I have a Comcast Moto 6412 that simply cannot figure out how not to record multiple instances of the same program, gets stuck in FF or REW, often becomes sluggish in responding to inputs via the guide, often fail to record programs and, and, and, and… It’s a crappy experience for an end-user. You can call Tivo a cartoony AOL-like interface, but my DirecTivo boxes ran flawlessly, never failed to record what I asked them to and didn’t make me scream at the remote control. Fair or not, that’s the bar by which Moto is being measured.

  8. […] yes, this does mean a shift from the Motorola message that “We do the hardware, not the software.” Although, it’s important to recognize that this […]

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