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Networking the Television: Set-top Box Innovation

December 7th, 2009 by Alison Neplokh

We’re taking a fresh look at how you access video – the full “5-W” analysis – who, what, where, when, why? Who controls how you access video? What video sources are you watching? Where do you watch it? When do you watch it? Why are there so many boxes and remote controls?  Oh, and how should we fix it?

 
We’ve been working on fostering innovation in the set-top box market since Congress directed us to just about 13 years ago. For a while, we thought CableCARD was the key, but it’s time to take a step back and ask if we’re doing this the right way. Since video is such a big part of why people want broadband, it’s especially worth asking the questions in the context of the broadband plan. 
 
We think that if you can use the same device to get video and other content from the Internet as you do to get video from your cable or satellite operator, then your experience with both will be so much better. But how do we resolve the conflict between allowing video providers to continue to provide innovative video services and giving TV manufacturers a standard to build something that will work for more than a few years? Who decides what security system to use, and how to distribute the keys? Even harder, does everyone have to use the same thing? Where does guide data come from, who pays for it, and who decides how it is used and displayed? How can we get different video providers to find enough common ground to build a system that works for satellite, cable, IPTV, and Internet video?
 
As an engineer and a lawyer, this problem has fascinated me for years. Your computer, wireless router, network printer, gaming consoles, and many other devices all work no matter what broadband connection you have – cable, DSL, fiber-to-the-home, satellite, or a dorm/office network connection. This works because the market has settled on Ethernet as the way to connect devices on a data network, and you have a device that converts from whatever platform you use to Ethernet.   But of course, you also need dozens of protocols to really experience the Internet. Does a home multimedia network standard provide the foundation for a competitive set-top box market? Or is there some other way to allow all of your sources of video to work with all of your televisions, computers, and DVRs?  
 
The first question is how you want to use your video sources. Then, how do we get there?
 
For more details, background and context on these issues, please see the Public Notice. You can respond directly to this blog or file comments in our Electronic Filing Comment System, using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file. Please title comments and reply comments responsive to this Notice as “Comments (or Reply Comments) – NBP Public Notice # 27.”

 

6 Responses to “Networking the Television: Set-top Box Innovation”

  1. Guest says:

    well for one if this is done this will put alot of ppl out of work the companies that create new hardware for other companies would go out of buisness because there is no more need for compation. The rate tech exspandes every yr it wil not work plus your talking about all the isps can not run all apps. 2) Microsoft is trying to due that with the x360 you can stream video and run soacial apps and play games all they need is a broyswer but is it worth it to do all this not really the united states is all about capitaliazom. Having one deice will not be worth it this day and age. Once this is solved then you have to worry about bandwidth and infrastruture is there enough or can we keep up with demand the isps already complaining about all this now and everyone is still not online.Then there is qos just becuase there is one device doesnt mean the qos is going to be good on all apps. Having this compation is great becuase if i want an okay device for gaming ill use the wii or if want a better one ill use the x360 ect. Or video there is always bigger and better with one device there is just that one device we will be stuck with untill a better one is made.

  2. Josh Lovison says:

    Comments - NBP Public Notice #27

    In answer to question (a) I'd like to have my multiple devices all compete with each other to give me the best presentation of my content. I want to see social TV initiatives evolving due to open access by my set top box hardware manufacturers. Eventually, I'd like to see this consolidate into a single box, or into the TV itself. But at it's core, I'd like the competition to take place as a competition of software, and move out of hardware. The evolution cycles of hardware take too long to keep up with the current pace of innovation in the content market (case and point: shortly after the DTV transition, we're already reviewing the allocation of spectrum for OTA TV broadcast). Software could be updated every month. So in essence, I'd like one device that supports multiple open software packages which vie for my business.

    As for (b), I think the easiest way to achieve this is to adopt an already proven technology mentioned in the post above: Ethernet/IP. Any solution will involve a hardware solution, CableCARD 2.0 or whatever it might be. But making that solution take a cable signal and translate that into a DRM protected IP stream - that would enable all IP connected devices currently on the market to support the solution with a software update. Content protection could be put in place that makes it as difficult or likely more difficult than copying content from the direct cable connection, so this should appease content owners. So essentially, I'd love a little black box that I plug my cable connection into, which then my networked devices could connect to and use licensed software to interact with.

  3. Guest says:

    Wow,, I really cant believe you put gaming consoles and satalite in the same sentence not alone stating that it will run have as what cable or dsl or fios will. You do realize that gaming consoles and computer gaming require alot more than satalite can give right if not you must be a construction engineer not an network engineer or something. No disrespect intented but dsl,cable and fios have a 0 to 200 mms ping verse 1k ot 5k on satalite even satalite companies tell you this service is not designed for voip or real time apps plus there is data caps with satalite none with the others. Satalite is an alternative to broadband thats all its not broadband.

  4. Josh Lovison says:

    Guest,

    I think you misunderstand the concept of what's being discussed. The idea is a local device that takes a video broadcast signal and offers a hardware-based translation into an Ethernet/IP framework, to which devices on a home network could connect. This would allow those devices to support delivery of that content within a software framework as they are already equipped with TCP/IP stacks.

    The question posed is a replacement to the CableCARD. I am proposing that a hardware solution will be outdated by the time it hits market if it's a proprietary hardware option, and that instead supporting perhaps the most widespread protocols for transfer of data is the ideal solution. No networking in my proposed solution will take place over satellite/coaxial/OTA transmission. All Ethernet/IP frames would be over a local network - transmission delivery to the home would not change at all. In fact, the "black box" proposed could use the current CableCARD standards to ingest the content signal - it just creates a secondary, network based output.

    I am definitely not suggesting that gaming happen over satellite connections or something (which seems to be what you're refering to - though I'm not sure how you got this impression). What I am suggesting is that considering the Xbox 360 is the 5th largest set-top box in the US, a device like that should be in the consideration for whatever solution is proposed. There are a lot of connected devices out there which would be able to take advantage of an Ethernet/IP based local translation of broadcast content.

  5. Josh Lovison says:

    Guest,

    Sorry - I see you were replying to OP. Nevermind.

  6. Set Top Box Fan says:

    I think that many of the manufacturs are bringing out smarter more integrated set top boxes. you only have to look at some of the latest HD set top boxes from Sagem for example:-

    http://www.sagemdigital.co.uk/freesat-hd-see-the-difference.aspx

    <a href="http://www.sagemdigital.co.uk/freesat-hd-see-the-difference.aspx">HDTV</a>

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