How does Cable Card authorization work?

Discussion in 'TiVo Coffee House - TiVo Discussion' started by nrnoble, Aug 26, 2020.

  1. nrnoble

    nrnoble Active Member

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    I have two Tivos (Premiere, Bolt) and over the years one or the other has become deauthorized for premium movie channels (HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc), while all other channels remain authorized. Typically I call Comcast to have them remotely do whatever they need to do to re-authorize the missing movie channels.

    Q1: How does the cable card authorization technically work ?
    Q2: Why would only the premium channels be de-authorized when there been no changes to my subscription?
     
  2. Pokemon_Dad

    Pokemon_Dad Ruler of Unown UI

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    @nrnoble I don't know why your cards aren't remaining "paired", and I won't pretend to know exactly how pairing works, but when you lose the premium channels then usually what is happening is the card is working, but it is not paired with your Xfinity/Comcast account.

    Assuming there's nothing wrong with your account on Xfinity's end, I suggest from now on you do this yourself every time and avoid the all-too-common human error on their end, by using this self-service website: XFINITY CableCARD activation & pairing

    If that doesn't work, then there's something wrong on their end. I'll be interested to hear what happens.
     
  3. snerd

    snerd Well-Known Member

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    I believe pairing is a much different issue than losing authorization of premium channels. If the CableCard losing pairing, no channels will work.

    Losing authorization is most likely a screwup of records at Xfinity/Comcast, which re-pairing won't resolve.
     
  4. dianebrat

    dianebrat wait.. I did what? TCF Club

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    Not 100% accurate, without being paired in the CableCO system you will still be able to get any non-encrypted channels should the system offer them.
     
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  5. Pokemon_Dad

    Pokemon_Dad Ruler of Unown UI

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    As @dianebrat says, the cards work on non-premium channels just fine before pairing. I've experienced that several times.

    But you certainly may be right that this is a screwup at Xfinity. In fact, I believe "Xfinity" is just Esperanto for "screwup", no? Heh. That's why I'm interested to find out what happens if he uses the self-serve website.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2020
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  6. morac

    morac Cat God TCF Club

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    I don’t know exactly how CableCards work, but here’s the gist of it.

    Each card has a serial number that is hardwired into the card which is allows the cable company to send messages to that specific card. These messages include if the card is active, what channels the card is allowed to decode and what frequency they are on. These messages are sent periodically automatically, but can also be sent manually. That’s usually referred to “hitting” the card. As long as the card is registered with the cable company and activated, channels you are authorized to view can be viewed with one exception. The card is “activated” if it received a proper authorization message.

    In addition to requiring activation, for channels that are copy protected, there are additional set of pairing numbers that are sent along with the video stream. These are generated by the card and need to be given to the cable company. Copy protected programs (I.e. premium channels) can only be viewed if the pairing numbers sent match the ones received. The numbers shouldn’t change, but they can under certain circumstances such as removing the cards and putting them in another device, clearing program data, cable company screw ups, etc. Giving the cable company the correct pairing numbers is called “pairing”.

    As for why this was done this way, who knows. I guess it prevents you from giving the card to someone else since premium channels won’t work, but really it is just a pain.
     
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  7. morac

    morac Cat God TCF Club

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    I’m not sure that’s exactly correct. All the channels in my area are encrypted so I can’t just connect a cable to my TV with a QAM tuner and get the channels. Even with that I can still get non-copy-protected channels even if my card isn’t paired. So it doesn’t seem to be encrypted vs non-encrypted.
     
  8. mdavej

    mdavej Well-Known Member

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    Depends on the cable system I guess. I know on Spectrum, even though 95% of the channels aren't encrypted, I'll lose ALL of them within 48 hours of losing pairing. On a FIOS system, on the other hand, an upaired card apparently works just fine.

    I think in the OP's case, the card has been disassociated with his account. It happened to me a couple of times out of the blue over the years. Just have to call them up and start from scratch.
     
  9. JoeKustra

    JoeKustra in the other Alabama TCF Club

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    While we are not exactly answering the OP's questions, I want to put my two cents in. I have two cable cards. They were paired and I receive all channels I pay for which are all encrypted. I also have two unencrypted clear QAM channels and my TV and a Premiere tell me I have four vsb channels that are just color bars. I changed hard drives and that unpaired both cards. Last year. No change since I have no premium channels, so the hardware number isn't really used even though they started asking for it a few years ago. My CCI byte is always 0x00. Frequently I receive "free" weekends of HBO, Cinemax and Encore which only means they are sent unencrypted. I'm also receiving a few channels unencrypted due to the virus. Both boxes have a channel list but show "?" in "VAL:". I'm just too lazy to call and pair them again. There's a ton of stuff on the internet about cable cards and pairing. Most is sort of old.

    Yes, I agree a lot depends on the cable system.
     
  10. CommunityMember

    CommunityMember Member

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    The simple answer is "its very complicated". And it also depends on which CableCARD system is being used (SA, Motorola, NDS) in terms of the configurations and how the pairing and entitlement(s) to services work. In all cases, entitlements eventually expire (that time is configurable), but are refreshed with some of the background messages sent in the out of band traffic constantly. The out of band channel is very low bitrate, and tends to be very low reliability, which is one of the reasons the messages are repeatedly sent all the time in the background. However, in some cases, the signal is so poor that the card entitlements will constantly miss the messages, so expire. When one calls the MSO if they do a refresh/hit it sends the messages again and again and again in the hope the card will get them this time (and they generally do). I believe in the Diagnostics menu one can find the OOB SNR. Higher is always better, but if it is in the teens there may be a signal problem (and if you are using a Tuning Adapter, one needs to look at the Tuning Adapters values). However, there are other failure modes. For Motorola's system, one needs to have the entitlements both on the account, and on the card, so if either is somehow missed or confused the authorizations can eventually disappear. It is possible to get things fixed in a Moto system (if you happen to get a really good CSR who knows CableCARDS), but I have found that it is much easier to just swap the card, as it will inherit the correct settings from the account.
     
  11. nrnoble

    nrnoble Active Member

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    Thanks for the information. Not sure if it would make any difference that the Premiere is not the primary Tivo I use, but it runs 24x7. I use the Bolt as my main TiVo UI. The Premiere just records shows for playback on the Bolt and mini. I don't how long this has been an authorization problem because I estimate that I have not accessed the Premiere through the Premiere's UI in over 2 years.
     
  12. HerronScott

    HerronScott Well-Known Member

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    Right, the cable companies were allowed to encrypt all channels including broadcast 8 years ago and Comcast went that route (not sure if that's true for all Comcast areas but it is here in our small town so I'm assuming it's true for a majority of their footprint). Before that we were using an eBay CableCARD to receive the broadcast channels on my son's TiVo when he was home from college for the summer.

    Scott
     
  13. CommunityMember

    CommunityMember Member

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    Initially one needed to request a very specifically justified waiver from the FCC to encrypt everything (and a very few MSOs did). Later there was a request to allow all companies that had converted to all digital to do so in order to eliminate the requirements of truck rules to add/disconnect service (some even used the "think of the children" pollution argument of fewer truck rolls, but there was also the issue that in some locations disconnecting services typically were reverted by the evening (reconnecting cables is not rocket science), and that in some locations it was reportedly problematic to send techs in to disconnect service without escorts), as long as the MSO (at the time of the rule change) offered free or low cost DTA/TV box for a few years as a mitigation for those that had been using the Clear QAM solution. Many of the major companies took advantage of those changes to encrypt everything across most of their locations. Some companies still offer Clear QAM, but they tend to be the smaller players (there is a special exception for FiOS which uses their ONTs for subscriber service management). The requirement for a free DTA/TV box has typically expired, so now a TV box may be a few dollars/mo (your cable company will vary), of which the cost was initially really minimal (I recall something like 50 cents a month at one time), but reportedly went up noticeably on a few MSOs due to a IP licensing demand from a company.
     

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