The vice president and general counsel for the NCTA thinks that the organization’s filing late last month solves the problem of portability – in three ways. The Consumer Electronics Association, predictably, disagrees.

The NCTA’s Neal Goldberg takes some shots at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Digital Cable Ready Plus (DCR+) approach in the process of explaining its filing to the FCC. The filing is part of an FCC inquiry into whether it needs to step in to finally bring the 11-year-old compatibility issue to a conclusion.

The cable approach, which is based on CableLabs‘ OpenCable spec, is a two-step solution. One piece is hardware in the device that communicates with the cable system. The secret sauce is OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) middleware that allows any properly written application – VOD, EPG and other existing and emerging services – to work with the hardware. In the absence of such a setup, Goldberg said, applications must be custom written. DCR+ (or minus) The long-standing and contentious issue of how subscribers get access to programming independent of the technology used by their provider has a new sense of urgency as the transition to full digital broadcasting in 2009 begins to unfold. More immediately, a step toward that landscape was taken on July 1, when an FCC prohibition on proprietary integrated security in set-top boxes took effect.

OpenCable makes bidirectional functions in cable-ready TV sets immediately usable in two-way systems. "It is here now," Goldberg said. "Panasonic, LG and Samsung among others have filed statements saying that it is the only way to go."

The cable industry claims that DCR+ only partially solves the problem. It requires discreet code to be written for every new application that emerges. The CEA, for its part, is not impressed by cable’s position.

"We believe the cable industry thus far is not willing to negotiate access to interfaces and technology necessary to permit deployment of competitive equipment," said Jason Oxley, the CEA’s vice president of communications. Oxley said that the CEA is asking the FCC to step in to finally bring the matter to a conclusion. The switched solution The second iteration outlined in the NCTA filing is aimed at scenarios in which one-way devices can be served on switched digital video (SDV) channels.

This is a sticky issue, since these TV sets can be labeled "cable ready," though they are incapable of sending upstream signals necessary to request the SDV programming streams. This, understandably, confuses and angers folks who have bought devices labeled "cable ready" and can’t receive two-way programming.

This situation is handled by a "tuning resolver." The filing said that firmware upgrades to one-way SDV programming can solve the problem, providing the device has a USB port. In essence, the tuning result enables upstream transmission of enough of a signal to request noninteractive programming cable on a SDV channel.

The solution doesn’t work for full two-way programming such as VOD, however. May we propose? The third element of the NCTA’s filing proposes a way in which any multichannel video programming distributor (MPVD) – be it a telephone company, cable operator or DBS provider – can present two-way programming to customers. The device is still in its earliest development phases, Goldberg said.

This part of the filing is interesting in that it puts the cable industry in the position of suggesting solutions for other industries. This was done, Goldberg said, because it is what the FCC asked for and, in any case, cable tends to get the blame when consumers are disappointed. "The fingers all will be pointed at the cable industry, saying they didn’t do CableCard right," Goldberg said.

Reply comments are due Sept. 10, Oxley and Goldberg both said. – Carl Weinschenk

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