Can AllVid Work Where CableCARD Failed?

Way back in 1996, Congress told the Federal Communications Commission to “…assure the commercial availability to consumers of multichannel video programming … of converter boxes … from manufacturers, retailers, and other vendors not affiliated with any multichannel video programming distributor.” In other words, if you wanted something other than the miserable set top box your cable company wanted to rent you, you’d be able to pop over to your local BestBuy and pick one up.

The cable industry’s answer was the CableCARD and a software package called Tru2way. But 14 years later the number of retail cable boxes–mostly TiVo Series 3s, HDs, and Premieres–remains minuscule and Tru2way is little more than a notion. It’s a pain to get a cable company to support CableCARD installations and once you do, you lose such features as video on demand and pay-per-view. In other words, the whole project has been an abject failure.

Now, as part of the National Broadband Plan, the FCC is trying again. It has published a Notice of Inquiry as the first step toward implementation of a concept it calls AllVid, a sort of universal gateway that would connect your TV to cable, satellite, or cable-like (i.e., Verizon FiOS or AT&T uVerse) services as well as Internet video. “This approach,” the notice says, “would provide the necessary flexibility for consumer electronics manufacturers to develop new technologies, including combining MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor] content with over-the-top video services (such as videos offered from, for example, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, or NetFlix), manipulating the channel guide, providing more advanced parental controls, providing new user interfaces, and integrating with mobile devices.”

Much of the notice is a recitation of the failures of previous approaches and the rest with proposed technical specifications for AllVid. But far more important than any details is how the FCC will overcome the genius of the cable industry in its CableLabs research arm to turn arguments over technical specifications into years of delay and inaction. The FCC proposes  that cable operators should offer AllVid options to their customers by Dec. 31, 2012, an outcome I regard as about as likely as the sudden outbreak of world peace* and universal harmony. For the moment, though, interested parties have 60 days following publication of the notice in the Federal Register to submit their comments to the FCC.

*–Originally appeared as “world peach,” which explains an otherwise mystifying remark in a comment.

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4 Responses to “Can AllVid Work Where CableCARD Failed?”

  1. David Heyman Says:

    I, for one, have always been a big proponent of world peach. If the world were softer and fuzzier, it would be better for everyone.

    But seriously, we know how this plays out. Cable fights long and hard, proposes their own standards that work only for them, and even if the FCC does get rules out, ignores them.

    I love my TiVo Premiere, but losing VOD as the price is pretty steep.

  2. john burkhart Says:

    world peace, not world peach…..your spell checker must be unchecked

  3. Rich Errington Says:

    Here is what I want. A single point of entry in my home, with distribution to every outlet I have. Allow me to configure the channel assignment (for my current local cable setup, I still only watch a dozen or so channels regularly. Let me assign those so that every device I have in my house with a built in tuner can tune from the central distribution. Ethernet, web-based configuration should be easy enough to do – I do that with my router now.

    If my cable company can’t provide what I want, at least provide me with what I need.

  4. EB Says:

    @ John – Peach is not misspelled, just not the right word here. Spell checker would not find, maybe grammar checker would.

    What I want is to be able to buy a computer based DVR unit (I have an Elgato eyeTV, for example) and have a way for it to get authorized by the cable company so as I can watch my scrambled channels. With my own DVR. At one point I was optimistic that once cable cards came, vendors of such devices would build them with ports for cable cards. This has not happened. In actuality, with the switch to all digital broadcast, my cable company that USED to provide channels 0-100 as Clear QAM (therefore allowing my computer based DVR to work) has eliminated this service, so I can no longer use my computer based DVR to schedule recordings. The only option they give me now is to tune my DVR to ANALOG 3 or 4, and the cable box, taking a digital signal, converts it all to analog 1st, and then my DVR (which is capable of digital signals) must take in a digital>Analog signal and convert it BACK to digital again…

    What this has done is cause me to no longer bother using the DVR, and instead I find every episode of a TV show I would otherwise record and watch on bittorrent, download it and watch it that way.

    I think the cable companies/TV set providers/Set top box vendors/DVR vendors have a limited opportunity to get this right. With all the complications that stem from not having this standard figured out and working already (despite over 12 years of work on it), people are abandoning standard broadcast in droves. The hardware you paid good money for (whether a VCR with built in cable ready tuner, or your Clear-QAM TV set that worked fine picking up most cable ready channels, or in my case, my perfectly good and new computer based DVR) stops working with a half hearted explanation of why it will no longer work and no indication if/and it will ever work again, and instead you are told to go suckle at the tit of your cable company and buy their DVR/their tuner with reencoded HD video you have to pay EXTRA for (the cable companies are reencoding HD video they get so as they can shove more poor image quality channels down our throat).

    I am about to give up and cancel all my cable subscription, keeping only data, unless they figure out how to do this right. I want to be able to buy a computer based DVR, that works with my scrambled channels, just like you’d expect it to. This should have been working 10 years ago. not still not be figured out!

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