TiVo + CableCARD = The Best DVR Yet

Posted on September 12th, 2007, by Michael

&The technology of the CableCARD has generated a lot of interest among our customers – and for good reason. CableCARDs have enabled end-users to get the content they want on the hardware they want. And without the dreaded cable box. Just as a web browser enables users to see internet content in a variety of ways on a desktop, laptop, PDA, or phone, CableCARDs allow users to view and record content on their choice of equipment, including TVs and DVRs.

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Some quick background: the FCC requires all cable providers in all 50 states to supply CableCARDs when requested by subscribers (you can see some info about this on the FCC website – they call the technology “plug and play”). The FCC has allowed these cable companies to wire each and every home, so they’re regulated as part of those agreements, and the CableCARD standard has evolved from those regulations. At this point, the FCC doesn’t (and probably can’t) require satellite broadcasters (DirecTV and Dish) to adhere to CableCARD rules due to the inherent differences in broadcast mechanism. The standards for the CableCARD product are evoloved and maintained by a group called CableLabs.

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So what is an actual CableCARD and how does it work? It’s really just a chipset housed in a metal case that’s about the dimensions of a credit card, and about three times as thick. Each cable provider can have different chips inside, but the key is that there is a descrambler in there, just like in earlier cable boxes. There is also a serial chip in there that holds an electronic serial number. That way, the cable company can link the serial number to your cable account and then tell that specific cable card that you pay for a certain set of channels, and to decode or unscramble only those. So in essence, it’s an unlocking device that can be controlled, in part, by the cable company.

Once the CableCARD is installed in your equipment (TV or DVR generally) then the equipment requests a certain channel and the CableCARD supplies it. As you change channels, the card follows along with the new requests. The best part is, this is totally seamless. You never have a cable box that didn’t get the message – the hardware is completely integrated.

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The interaction between TiVo DVRs and CableCARDs is truly a great step forward for DVRs. Two TiVo units – the TiVo Series3 and the TiVo HD – can both use CableCARDs to get their programming. If you’ve used a cable box (or any set top box) in conjunction with a TiVo, this a significant advance, because you now only need one box instead of two. Since the TiVo doesn’t have to control a separate box, all of the attendant issues (cables getting moved, IR interference, the box switching off unexpectedly, etc.) are eliminated from the setup.

A new type of CableCARD is emerging that can decode two streams of encrypted cable signal at once. These are knows as M cards or multistream cards. With an M card, one card is sufficient to allow a compatible DVR to record two separate channels at once. Currently, only the TiVo HD is compatible with this feature of an M card. A Series3 TiVo can use an M card, but only to record one channel at a time. So for a Series3 unit, you’d need two M cards installed to have the ability to record two channels at once. If/when the Series3 units can receive two streams through one M card, notice should be posted on the TiVo M card support page.

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(sample CableCARD setup screen on a TiVo Series3)

While the CableCARD technology is a great advance for TiVo users, there are a few drawbacks. The most important is that current support in TiVo DVRs for CableCARDs is limited to one direction: downstream. They can’t send signals back to the cable company. This means that Video On Demand and PayPerView cannot be initiated from a TiVo with CableCARDs. But if the programming is unlocked on the cable account (by phone, online, or from a cable box on the same account) then the TiVo’s CableCARDs will generally be able to view and record those shows. One other important note is that neither DirecTV nor DISH make any type of CableCARD, nor are they expected to. Since the FCC doesn’t regulate satellite broadcasters in the same way, and since their technological infrastructure is very different, we don’t believe that we will ever see this technology for use with satellite broadcasts.

CableCARDs make the latest generation of TiVos by far the best DVRs yet. They can receive signal from more sources than any previous unit, and their clarity and ease of use are unsurpassed. Essentially, the entire CableCARD platform was developed to let consumers choose their own equipment, and TiVo has produced DVRs that marry the best interface with the best HD and standard definition cable and antenna programming.

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Please leave a comment

  1. Michael Says:

    If you want to get content from that TiVo to the other TVs, you can’t do it with FiOS boxes. You either need other TiVos at those locations, or maybe computers there that can use TiVo Desktop to transfer files and then play them to each TV.

  2. ron Says:

    Can i use the TCD746320 without a service plan (just for OTA channels and basic cable) until i decide if i want to go full out with TiVo?

  3. Michael Says:

    Nope. It won’t record at all without a service plan. It really won’t do anything.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    In reference to the issue of PPV and VOD, I wanted to make sure that the In Demand sports packages (like MLB Extra Innings and NHL Center Ice) are still available, using TiVo instead of my current cable box. They are yearly subscriptions, which I have already paid for, and I don’t want to switch to TiVo and then discover I can’t watch my games anymore.

  5. Eric Says:

    I’m using an older series 2 TIVO and a newer TIVO HD with cablecard. I can transfer using my network any program on my series 2 TIVO to my TIVO HD. But do to “content provider” request all programs I have on my TIVO HD that were not “broadcast” are locked down (copy protected) and cannot be transferred anywhere on my network. I’m using roxio’s toast to play programs on my Mac and iPod from the series 2. I live in Tucson using Cox cable. How many more providers are going to start to “copy protect” the content on our TIVO’s? I guess I will have to look elsewhere for my DVR needs if I am not able to make use of the devices I purchased the way I see fit.

  6. jen Says:

    I have a an HD Tivo (series 3 I think) and was wondering if Direct TV makes cable card adapters that will work in this unit. I am sick of Time Warner and my area does not have Fios yet. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

  7. Scott Says:

    Just dump DTV after 15+ years because they won’t climb my roof to fix the dish they installed. Thinking about WOW cable and Tivo. (my other choice would be Comcast which I am trying to avoid) WIll it work? Will I be happy with the HD DVR’s compared to DTV HR-23? Will I be able to watch recorded content in one room that resides on a DVR in another room? Anything else I should consider?

  8. Art Says:

    I have a series 3 which must have to cards installed for both tuners to work.
    I had several problems with the cable cards and am currently not using the cable cards and just using the QAM channels, so I know my tivo still works fine.
    The cable cards can be corrupted, during the program update, and having 2 in one unit can cause problems with both if one is not working.
    Anything newer than the series 3 can use a single m card so getting one card working properly is easier than getting 2 cards to play nice with each other.
    The installation process is rather simple, and I have done my series 3 and also my wife’s and children’s premier and hd unit (4 total) so i have done the procedure 4 times successfully, but my older tivo remains the sole holdout for working properly.

  9. Shirley Says:

    Hi, I have At&t UVerse. I just want to be able to record more than 50 hours of HD. How do I accomplished this is issue. Thanks.

  10. Michael Says:

    I don’t think there is any way to increase capacity on AT&T DVRs.

  11. Ken Says:

    I just purchased a Tivo Premier XL4 with 4 tuners. To receive cable I understand I need a Multi-stream CableCARD (M-CARD). I read that the M-CARD is allows only two channel recording. Is this true? I have Time Warner Cable. Did I overbuy? Thanks.

  12. Michael Says:

    The Multistream cards can handle four streams in the XL4. Technically, they can handle up to six streams, but there’s no hardware to take advantage of that yet.

  13. Joan Bartell Says:

    I have Comcast HD but not internet. My internet is a DSL line. Would this work with a TiVo and cablecard but no dedicated phone line?

  14. Joan Bartell Says:

    I have Comcast HD but not internet. My internet is a DSL line. Would this work with a TiVo and cablecard but no dedicated phone line?

  15. David Drucker Says:

    Since we moved to Canada, for a short time we could continue to use our old Series 2 TiVO, but then our cable went digital. Canada does not allow cablecard in the country. Is it remotely possible to get a TiVO working with a standard cable connection, bypassing the cablecard, or will Canada remain behind what we sometimes refer to as ‘The Maple Curtain’, keeping all sorts of content and technology out of the company?

  16. Michael Says:

    A Series2 unit can’t use a CableCARD at all, so you should be fine. With an HD unit, you’d be out of luck.

  17. Joseph C Bennett Jr Says:

    What cable card id used with the Tivo Roamio Pro ? Is only one required to access all 6 turners at once ? Using Mediacom Cable service .

    Thanks
    Joe

  18. Robert Says:

    Really considering a TiVo. Switched from DIRECTV to Charter cable and their DVRs stink. I’ve had 2 boxes so far and nothing but problems. Cisco garbage that was end-of-life in 2012. Has the 2-way communication issue been resolved with the CableCARDs? I really don’t want to do without my VOD.

  19. steve Says:

    Have had TiVo with Charter for eight months now. It has been working very well. The installation was painless. I did it myself. I took my Charter dvr in and they gave me a cable card and tuning adapter. I have been happy ever since.

  20. Dan S Says:

    I currently have Comcast digital cable, NOT HD, just SD. I’m also old school in that I was an old 31″ tube tv, no flat screens,
    I’m never home to watch my shows so I record them the OLD way, I use VCR’s.
    I record 6 channels. That means I have 6 VCR’s and 6 small cable converter boxes.
    These 6 boxes and vcr’s are in different rooms. I have trouble with the small converter boxes loosing signal and thus loosing the channel. No doubt due to losses in the splitters. The VCR tapes the dead channel.

    What do I need to get to be able to record my 6 channels from Comcast?
    I’m confused about cable cards and Tivo’s.

    I also watch “On Demand” shows and listen to music channel on my Big cable box.
    I want to retain the on Demand aspect as well.

    Please help a newbee out.
    Thanks
    Dan

  21. Phyllis A. Says:

    I have an old model black TiVo that suddenly stopped working, (TCD846500). Now TiVo
    tells me that the new TiVo Bolt will not work with the Senior TV system that I have. Do you
    have a suggestion of what model would work with Senior TV? Thanks, Phyllis

  22. Robert Says:

    Seeing a comment earlier from October 2015 that does not seem to have received any official response. Unless “Michael” isn’t responding to these comments anymore. Not really sure. At any rate, considering 1 or 2 TiVo BOLTs for use with Charter Spectrum service. In our area we seem to have an old build of Charter services that were only rebranded in name to Spectrum. I suspect a future build is coming, but there’s absolutely no way to find out when it will arrive. I had previously asked about bidirectional multistream CableCARDs but don’t see any answer on that query. Right now I’m being told that a switch from my severely outdated Charter DVRs to TiVo BOLTs would mean a loss of PPV and VOD. This was confirmed by the Charter employee at the local Charter “store”. I’ve also read somewhere (here? can’t find it now) about unlocking services like PPV and VOD by phone or online, but I know almost nothing about how this works. I’m assuming it involves calling Charter to request access to a particular channel on a case-by-case basis versus having access simply by using my remote. If anyone can chime in that would be great.

  23. Darren Suprina Says:

    I recently received a notice that Comcast is updating their networks and that this will disable certain channels from proper use on my Tivo Series 3 HD unit. Apparently certain channels will be converted to MP4 format which is incompatible with with my DVR. Is this true? How can I update my Series 3 so as to permit its continued operation. I have a lifetime subscription and don’t wish to replace the system and loose that value.

  24. Michael Says:

    Units starting with TCD65 will work with MPEG4. Units starting with TCD648 will not. There is no update to change that unfortunately.

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