FCC Chairman Declares No More Blanket CableCARD Waivers

  Comcast Ruling (January 10, 2007)
  Cablevision Ruling (January 10, 2007)
The major U.S. cable companies can no longer avoid deploying cable-card enabled set-top boxes. Most recently Comcast had sought a waiver for set-tops that wouldn't rely on the external CableCARD to house signal-security technology. It argued this waiver would save consumers millions of dollars. Of course, the purpose of the CableCARD mandate is to open free competition, increase set-top innovation and increase consumer choice in set-top products and services such as those offered by TiVo, Microsoft's Media Center software and others without giving a preference to any one supplier/technology. Such a waiver would have given Comcast and its suppliers such a preference.

The cable industry has had seven years, plus two extensions, to separate out the security and and channel surfing functions of cable set-tops. Under the most recent FCC rules, major cable companies must start using CableCARD set-tops, and cease deploying integrated settops, starting July 1, 2007.

Comcast has said it will appeal the decision. 

Sources: MultiChannel News | Broadcasting & Cable | Engadget | ars technica | xchange  Reuters | FCC Press Release | NCTA Response

Discussed here: TiVoCommunity Forum 

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BitTorrent to Purchase µTorrent

With some of the $25m recently raised from investors, BitTorrent, Inc. is set to purchase µTorrent. µTorrent has become an enormously popular, best of breed, BitTorrent client given its very small footprint, efficiency and minimal use of system resources.  µTorrent and Azureus have long eclipsed the original BitTorrent client invented by Bram Cohen. Details of the acquisition have not yet been made public. In an open post to users in the µTorrent Forum, Bram Cohen said:

BitTorrent has acquired µTorrent as it recognized the merits of µTorrent’s exceptionally well-written codebase and robust user community. Bringing together µTorrent’s efficient implementation and compelling UI with BitTorrent’s expertise in networking protocols will significantly benefit the community with what we envision will be the best BitTorrent client.

BitTorrent clients such as these have been enormously controversial as, in conjunction with tracker websites, they have become the primary means by which movies, TV shows and other video content is shared over the Internet since the RIAA and the MPAA successfully shut down most of the major P2P Networks through litigation. 

Production studios have discovered that the technology underlying BitTorrent clients is an enormously efficient method of distributing large files over the Internet and, as you can see from the related posts below, Hollywood has started to embrace this technology as a means of legally distributing movies and TV shows over the Internet.

Sources: Techcrunch | DailyTech | ComputerWorld (IDG) | InfoWorld | MacWorld | Playfuls | P2PNet| Wired Blogs | Announcement/Discussion on µTorrent Forum

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TiVo Continues to Fight the Good Cablecard/Ingegration Ban Fight

More than ten years ago, Congress passed an act requiring cable companies to adopt the CableCard technology. The FCC has promulgated C.F.R. 76.1204(a)(1), requiring cable operators to implement CableCard technology into their set-top boxes. After failing in their court challenges to invalidate the law/rules, the cable industry has repeatedly asked for, and been given, extensions to deadline. Last year, the FCC mandated a final deadline of July 1, 2007 once and for all. In keeping with their stalling tactics, Charter, Verizon, Comcast and the NCTA have, again, requested varying waivers from this mandate. Since TiVo's Series 3 product relies on the cablecard standard, TiVo opposes these waiver petitions and is lobbying hard to thwart these requests so as to to firmly establish the Cablecard standard. I, for one, support TiVo whole-heartedly. Enough is enough.

Sources: Engadget | ZatzNotFunny.com | TiVo's Oct. 13 Letter to the FCC | Gizmodo

Discussed here: TiVoCommunity

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Movie Industry May Drop HDCP/ICT Until 2010/2012?

The leading German newspaper Der Spiegel claims to have information on an unofficial agreement struck between the movie studios, Sony, Microsoft and others which will see HDCP, and the Image Constraint Token (ICT), being consigned to the scrap heap for at least four years. This move would mean that all movie content produced until 2010 at the earliest, and possibly as far as 2012, will not carry the ICT – a security feature which restricts/down-rez’s high-definition playback only to equipment with HDMI ports and HDCP encryption.

Sources: ars technica | GameIndustry.biz | Daily Tech | Next Generation | IGN | Gamasutra | Xbit | Joystiq | Engadget | Der Spiegel (Google’s English Translation)

Dale’s Comment: This is a remarkable development if true. I have been participating in online forums for years where this has been a major subject of contention for early HDTV adopters. With the constant delays of HD-DVD and Blu-ray and the many competing HD standards appearing on the horizon, this may spell the demise of HD down-rezzing and the ICT. Recently, Professor Ed Felton suggested that HDCP is Eminently Crackable. All this said, since main-stream press has not yet picked this up, I question its veracity. But, its fun speculation in the meantime.

Update: October 15 2006: Save for one or two titles, the first couple hundred Blu-Ray and HD-DVD releases have been released without HDCP/ICT activated.

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HDCP is Eminently Crackable Says Professor Ed Felton

Princeton Professor Ed Felton, famous for revealing that SunComm’s DRM for music CDs could be defeated by holding down the shift key while inserting the music CD into your computer, says completely breaking/cracking High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is “eminently doable”. HDCP is the DRM standard developed by Intel to control access to high definition content as in travels across DVI and HDMI connections (eg: between your HD set-top box or HD-DVD player and your HDTV).

Sources: Prof Felton’s Freedom to Tinker Blog | Prof Felton’s Freedom to Tinker Blog II | Engadget

MovieBeam Down-Res’s Hi-Def Content When Subscriber Does Not Use HDMI

We’ve all known this was coming but this Disney-backed, MovieBeam service is the first account of a service down-res’ing HD content when the subscriber’s TV does not have an HDMI input. Lesson to be learned: Do NOT buy an HDTV without an HDMI connection or you won’t be watching the HD content you pay for.

Sources: Washington Post (2nd page) | Technology Liberation Front | Freedom to Tinker

TiVo Against the Giants

Law.com interviews TiVo’s general Counsel, Matt Zinn, on the forthcoming TiVo v. EchoStar Trial, defending other patent suits and generally how he rolls with TiVo’s legal punches.

Source: Law.com

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FCC Releases 12th Annual Report on the Status of Competition in the Video Programming Market

Text of 12th Annual Report

This annual report is a comprehensive overview of competition in the cable, satellite, OTA, wireless and related markets. If you want a solid overview of the regulatory environment for these industries, this report is a terrific place to start.

Coverage: WJLA ABC 7 News | The State Cathy Kirkman | Feb 10, 2006 FCC Press Release [.doc]

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‘V-Chip 2.0’ Turns On In March

Beginning on March 15, the FCC says it will require all new products with digital television receivers – including TVs, video recorders and set-top boxes – to incorporate parental control capabilities by way of a new “open” version of the V-chip that can be reprogrammed to adapt to changing standards.

Sources: PC Magazine  |  ABC News  |  Engadget

Bush Signs Digital TV Transition Bill – Setting February 17, 2009 Deadline

Bush signed into law legislation setting February 17, 2009, as the date U.S. broadcasters must end transmission of analog television signals and move to all-digital broadcasts. The move from the upper-700-MHz spectrum band will free 60 MHz of wave space for auction to mobile wireless carriers and 24 MHz for emergency response agencies.

Sources: PC World | joystiq | HDTV Magazine | Multi-Channel News | RCR News | Network World | DTV Design Line | Digital Connect | Telecomweb

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CableCARD Primer

Ars Technica provides this CableCARD primer describing the current state of cableCARD 1.0, the future of cableCARD 2.0 and the Downloadable Conditional Access System (DCAS), which may do away with CableCARDs altogether.

Source: ars technica

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Broadcasters to Move to Digital Television by February 17, 2009 Under Senate Bill

Legislation passed by the Senate would require broadcasters to end their traditional analog transmissions by Feb. 17, 2009, and send their signals digitally. Back to Conference with the House to resolve discrepancies then on to the President’s desk for signing into law.

Sources: Washington Post | ZDNet | San Jose Mercury News | Business Week | Reuters | San Francisco Chronicle | Broadcasting and Cable

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U.S. Digital Switchover on Feb 17, 2009?

The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to complete the country’s phase out of analogue TV with a transition to over-the-air digital television by Feb. 17, 2009. The Senate had previously set the date as April 7, 2009. Onwards to Congressional conference with the Senate.

Sources: Washington Post | Reuters | Information Week | ABC News | CBS News | CNET

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Microsoft and Cablelabs Agree on Cablecard Integration into Windows Media Centre

Microsoft and CableLabs have announced an agreement to bring CableCard access to the PC, along with the ability to share it with connected devices (like the Xbox 360).

Dale's Comment: This will, of course, only work in jurisdictions where cable providers use cable-card technology in their headends. While required of all major cable companies in the U.S., Canada does not yet (nor will it ever likely) mandate such cable-card compatibility.

Sources: Yahoo! News | HD Beat | PC World | Multichannel News | CED Magazine | Cable Digital News

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FCC Modifies Digital Tuner Requirements to Advance DTV Transition

Text of Second Report and Order
Text of FCC Press Release
The FCC amended its rules to move the date on which all TV receivers must include the capability to receive digital television signals forward four months to March 1, 2007 and to apply the tuner requirement to all television receivers, regardless of their size.

Source: DTV Design Line

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House Approves All-Digital OTA Dead-line by 2008

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a measure ordering the switch to all digital broadcasts be finished by the end of 2008 – Senate yet to approve.

Source: Reuters

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