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Old 07-24-2012, 02:06 PM   #1
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How Big Cable killed the open set-top box

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2...o-do-about-it/

Discuss. Do you think we'll ever see 3rd party boxes that can do everything a cable company provided box can do?
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Old 07-24-2012, 04:16 PM   #2
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... The first-generation standard, called CableCARD, included a DRM scheme that required device manufacturers to submit to a burdensome certification process run by CableLabs, a consortium of cable companies.

AND

...the companies developing the standards had a vested interest in seeing [3rd party STB manufacturers] fail. Cable incumbents prefer to have customers use their own proprietary set-top boxes. This gives them maximum control over the customer experience—and, as a consequence, maximum influence over the customer's wallet. ... .
This hits the nail on the head, IMO.

I'm not familiar with the FCC regs, but I thought they only required that 3rd party STB's have access to what you pay for (i.e. your regular channels).

That means, NO SOUP VOD for YOU!
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Old 07-24-2012, 07:03 PM   #3
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Right now, I don't care that I don't get VoD, or anything i can't currently get via TiVo. Eventually, I would bet any money that there will be services launched that will deliver original content only via VoD. At that point, I'll be interested in looking for an alternative. Hopefully, by that point, there will be more pressure on the MSOs to open up to third party equipment.

(Actually, I'm rather surprised that a VoD-only service hasn't launched already. I'm rather convinced that we are in the latter days of the linear programming era, and that before long, *all* TV programming will be VoD. You will turn on your TV at night and get not a live program, but a menu allowing you to choose from that night's premiere VoD content.)
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Old 07-24-2012, 07:47 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by LoadStar
Right now, I don't care that I don't get VoD, or anything i can't currently get via TiVo. Eventually, I would bet any money that there will be services launched that will deliver original content only via VoD. At that point, I'll be interested in looking for an alternative. Hopefully, by that point, there will be more pressure on the MSOs to open up to third party equipment.

(Actually, I'm rather surprised that a VoD-only service hasn't launched already. I'm rather convinced that we are in the latter days of the linear programming era, and that before long, *all* TV programming will be VoD. You will turn on your TV at night and get not a live program, but a menu allowing you to choose from that night's premiere VoD content.)
Actually it has already launched about 5 years ago. There's been a number of "channels" (like Boomerang) in my Comcast area that can only be gotten via VOD. Comcast is also starting to remove the HD versions of multiple Premium channels (HBO2HD, HBOZoneHD, etc) and telling customers to use VOD to view them.

See http://www.dslreports.com/forum/r273...ll-be-removed-
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Old 07-24-2012, 08:38 PM   #5
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Actually it has already launched about 5 years ago. There's been a number of "channels" (like Boomerang) in my Comcast area that can only be gotten via VOD. Comcast is also starting to remove the HD versions of multiple Premium channels (HBO2HD, HBOZoneHD, etc) and telling customers to use VOD to view them.

See http://www.dslreports.com/forum/r273...ll-be-removed-
Well, all those examples are still linear services, just not in your area. I was thinking of either a brand new, ground up, VoD only service, or an existing linear channel making a complete transition to exclusively VoD.

Either way, for right now, it hasn't really happened yet that I'm aware of, but we're very close I think.
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Old 07-24-2012, 08:44 PM   #6
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I am surprised they didn't at least mention Tivo in this article. Tivo is by far the most advanced third party box out there and now it even has access to Comcast OnDemand. Comcast did a good thing for a change and deserves a little credit regardless of the underlying motive.

I prefer the cable companies continue to resist. They are shooting themselves in the foot. Their resistance to change has opened the door for Smart TV's, Roku, Apple TV, etc. People are finding less and less reason to even subscribe to cable.
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Old 07-24-2012, 09:17 PM   #7
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Actually it has already launched about 5 years ago. There's been a number of "channels" (like Boomerang) in my Comcast area that can only be gotten via VOD. Comcast is also starting to remove the HD versions of multiple Premium channels (HBO2HD, HBOZoneHD, etc) and telling customers to use VOD to view them.

See http://www.dslreports.com/forum/r273...ll-be-removed-
But (1) Tivo is starting to support VOD, and (2) you should complain to the FCC that your cable company is violating their requirement.
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Old 07-25-2012, 01:30 AM   #8
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And US households would have to spend hundreds of dollars just for 3rd party boxes, and no hope of free equipment that provides service to those who would otherwise just plain could not afford it. Satellite provided competition to cable, finally, but ONLY after equipment provided for FREE, the cable model. Back in the days when you had to put up your own $500 for a sat system with just one box, no such giving cable a run for it's money.

Sorry, but there are pro-consumer advantages to MVPD's providing FREE equipment because if 3rd party were AFFORDABLE, maybe everyone would have a TiVo, but it isn't about the faulty, cumbersome cable card that keeps the vast majority of families away from 3rd party boxes (the masses are CLUELESS about such things), it is the COST, and it is a very big cost just for ONE box compared to the give-away of cable. Sorry, but it is the economics that kills the 3rd party box. I can't get people past the cost of a TiVo to even have them consider it as an alternative, and we haven't even touched on the problems of the cable card. They just keep telling me the deal breaker is the cost.
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Old 07-25-2012, 04:32 AM   #9
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$99 is the deal breaker? OK, its not for everyone then.
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Old 07-25-2012, 08:17 AM   #10
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C'mon, people don't want to pay monthly for Tivo either especially when cable will often throw in a free HD DVR for xx months as part of a promo. And it's $149 now, not $99.

And nobody wants to do the math and figure out a Tivo with lifetime will pay for itself in 3 years or so vs. renting (not even counting resale), they just don't want to pay for it upfront.
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Old 07-25-2012, 08:29 AM   #11
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Sorry, but there are pro-consumer advantages to MVPD's providing FREE equipment because if 3rd party were AFFORDABLE, maybe everyone would have a TiVo, but it isn't about the faulty, cumbersome cable card that keeps the vast majority of families away from 3rd party boxes (the masses are CLUELESS about such things), it is the COST, and it is a very big cost just for ONE box compared to the give-away of cable. Sorry, but it is the economics that kills the 3rd party box. I can't get people past the cost of a TiVo to even have them consider it as an alternative, and we haven't even touched on the problems of the cable card. They just keep telling me the deal breaker is the cost.
Replace cable company with AT&T and cable box with phone. That was the case until the 1980's when the Government broke up AT&T and made it legal for people to buy their own phone. Prior to that AT&T gave people a phone when they signed up for service and people couldn't buy their own phone. Image if after that, the phone companies colluded together to make it such that phones they provided worked better than "3rd party phones".

That seems ridiculous in hindsight, but I don't see why cable companies still trying to force you to get a cable box from them is any different. I also don't see why anyone would defend them. If you thing that FREE equipment that MVPDs are providing is really free, I have some great ocean side land in Nevada to sell you.
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Old 07-25-2012, 09:12 AM   #12
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And US households would have to spend hundreds of dollars just for 3rd party boxes, and no hope of free equipment that provides service to those who would otherwise just plain could not afford it. Satellite provided competition to cable, finally, but ONLY after equipment provided for FREE, the cable model. Back in the days when you had to put up your own $500 for a sat system with just one box, no such giving cable a run for it's money.

Sorry, but there are pro-consumer advantages to MVPD's providing FREE equipment because if 3rd party were AFFORDABLE, maybe everyone would have a TiVo, but it isn't about the faulty, cumbersome cable card that keeps the vast majority of families away from 3rd party boxes (the masses are CLUELESS about such things), it is the COST, and it is a very big cost just for ONE box compared to the give-away of cable. Sorry, but it is the economics that kills the 3rd party box. I can't get people past the cost of a TiVo to even have them consider it as an alternative, and we haven't even touched on the problems of the cable card. They just keep telling me the deal breaker is the cost.
I hope you work for a cable company and don't really believe what you wrote.

There is no such thing as "Free" equipment.

It costs cable companies about the same to buy DVRs as it does to buy a TiVo. Several years ago Motorola DVRs cost about $450 when purchased in bulk lots and the cable company had to provide costumer support.

If cable/satellite companies were required to break out the true cost of equipment and not allowed to hide that cost by rolling it into the cost of content, then third party device popularity would be based on actual competition with consumers having the ability to choice the combination of cost and features they wanted.

The reality is that cable/satellite companies have a real economic incentive to lock out third party devices, because third party devices can provide alternative content to what the cable/satellite company is selling and could even make it easier to switch between content providers.

It really is that simple.
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Old 07-25-2012, 09:16 AM   #13
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Replace cable company with AT&T and cable box with phone. That was the case until the 1980's when the Government broke up AT&T and made it legal for people to buy their own phone. Prior to that AT&T gave people a phone when they signed up for service and people couldn't buy their own phone. [Image if after that, the phone companies colluded together to make it such that phones they provided worked better than "3rd party phones"].

That seems ridiculous in hindsight, but I don't see why cable companies still trying to force you to get a cable box from them is any different. I also don't see why anyone would defend them. If you thing that FREE equipment that MVPDs are providing is really free, I have some great ocean side land in Nevada to sell you.
The key point is emphaized in red above. The only way generic 3rd party STB's and DVR's will be successful is if law prevents cable cos. from suppying their own such boxes. Otherwise they will find ways to quietly sabotage the 3rd party equipment's functioning -- as they have done with CableCARD and Tuning Adapters.

As a TiVo/CableCARD/Tuning-Adapter user, I know that the worst part of being a victim of this quiet sabotage is that there is no one you can hold accountable when things malfunction. The cable co and TiVo can easily point the finger at each other, and neither of them really has the sophisticated support structure it would take to diagnose the many tricky problems that can occur with this kluge system.
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Old 07-25-2012, 10:23 AM   #14
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Replace cable company with AT&T and cable box with phone. That was the case until the 1980's when the Government broke up AT&T and made it legal for people to buy their own phone. Prior to that AT&T gave people a phone when they signed up for service and people couldn't buy their own phone. Image if after that, the phone companies colluded together to make it such that phones they provided worked better than "3rd party phones".
It was actually worse than that - AT&T didn't "give" you anything - you rented it. Extensions were extra.

Cable companies used to charge for every outlet. Now they want to charge for every piece of connected equipment.
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Old 07-25-2012, 11:45 AM   #15
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They used to charge for every outlet until the FCC (I believe) said they couldn't do that for analog cable-ready sets. But the FCC dropped the ball on outlet fees when digital came along, and Comcast took full advantage of it.
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Old 07-25-2012, 12:25 PM   #16
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They used to charge for every outlet until the FCC (I believe) said they couldn't do that for analog cable-ready sets. But the FCC dropped the ball on outlet fees when digital came along, and Comcast took full advantage of it.
Don't get me started, but it really has nothing to do with cable-ready or digital vs. analog. They used to charge for every active wall outlet. Didn't matter if you were using it or not. The only way to avoid the charge was to have that outlet disabled. That was what the FCC made then stop doing.

Now, in spite of the name, they are charging for each authorized digital receiver connected to the cable, even if some or all of them are actually on the same physical outlet. The only channels you can access on a fully digital system w/o a box or CableCARD are the clear QAM channels and they want to get rid of those "to reduce theft of service".
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Old 07-25-2012, 02:08 PM   #17
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Channels

You would think the electronic companies selling TV's etc... would have a stake in this. Not very encouraging to have eight or ten flat screens hanging on the walls when you need cable boxes just to get basic channels. I had connections put in the garage, patio, bathroom etc when I built my house so cable has become a pain.
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Old 07-25-2012, 04:41 PM   #18
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... They used to charge for every active wall outlet. Didn't matter if you were using it or not. The only way to avoid the charge was to have that outlet disabled. That was what the FCC made then stop doing.
I think that's because cable could easily be extended by the end user.
AFAIK, the cable company could not tell that you "tapped" the line. They only charged you for the number of outlets they installed for you.

Back when my parents first got cable, they only had one outlet installed. Two cables, A and B tier and you had to use a manual A/B switch to access all the channels. IIRC a cheap cable box (basically just a tuner) was provided, unless you had a "cable ready" TV.
Not only did I learn I could 'extend' the outlet, but that a regular TV tuned the cable channels just fine (I was motivated to get Skinemax cable in my bedroom ). All 83 channels (VHF/UHF) got a channel. Downside was you had to manually map what channel was what (VHF was pretty much left alone, channel 4 was on 4, etc.).


Quote:
Now, in spite of the name, they are charging for each authorized digital receiver connected to the cable, even if some or all of them are actually on the same physical outlet. The only channels you can access on a fully digital system w/o a box or CableCARD are the clear QAM channels and they want to get rid of those "to reduce theft of service".
My example above was exactly what cable companies were trying to prevent. In their eyes, this was theft of service. That hasn't changed. They have always wanted to charge a "per outlet" fee, but since they couldn't prevent people from splitting the cable on their own, it was unfair to charge customers per outlet.
Now that the digital age has come, cable companies have the means and are able to legitimately charge per outlet, so they do.
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Old 07-25-2012, 09:11 PM   #19
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Back when my parents first got cable, they only had one outlet installed. Two cables, A and B tier and you had to use a manual A/B switch to access all the channels. IIRC a cheap cable box (basically just a tuner) was provided, unless you had a "cable ready" TV.
Not only did I learn I could 'extend' the outlet, but that a regular TV tuned the cable channels just fine
Wait, you still had to have TWO devices though, since there were two cables.. right? So you had one TV or VCR for cable A, and one for cable B?
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Old 07-25-2012, 09:18 PM   #20
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Wait, you still had to have TWO devices though, since there were two cables.. right? So you had one TV or VCR for cable A, and one for cable B?
No, that was what the A/B switch was for. There were also some cable boxes that actually had connectors for two cables.
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Old 07-25-2012, 10:08 PM   #21
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No, that was what the A/B switch was for. There were also some cable boxes that actually had connectors for two cables.
Those were common in this area. The cable box automatically switched between both cables.
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Old 07-26-2012, 05:17 AM   #22
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Replace cable company with AT&T and cable box with phone. That was the case until the 1980's when the Government broke up AT&T and made it legal for people to buy their own phone. Prior to that AT&T gave people a phone when they signed up for service and people couldn't buy their own phone. Image if after that, the phone companies colluded together to make it such that phones they provided worked better than "3rd party phones".

That seems ridiculous in hindsight, but I don't see why cable companies still trying to force you to get a cable box from them is any different. I also don't see why anyone would defend them. If you thing that FREE equipment that MVPDs are providing is really free, I have some great ocean side land in Nevada to sell you.
"Prior to that AT&T gave people a phone when they signed up for service and people couldn't buy their own phone."

No, they installed a phone and charged you rent on it every month, but it still belonged to them.
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Old 07-26-2012, 03:41 PM   #23
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"Prior to that AT&T gave people a phone when they signed up for service and people couldn't buy their own phone."

No, they installed a phone and charged you rent on it every month, but it still belonged to them.
That makes it even more like the cable companies.
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Old 07-26-2012, 07:28 PM   #24
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Old 07-26-2012, 07:46 PM   #25
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That makes it even more like the cable companies.
In fairness to the old telephone system, it meant that in the event of a problem, they were dealing with known entities, because the actual piece of hardware in the subscriber's house was one designed and built exactly the way they wanted it, and not some unknown piece of junk from who knows where.

And, of course, back in the day, they could roll over "excess" profits into stuff like Bell Labs, where research could be done that might not pay off until a decade or 3 later, or might not have a direct payoff at all, but stuff like Bell Labs scientists discovering the background radiation of the universe still helped with a general, overall advancement of science and scientific knowledge.
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Old 07-26-2012, 09:52 PM   #26
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No, that was what the A/B switch was for. There were also some cable boxes that actually had connectors for two cables.
No, I realize that.. what I mean is that it sounded like he needed the cable box UNLESS you had a cable ready TV.. But it also had two cables..
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Old 07-26-2012, 11:25 PM   #27
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Interesting. That reminded me to check up on other filings and it turns out that has a recent interesting filing as well.

http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment/view?id=6017097789

They're asking for a waiver from the requirement that their MSO supplied boxes comply with an "open industry standard" by December 1st.

Quote:
(iii) Effective December 1, 2012, ensure that the cable-operator-provided high definition set-top boxes, except unidirectional set-top boxes without recording functionality, shall comply with an open industry standard that provides for audiovisual communications including service discovery, video transport, and remote control command pass-through standards for home networking.
Evidently the problem is that the industry hasn't made public any "open industry standard" and without access to such a standard TiVo can't comply with it. It's not clear whether the cable MSOs and their partners are working on such a thing and plan to just spring it on the public when the time comes or whether they were just going to ignore the requirement and then complain that no standard was set if anyone complains when they don't comply.

Either way, it's smart for TiVo to force the issue and make sure they're covered.
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Old 07-26-2012, 11:42 PM   #28
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Wouldn't it be loverly if the FCC just told TiVo to go ahead and develop the standard and they'd then impose it on everyone?

I know it'll never happen but it'd be nice to have the rumor floated just to see heads explode at Cisco and Motorola.
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Old 07-27-2012, 12:34 AM   #29
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Do you think we'll ever see 3rd party boxes that can do everything a cable company provided box can do?
What does a cable box do that a TiVo Premier doesn't do? Now I've got VoD on the Premier.
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Old 07-27-2012, 01:03 AM   #30
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Sorry, but there are pro-consumer advantages to MVPD's providing FREE equipment because if 3rd party were AFFORDABLE, maybe everyone would have a TiVo, but it isn't about the faulty, cumbersome cable card that keeps the vast majority of families away from 3rd party boxes (the masses are CLUELESS about such things), it is the COST, and it is a very big cost just for ONE box compared to the give-away of cable. Sorry, but it is the economics that kills the 3rd party box. I can't get people past the cost of a TiVo to even have them consider it as an alternative, and we haven't even touched on the problems of the cable card. They just keep telling me the deal breaker is the cost.
TiVos and other third party devices would be far more attractive is the Cable companies weren't lying about their equipment costs and thus low-balling the customer owned equipment credit.
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