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An End To Unencrypted Digital Cable TV and the HTPC 345

Talinom writes "AnandTech has a writeup on how ClearQAM appears to be headed for an early death. From the article — 'At this point there's no reason to believe that cable companies won't deploy Privacy Mode across their networks, so it's a matter of 'when,' not 'if' this will happen. It goes without saying that if you're currently enjoying the use of a ClearQAM tuner to receive EB tier channels, you'll want to enjoy what time you have left, and look in to other solutions for the long-haul. At this pace, it looks like cable TV and computers will soon be divorcing.'" Update: 08/27 23:59 GMT by T : "EB" here stands for "Expanded Basic (cable service)"; Wikipedia as usual has a time-sucking, digressive, fascinating explanation about the tiers of cable TV service in the US.
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An End To Unencrypted Digital Cable TV and the HTPC

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  • NewSpeak ++Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:13PM (#29223163) Journal
    Anybody else struck by the fact that a broadcast DRM system, used by the notoriously grasping and controlling cable cartels, is referred to as "privacy mode"?
  • TV sucks anyway (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:14PM (#29223183) Homepage Journal

    Make it too hard to view the garbage they put out these days and they will just lose more customers.

  • Not Sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:18PM (#29223235)

    At this pace, it looks like cable TV and computers will soon be divorcing.

    As part of the divorce proceeding, I and my computer have been separated from cable for some time. We've been hanging out with a new mistress, Online Video. I can tell you that the divorce is only a formal proceeding and we will be much happier once it has taken place.

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:19PM (#29223247) Homepage Journal

    You don't seem to understand the percentages, and how the big picture works.

    Let me try to help: .0001% of your hardcore customers find a way around your DRM and you lose a few cents at most.. While the actual paying customers are locked in to their changes and continue to feed the beast that makes it harder to get around and buys more laws.

    They really don't care if a few hardcore tech types get around it. Really they don't, since you end up viewing ads in the process anyway and STILL make them money..

    In the end, they win. Hell they already have.

  • Kill your cable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by szquirrel ( 140575 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:20PM (#29223275) Homepage

    I finally got tired of the $75/month, the cable box meltdowns every three months (Scientific Atlanta FTL), and the generally craptastic quality of over-compressed video from Brighthouse. Six months ago I told them where to shove it and never looked back. Now I get TV series on DVD from Netflix, occasionally catch a new show on Hulu, and use some good ol' rabbit ears to get my local channels (which look great in over-the-air digital, better than they ever did through the cable).

    Screw cable. I'm done with paying for a raft of crap I don't need to subsidize their other businesses. And I'm certainly done with their obsessive consumer lock-in.

  • Re:TV sucks anyway (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:21PM (#29223289)

    ---- Booth was a patriot ----

    ---- Booth was a murderer ---- You think you can put any old crap in your sig and not get called on it?

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:23PM (#29223315) Journal
    I doubt it'll have much direct effect on the pirates of the world(as it looks like the gimped the hell out off the crypto to make it run on super-cheap devices, rather than using the actually fairly tricky stuff that ordinary higher-end cable boxes use); but it is still bad news.

    With computer hardware, cost is overwhelmingly a function of production volume(there is a floor somewhere, of course, you can't make free stuff through infinite volume; but the difference between mass market and niche gear is considerable). If clearQAM gear is widely useful, out of the box, by nontechies and nonpirates, it'll be available in substantial quantity, from a variety of vendors, in a variety of configurations(PCI, PCIe, expresscard, usb, little network appliances, etc.). Same goes for supporting software. Larger market=lower cost per copy and/or greater developer effort per copy.

    If clearQAM becomes effectively useless without h5x0r skills, hardware to suit will disappear from nonspecialist shelves soon enough, who would want the support headache? There'll still be new-old stock and chinese pirate hardware vendors and things; but it will be more expensive and not as good. If you are really unlucky, you'll even have to deal with DMCA flavored challenges that such tuners, sold outside of fully locked-down systems, no longer have any substantial non-infringing uses.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:23PM (#29223327)

    There is one advantage of broadcast media -- ability to get information to a lot of people without burning up large amounts of Internet bandwidth. It takes up a lot less bandwidth to do one 1024p HD channel on a dedicated line than streaming the same content to millions of viewers.

    However, by end running around the Audio Home Recording Act with DRM, it only means technical viewers will find other sources for viewing, a market will be created for decoder boxes, or more people will end up hitting the P2P systems for content.

    One compromise -- if Joe User wants to watch Fox News on their media box, let them. Advertisers benefit because Joe User will see their ads on the machine. The broadcast place benefits because advertisers may target Internet-savvy users more, thus more income from that.

    Best of all worlds -- have broadcasters have a standard, well documented, streaming interface to a PC that requires nothing more than a cable, so people can use their PC as a TV or a DVR to their heart's content.

  • by Puzzleer ( 309198 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:30PM (#29223399)

    In fairness, the FCC requires the equivalent of the channels that you would receive over-the-air to be unencrypted (so-called "must-carry" channels). So in reality, you should expect pretty much everything other than those to be encrypted (so channels like TBS, TNT, USA, etc will be encrypted but channels like NBC, CBS, Fox will continue to be unencrypted).

  • Re:TV sucks anyway (Score:4, Insightful)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:31PM (#29223411)

    In his own mind, Booth was a patriot. Maybe thinking you are a patriot isn't always a good thing.

  • by blhack ( 921171 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:31PM (#29223419)

    All this means is that the same techniques that HTPC users currently use for satellite will need to be used for cable as well.

    You clip an IR transmitter to the front of your cable-box, and it changes the channels for you. The analog out on the cable box goes into the mythbox, and the mythbox goes out to the TV.

    This is a pain in the ass, but not THAT much of a pain in the ass.

  • by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:45PM (#29223593)

    I'm sure the cable company will be more than happy to provide you with a cable card if you need it. That'll just be an additional $9.95 per month rental fee for the additional outlet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:50PM (#29223667)

    ClearQAM needs to be mandated by the FCC. Further, changing the translations needs to be limited to once a year for existing channels.

    The parent obviously doesn't understand that cable boxes output SD and HD shows in ClearQAM are at whatever resolution (1080i, 720p, 480p) and appear beautiful on my digital TV (without a cable box).

    Why must I chose between
    a) pay for another digital cable box ($7/month) or
    b) get a free SD-only cable box that shows channels 1-78 only at 480i

    Obviously, this doesn't apply to premium content, but we've had "cable ready" TVs for years and years. That should continue.

    It's bad enough that my 3 VCRs don't work anymore after my cable company went 98% digital earlier this month. Only channels 2-22 are still analog. OTOH, there are many, many more HD channels now that I can't get without a set-top-digital cable box.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:51PM (#29223675)

    Go to a stadium/court/rink/whathaveyou and watch a game. Or you could join a league, fatty-fatty-bo-batty!

    Nah, but seriously - you don't need TV for sports.

  • by grapeape ( 137008 ) <mpope7 AT kc DOT rr DOT com> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:52PM (#29223693) Homepage

    Is this really a shock? Did people think that cable companies have any interest in user rights, hell if they could get away with just making you pay $50 to broadcast nothing but commercials they would do it in a heartbeat. People fell for the "oh look its shiny" HDMI push early on even though component was and is fully capable of 1080p. People fell for bluray even though it has much stricter content restrictions. Now we get to welcome our broadcast flag overlords. Hope everyone is happy...

    On another note...Time Warner and Comcast announced plans to start trials of their TV Everywhere product which is basically an slingbox type service that will stream video on demand for a "nominal" fee. Of course some may see this as a way to get the sheep to accept bandwidth caps and show the govt they are "promoting" streaming video to cover their ass for the few brave enough to complain.

  • Re:badtitle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:54PM (#29223719)

    I have Comcast digital cable in Atlanta. Currently, Comcast sends SD (480i) extended basic cable stations (e.g. Discovery) in ClearQAM, albeit on weird frequencies (e.g. channel 103.5 for the afore-mentioned Discovery). The set-top box is allegedly "required" not in order to do any decrypting, but rather merely to translate the channels to their "official" frequencies (e.g. channel 40 instead of 103.5). Now, what they're planning to do is to start encrypting those channels for no good reason.

    There are several major problems with what Comcast is doing:

    1. Comcast's boxes are the shittiest piles of garbage on the face of the Earth. When Comcast shut off the analog History Channel I tried them, but after going through three that would work for a while and then flake out I gave up and just did without until I figured out how to tune to History Channel via QAM (channel 82.7, by the way).
    2. It's a blatant money grab: by turning on the encryption, Comcast is instantly forcing everyone to fork over an extra $5 or so per month, per TV (give or take the single "free" box Comcast "generously" "offers" with certain types of accounts).
    3. It's a blatant power grab: with unencrypted QAM, there can be a free market for digital TV tuners (and "digital cable ready" TVs) -- a situation which is intolerable to the fascists running Comcast. This way, they control the only supply of devices that can decode the signals, which means that they can hold features hostage, lock out competitors, etc.
    4. It's fucking absurd to begin with, because there's no legitimate reason whatsoever why I should have to have an extra stupid box with an extra stupid remote (that isn't compatible with my TV, by the way) when my "digital cable-ready" TV is perfectly capable, sans Comcast's meddling, of tuning the damn channels itself!

    In other words, the situation that's developing now is exactly like how AT&T used to control telephone equipment 30(?) years ago: it's monopolistic, murderous to technological process, and should not be allowed!

    And that brings me to my final point: I really want to do everything I can to stop and/or punish Comcast for this. Is anybody planning to sue over it, and/or do you know of a class-action I can join?

  • by Thinboy00 ( 1190815 ) <> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @06:00PM (#29223809) Journal

    [big snip]

    Best of all worlds -- have broadcasters have a standard, well documented, streaming interface to a PC that requires nothing more than a cable, so people can use their PC as a TV or a DVR to their heart's content.

    Advertisers: "Eww, people can timeshift with that!!"
    MAFIAA: "No DRM?! How will we protect helpless copyrights from dangerous pirates?!"
    Broadcasters: "So if we sell a cable box/service package to John Smith and he decides to switch to [competitor], then he keeps the box and uses it with them?!"
    Lobbyists^H^H^H^H Congress: "Ain't gonna happen. Not via a new law, anyway."

    Mods and other speed readers, please be sure to notice the presence of the quotation marks -- these are not my opinions.

  • by Cajun Hell ( 725246 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @06:12PM (#29223959) Homepage Journal

    I loved analog cable, because it worked. Plug it into any tuner, and you can watch, record, etc. As a result of this, they got my money, month after month, for 8 years.

    Encrypted cable is the reason they don't have me as a customer anymore. If I could be assured that stuff would just work, I would sign up, plug the cable into a HDHomeRun, and that would be the end of it. Or rather, that would be the end of it, except for the money that I would be paying them every single goddamn month.

    Instead of that monthly money that they choose to not collect, I'm bittorrenting over Qwest.

    Brilliant business model, Comcast. It just goes to show American business ingenuity: if you really don't want customers and are willing to do what it takes to prevent yourself from collecting revenue, there's always a way. Losing money might not be easy and the the best way to lose the most money and really stick it to your damned stockholders might not be obvious, but if you persevere, it's possible to do. Encrypted cable is the best solution -- the solution -- to the problem of excess cable TV revenue. Good job, boys.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) * on Thursday August 27, 2009 @06:15PM (#29224003) Journal

    How much time do you spend sifting through the crap? I watch about an hour of TV a night before bed. Stewart, Colbert, and the first half of Conan. By that time of night, I just want to veg. Trying to decide whether something is going to suck or not is way too much work for 11pm.

  • It is somewhat lacking in the pure entertainment aspect -- the writing isn't as tight, and the production values are clearly less polished. But it makes up for that, at least for me, in the... texture?

    The phrase you're looking for is "snobishness." There are a few less-harsh synonyms you could use, but it's the same general feeling of "my choice is better than yours" that folk who watch community theater over a TV broadcast of the same play have.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @06:40PM (#29224287)
    Besides being amateurish, most of the independent material provides little to no accessibility, and people generally complain when it's asked, so hm, yeah - I'll stick to good quality independent stuff and still not act like a snob when something interesting comes out of big media.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @07:10PM (#29224647)

    IPv6 Multicast is an even better solution. I wonder how many ISPs support it at the moment.

  • by Bad Mamba Jamba ( 941082 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:10AM (#29227201)
    Don't blame Cable Labs or the cable companies for the limitations of cable cards and PCs.

    First encryption is mandated by the content carrier deals signed by cable companies with the content providers. Remember, the cable company doesn't own the content, they only purchase the rights to broadcast it.

    Encryption is pushed on the cable companies to protect content by the content providers. The substantial cost of the content licensing agreement, and all the encryption hardware required to cipher and broadcast content comprise a good chunk of your monthly cable bill.

    Second, the Cable Card is a result of the consumer electronics providers whining to the FCC about how the cable companies have encrypted their networks to protect the content. They can't play on the now proprietary encryption scheme networks and sell more TVs so they pressure the FCC, who in turn "looks out" for consumers by mandating "separable security".

    The cable industry response is the Cable Card which is a standards based device any CE vendor can support to decipher content. Again costing the cable company millions to develop (vis a vis CableLabs) and deploy, and again the cost is passed to consumers. But by God your Tivo works now so at least we don't have to put up with a crappy set top box. Too bad everyone doesn't own a Tivo so we can all enjoy what we pay for.

    Third Cable Labs has nothing to do with the restrictions on PCs. It is again the content providers - they refuse to allow their content to be streamed on an open bus (PCI/PCI Express/USB) that may be easily sniffed or otherwise compromised with their content in the clear.

    Now I know every Slash Dotter on the planet is all about open source, Linux, and free love, but here is one case where Microsoft was actually able to do something the open source community can't. At least in my humble opinion.

    Microsoft convinced the content providers that Windows Vista security could protect their content (via Win DRM, the draconian premade PC, dmi and BIOS scans, etc) and earned the exclusive rights to support the PC version of a Cable Card tuner (OCUR). I don't believe for a minute this is due to Microsoft's technical superiority in the security space. Rather a substantial amount of under the table money was forked out to secure rights. So while free love is cool and all, monopoly level income has it's advantages.

    So I come back to the point which is don't blame the cable companies, Cable Labs, or cable cards. The root of the issue lies with the content providers. If the content guys could pull their heads out of their asses and figure out how to protect their content for reasonable cost, or otherwise establish a sustainable business model so they didn't have to protect it, we could all quit paying the price tag to keep their ridiculous profit margins safe.

  • by FrankieBaby1986 ( 1035596 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:50AM (#29227419)
    Found an easy way around all this: Don't pay for cable. You're really not missing much but adverts anyways. If no one provides the service the way you want it, then do without the service, it's the only way to make em change.
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:19AM (#29230517)

    Seriously, Mr. FCC why do you allow this?

    Because the people it bothers are more likely to complain on Slashdot than to the FCC and their elected representatives, whereas the people who prefer this arrangement act directly, clearly, and forcefully in the political arena to protect their preferences.

I've got a bad feeling about this.