CableLabs put out a release earlier this week on a new device to give retail CableCARD devices access to switched digital video services. And folks have been clamoring for details ever since. (Dave, Jeff, that means you…)
Here’s what I found out.
First, the cable industry is moving quickly. As much as consumers don’t want to lose access to switched content, cable operators don’t want to lose customers as a result of the move to a switched platform. Motorola started working with CableLabs in July on a technology solution, and as of two weeks ago in an Interop with TiVo, already had a prototype device ready and performing well. That’s a four-month turnaround on a new cable device. Virtually unheard of. Motorola has also committed to general availability of the product, called a tuning resolver, by the end of Q2 2008 – essentially six months from now.
As for the device itself, there are a couple of things worth understanding from a technical perspective. The tuning resolver is likely to come directly from cable operators, much like a CableCARD. Why? Because there are huge interoperability challenges being overcome. Any tuning resolver must work with an operator’s conditional access system, switched digital technology and electronic program guide. As mentioned above, Motorola has already done interop tests, but solving these interoperability issues was no mean feat, and every cable operator is going to have to have a solution tailored for its particular network architecture.
There are a lot of people asking what the tuning resolver will look like and what it will cost. The first part’s easy. Motorola’s tuning resolver will look an awful lot like the famous (in my book) and widely deployed DCT700. As for price, that I can’t really answer. A lot of it will be dependent on volume production.
Lastly, information leaked out yesterday that TiVo is now working with CableLabs on an OpenCable product. In theory this would negate the need for a tuning resolver in TiVo’s case. However, how quickly TiVo could move forward with an OCAP product is unclear, and there are still existing TiVo and other CableCARD devices in consumer homes now that won’t be able to access switched digital services without a tuning resolver.
Last, last note – the tuning resolver does not currently support VOD services, but I’m told it’s not an unreasonable assumption to believe that it might in the future.