SDV (Switched Digital Video)–What is it exactly and why is it upsetting so many?


I recall the days when the government passed a bill back which forced the cable companies to play fair and allow for users to access the entire library of channels with the use of a Cable Card. The idea was simple: Cable Companies have a monopoly on regions and services for cable television, and were essentially forcing users to rent their Set Top Boxes for a nice profit to them. Cable Cards would allow users to purchase Cable Card-enabled devices such as Media Centers, Televisions, TiVo’s, etc, and therefore just pay for the actual television service, instead of renting a box which was awful anyways. Fantastic news, right?

Well, so it was. For a whopping 3 years. Not much has changed with Cable Cards in that time, and still only One-Way cable card devices exist in the market, but for the most part, they work great. You are able to tune to all your digital channels, and while you cannot view On-Demand channels, it’s a minor price to pay for the flexibility of using a more robust device.

Then…the cable companies were faced with a dilemma–their current method of transmitting your television channels was quickly reaching its limit. They could, A) Re-do the infrastructure across millions of homes to allow for higher bandwidth (Read: Expensive), or B) Modify their technology to allow them to keep those millions of miles of cables in place and still transmit more HD channels. Oh, and by the way, modifying this technology will also force those thousands of cable card users to–at least temporarily–switch back to a Set Top Box from the Cable Company if they wish to continue to view those digital channels!!

Here’s the main gist of the problem and the cable company’s solution (use the picture for reference). With the current system, all the channels are distributed to everyone equally across the pipeline. When you have a one-way cable card device (TV, MCE, TiVo), it’s being told when you tune to one of the channels if you have access to it, and then it displays it. All the channels are coming across at the same time, which is why the Card does not need to talk to the Cable Company–just need to make sure you are paid up, then tune. The problem with this method, is it takes a LOT of bandwidth since every channel is being fed through the pipeline, ALL the time. With Switched Digital, all of the channels are transmitted more like an On-Demand system. Nothing is sent through the pipeline until your Cable Card device (must be 2-way now) can talk to the cable company and request a channel, then it authorizes your permissions, and tunes just that channel. So it makes sense, but definitely is leaving thousands of One-Way Cable Card users in the dust (remember, there’s currently NO 2-Way or Bi-directional Cable Card devices in existance outside of Cable Company Set Top Boxes).




While a device called the Tuning Adapter has been announced and is
planned on allowing users with 1-Way Cable Card devices to return to
their regular viewing habits, nobody I know has seen even a working
prototype of the device, nor is there an estimated time of arrival for
it to hit the market. (oh, and did I mention, Cable Companies will be
the ones providing the Tuning Adapter most likely, and can decide if
and what they choose to charge for them) You may have read or seen some posts on Tru2Way , which is simply the
new name for the Cable Card 2.0 platform which will support
tuning and thus, solve this whole fiasco. But no, it
probably won’t work with your existing Cable Card device, and nobody has announced a device working with those (or even an estimated timeframe for it).

Sound like a scam? You’re not alone, but people need to understand and fight back. I can’t urge users enough to contact their local cable providers and express your dissapointment and frustration with this. Users across the country are already being messaged by their Cable providers that they are switching certain channels to SDV, and of course, offering a "deal" on a set top box. TiVo Community has a great post which is being updated with regions known to already be beginning the rollout, so keep your eyes peeled. And if you have a Cable Card Media Center or TiVo device, start calling!! Here’s Time Warner Executive hotline, Comcast’s CEO and even a Top 100 Cable Systems Executive numbers. Just remember, you will get further with honey than vinegar, and nothing talks as loud as your wallet. Money mouth


EDIT 7/31/2008: I got my hands on a copy of a letter a customer received in San Diego (Time Warner), explaining the situation. 44 Channels are on the SDV chopping block…hope you’re not a MOJOHD fan (and if you’re not, you should be). So be careful if you see a letter from the cable company, could be some bad news!

sdv_tw_letter_1-thumb.jpg sdv_tw_letter_2-thumb.jpg
Careful for the "Special Offer" on a STB No love for NBA TV or MOJO!