DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor



Cable Set-top Box Waiver Stampede!

July 18, 2006

Charter Communications has now joined Comcast and Verizon in petitioning the FCC for a waiver from the integrated set-top box ban. (ban to go into effect July 1, 2007) Expect virtually everyone else to follow.

Charter's petition covers no less than seven models of set-top boxes, all described as low-cost, limited capability, in order to fall within the waiver criteria.

The boxes' manufacturers, in their advertising literature, use other words. Such as "is a full-featured digital set-top providing a wide array of capabilities," and "Total available memory is 24 MB, which provides ample support for video-on-demand (VOD), subscription VOD, e-mail, chat services, internet access, and other applications such as games," and "the advanced user features and capabilities of the DCT2500 support a host of new services. . ."

It seems that only set-top boxes with high-definition output or with an internal digital video recorder (DVR) would now be included in the ban, if we buy into the petitions' logic. That's where it gets interesting.

The other amusing part of the story is that Charter claims that its high-end STBs will use CableCARDs post-ban (thus separating security and navigation STB functions), preserving the goal of introducing competition in the STB marketplace. The problem is, all of these premium STBs will need bidirectional CableCARDs, for which no standard has yet been agreed. And there has been little progress toward that new standard.

In fact, most players seem to have given up on two-way CableCARDs. Instead, the goal has now become a software replacement for CableCARDs. Unfortunately, the software solution (DCAS) has become bogged down with no likely agreement in the foreseeable future.

So what will likely happen as we approach the date for the STB integration ban (next July), is that the FCC will be forced to delay implementation again.

Enough of the political maneuvering. Next time I hope to have a review of that HP 32" LCD flat-panel TV.