Buying Your Cable Box

Buying Your Cable Box: How many times over have you “paid” for your crappy old cable box with those monthly lease fees? Ever wish you could just buy a new and better featured box to plug into your cable service? Thanks to the new Federal Communications Commission regulation which went into effect July 1, cable companies have to open themselves up to just such competition. The ruling bars cable companies from locking security and navigation functions inside the box, forcing them to put that smart stuff in removable CableCards (essentially, mini- tuners) which can be installed in after- market products (TVs, DVRs) as well as cable company supplied products.

The National Cable Television Association argued that this ruling will force the cable industry to spend more on every new box it must now build with a CableCard slot , with the extra cost passed on to the consumer (probably a hundred times over). But the FCC wasn’t buying that argument, at least not from major players like Comcast and Time-Warner. The commission did, however, offer a last minute reprieve to a bunch of smaller cable companies and Verizon’s new fiber optic cable based service, under the condition that these operations convert by Feb. 17, 2009 to an all digital video system (the day when analog TV is supposed to be shut down). Some cablers got a postponement of order until Sept. 1, 2007, when they’ll ostensibly be able to actually buy boxes with CableCard features.

Some un-aligned brands like Sony and TiVo already offer replacement set top boxes with one-way CableCard slots, and there are a bunch of TV models that can take a CableCard for “box-less” cable viewing. Clearly, this new FCC mandate will now force the tail-dragging cable industry to finalize and offer two-way CableCards, too – needed for program guide and Video on Demand access. Digeo’s Moxi brand recently previewed a very cool retail product alternative to TiVo – a high def receiver/DVR equipped with two, two-way CableCard slots and the ability to send different HD programming (live or recorded) to two TVs simultaneously. Like TiVo, the Moxi has access to a special and much richer custom program guide. So this box doesn’t really need the cable provider to offer two-way CableCard interactivity, at least in the short run. Due out later this year, the Moxi box will be priced “competitively” with TiVo offerings.

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