CableLabs wants to ensure the industry’s video dominance by making it easy for subscribers and consumer electronics manufacturers to interface with the cable pipe. The plan hinges on the organization’s OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), said CableLabs execs at its media briefing in May. Going forward, to access content, subscribers with "cable-ready" consumer electronics can simply plug into the cable, and the information will be downloaded based on a universal conditional access (CA) that covers myriad encryption formats. At least that’s the scheme that the industry hopes to see start taking form next year. That would replace the use of access hardware devices-CableCARDS-that relatively few consumers to date have acquired and plugged into TV sets. The next step is to make content downloadable off the OCAP platform so that cable subscribers can get approved programming choices directly through consumer electronics devices. This would include an element of CA that for the first time would universally traverse different manufacturers’ systems. One of OCAP’s goals is to clear up the muddle of different CA systems based primarily on Motorola or Scientific-Atlanta technology. The result would be that multiple consumer electronics devices would have the same access to content and the same ability to download information as proprietary boxes from the industry’s leading vendors. "Downloadable security is better than the solutions we have had in the past," said Mark Coblitz, Comcast’s senior vice president of strategic planning. Comcast-Moto deal Comcast has taken steps to ensure universal access by cutting a deal with Motorola "and we own half of that" CA, said Coblitz. Comcast can then make the CA intellectual property available at reasonable prices for any manufacturers that want to be on Comcast systems. Downloadable security also improves the process in the unlikely event the system is hacked and the encryption is broken-although there is still no apparent answer to the possible attack by a malicious virus or worm sent through the pipe to the end device. In the past if a hacker managed to break cable’s encryption, the only fix was to give subscribers new point of deployment (POD) access cards. Now, "if it were hacked, it’s renewable," said Coblitz. Standardized and universal access will make it cheaper for everyone-especially operators-because a host of consumer electronics giants, used to squeezing the dollar until it squeals, will start building cable-specific products. -Jim Barthold

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