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CableCard: The ready vs. the willing

Long in development, CableCard was the great compromise between the consumer electronics and cable industries that would provide higher picture quality and easier setup. However, the initial standard supported only unidirectional transmissions. That took away the ability for customers to order video-on-demand or DVR services from cable operators, which not surprisingly did little to promote the interface. An expensive addition, TV makers have abandoned it in droves, and now typically feature it only on their most expensive or highest-margin sets.

Next year, though, CableCard will see renewed interest from a host of companies gunning to be the next set-top, continuing the steps that TiVo has taken with Series 3. Microsoft will support CableCard via an add-on for Media Center PCs, and Digeo plans to bring them to retail with its Moxi Media Center. The downside is that, for a while out of the gate anyway, video captured via CableCard will have all the flexibility of video captured via a DVR, that is, none. You won’t be able to stream it to another room or sideload it to a portable video player as Dish Network can with its PocketDish system.

CableCard may be imperfect, but it sure beats stringing infrared blasters everywhere, captures great video quality, and will be with us for at least a few years before it is superseded by DCAS, the software-based system for conditional access.