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TiVo + CableCARD = The Best DVR Yet

&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.

84 replies on “TiVo + CableCARD = The Best DVR Yet”

Does using a cable card also speed up communication between Tivo and Cable?

I currently have a stand-alone box and there is an approximate 2 second lag between Tivo sending the signal to change channel and then the channel actual changing. Not a big deal, but if this lag is resolved through use of a cable card – I’d consider this a definite advantage.

Yes – because there’s no cable box in the equation at all, it’s much, much faster, and also 100% accurate. Having the two functions integrated makes all the difference.

I have a 10-250 tivo (love it) and I am interested in installing another tv with a dvr. Currently we have a waining direct tv contract.I have been asked by att to bundle all tv and telephone svc. with their newly fiber optics to the house. My Q. is the hd tivo & cable card compatable and how would you set them up reguarding cable boxes and phone lines?

I use Time Warner cable and they now have an “open cablecard product” which offers 2-way communications so that “OnDemand” could be used. Does either the TivoHD or Series 3 support the 2-way communications cablecards?

I subscribe to Time Warner in Central New York. I recently purchased a TiVoHD and had the M-card installed. It took the technician quite a while to complete the install (TW apparently does not have many requests for cable cards in TiVos. After the tech made several phone calls the M-card was set up.

The only negative I have is that the cable card does not receive switched digital signals. There are several that you may be interested in that are not available. Do your home work and check with your cable company. TW has a listing of the channel lineup with markings to list unavailable channels.

If you are interested in getting the pay-per-view or on demand, you will have to keep the TW digital box.

TW Central NY apparently does not have an “open cablecard product” for the HD programming. As demand goes up, I am hoping they will offer such a product.

A technician from time warner came out to our house and explained to me how we couldn’t pick up the switched digital signals but said there is a new product expected out this month that makes this possible. I think he said it was called a doogle or doggle. Has any one heard of this?

A friend of mine told me that CableCards can’t see any programming more than a day in advance. Please tell me this is not true.

Definitely not accurate – but it misses the point! The guide data is actually still coming from TiVo, not the CableCARD. TiVo provides two weeks of guide data for the unit, regardless of programming source.

Is there any scuttlebutt as to when TiVo will introduce a HD unit with two-way CableCARD capability? I assume this will entail new hardware, as opposed to a software upgrade.

I know thats not true about the guide data only going 1 week in advance with cable cards because I had my tivo’s hooked up for 3 days with no cable service at all an it had two weeks of guide data.

I like this idea because we’ve had a ton of trouble w/Comcast’s TiVo box. Have made 4 service calls in 2 months. That said–is the CableCARD subject to the same service issues that the box is, e.g., software “upgrades” that screw up the system, outages, etc. How does one tell if those are CableCARD issues or TiVo issues? Does Comcast (or the cable provider) still make service calls to service the cards as they do for box problems? I just don’t want to substitute one set of frustrations that I have w/Comcast for a new set. thanks.

CableLabs approved some boxes to use with Tivo for SDV. They’re called “Tuning Adapters” and plug into the usb port of the tivo, enabling SDV content. Cox is giving them out for free when/if your area has SDV. These are not tivo-only boxes, however, and can be used with other supported devices.

I am a Comcast subscriber in Montgomery County, MD. I am very interested in replacing my Motorola cable box with a Series 3 TiVo.

Comcast will supply the cableCARD’s I require but I am wondering if this will interupt any a la carte programming that I have added. Specifically my NHL Center Ice programming.

You’d have to ask them whether they use SDV (Switched Digital Video) or not. If they do, they’d have to be supplying ‘tuning adapters’ for you to get everything that you currently do.

Most likely, you’ll have no problems.

I have standard tivo now and want the HD tivo.My question is can I change the units and keep my old monthly price.

TiVo + CableCard = The Best DVR Yet

Why would you post this article and ignore the fact that these HD DVRs won’t receive most HD channels due to SDV? I would have expected anyone selling TiVo HD to run and hide because they don’t work most of the time!

Bill Holmes

I found out that Comcast (Arlington VA) charges an additional $11.00 per month to get all of the HD channels on a second TV set (already subscribe to digital HD package). Sales guy says that w/o the $11.00 fee, then I would only get digital channels up to ch# 100 and local HD only. Has anyone else run in to this scam?

I use Cox Cable in Las Vegas. I have no premium channels, so my cable goes directly into my HD television and I see (non-premium) HD programs just fine without a cable box. My question: will any of the TiVo HD boxes allow me to record my non-premium HD channels without the nuisance of cable cards?

Will the tivo/card combo make tivo compatible w/ Fios? I’m boxed in right now; Direc does not offer hd in my building, so I’m FORCED to deal w/ comcast. Desperately hoping fios Will be av. w/in the year. Will buy tivo now (comcast dvr SUCKS!!!) if fios supports it. Anyone know?

I have a Tivo HD unit which every 4 to 6 weeks loses reception on all channels below 100. I have to reset the box to gain reception. TIVO says it is a software problem that they are working on. They have been telling me this since last July ’08. Now, this past week, I have lost reception THREE (3) times. They still say they are working on it.
I asked them to take the unit back since I cannot depend on it. They have refused. Does anyone have any comments?

Paul, keep at them. I recommend e-mailing your issues with a list of the dates (and times if possible) that you had service issues. I did this with Time Warner and over time had my bill reduced from nearly $135 to $97.50. It should work for your too. Worst case you should get a few free months until the issue is resolved.

Forgive me if this sounds a bit ignorant but I libe in the UK but have a home in Florida and the TV services are not similar at all, so I don’t understand the way it works in the USA too well.

We have cable and get a basic set of channels through it (non-premium).
There are digital channels, they are not just analogue, being a Tivo user in the UK, even though we don’t subscribe to a premium channel set, I would quite like to get a Tivo in our Florida villa to use when we are there, if nothing else so we don’t have to reply on the cable guide channel!

Is it possible to get cablecards for a HD Tivo if your not subscribing to a premium set of channels?

If I buy a Tivo HD and get a CableCARD from verizon fios I will have to pay a fee every month to verzion for the cablecard. BUT, will I also have to pay a fee every month to Tivo as well?

My SO is now living in Virginia and I’m still here in California. She will want me to send her our Tivo 2 (Pioneer 810HS). So, I will be in the market for a new HD or HD XL unit. I have Time Warner here in OC. Will I still need 2 cable cards or just one? Plus box for SDV? (I really need to dump these lousy cable boxes as TW’s new S/W s**ks and they reboot the box willy-nilly – no Patch Tuesday for them). For now, I still have the Tivo 1 (Sony) with lifetime.

I have a System 3 Tivo HD. I just installed a cable card. Many channels did not show up, but I fixed that problem by going into settings/channel lineup and checking the channels…
Unfortunately, I will be returning the cable card to Comcast because the cable card does not allow ON DEMAND!!! No one informed me of this. What a waste of time!

I’m sure this has been asked and answered, but I can’t find it. I have a small town cable company in Canada. I was their first ever customer to have TiVo. My TiVo didn’t even recognize them. TiVo had to contact the cable company and get their channel listing. Anyway, I’m considering getting an HD XL, but all I’m reading about is CableCARDs. Is this a must or will the HD XL work with my HD box supplied by the cable provider. Thanks and all the best!

Nope – the TiVo HD and the TiVo HD XL will NOT work with a regular cable box at all.

The options are:

-antenna

-analog cable with no box

-digital cable with CableCARD

I have just purchased a TiVo HD. We have comcast in the area who want to charge me an additional $9.95/month for a Cable Card. If I could purchase a Comcast M-Card online would that work in my machne? Thanks.

I have an old TIVO with no card slot. Do I need to upgrade my TIVO or can I somehow attach a card reader somehow?

Thnaks

We have an HD Tivo and are provided service from Blue Ridge Cable. We were just informed that they will be “upgrading” their technology so we will be losing the ability to view HBO HD [and numerous other HD Spanish Channels] since we are using the Cable Cards. How unfortunate for us. Just an FYI.

Although I like the cable card [dual stream] it would be nice to have the option of an HD tivo that supports an hd cable box provided by our cable company — that would allow us to view HBO HD as well as on demand programming.

The on demand is not such a big deal since we are netflix subscribers and now block buster is also integrated along with Amazon Downloads. There is enough content out there that on demand is not needed.

Lastly, I will ask if any one else has had this “No HBO HD with Cable Cards” thrust upon them without warning?

Thank you.

I have a TivoHD with an M-card from Cablevision and am pretty happy with it. I do occasionally run into the “loss of all channels” problem mentioned above, but it happens only every few months, and then is easily fixed by rebooting, or by ejecting and reseating the M-card.

I’m curious if anyone knows whether it is technical or economic (what other possibilities are there?) reasons which dictate that there isn’t a version of a Tivo 3 which operates with an upstream cable box, and which connects to the cable box with a secure HDMI cable (so the precious content is safe and secure and digital), and possibly an IR dongle if needed. Since so many cable system seem to be slow and/or incompetent are providing cable cards, this would appear to be a good way to go. Or is there a problem I’m missing?

I have a TIVO HD. I have basic comcast cable. I do not have a cable box. I presently do not have any M or S-Card. I do not get HD when viewing from the TIVO – I do when viewing from TV. I can record 2-channels one once.
My question is – if I get the 2 S-Cards or 1 M-Card will I then get HD channels on my TIVO HD

Are any of you TIVO HD subscribers having a problem with the programming having a copyright locked on so that you cannot transfer your recorded program to your TIVO desktop? We have that problem. No copyright issues with my other TIVO 2 series, just the TIVO HD. So is Comcast putting the copyright on the programming or the channels?

With Comcast is it possible to use TIVO without the cable cards if I just subscribe to basic and digital with no premium channels? They charge $16.00 per cared here in Charleston, SC. Thanks.

I don’t agree Tivo and cablecard are so great. This is because I can no longer access pay per view or on demand with this setup. I find it bogus that Tivo can no longer control an external cable box. If it could then I could still have on demand.

If I want on demand I still need two boxes but now have to switch inputs between Tivo and the cable box. With my series two I could control the cable box from the Tivo.

So until the two way cable cards are available Tivo should bring that capability back. I’m disappointed that Tivo removed this feature. In my view this is a step back not forward. Yes, Tivo now supports HD but its super annoying to switch inputs between the two boxes.

First, on the On Demand front, what about the large variety of providers who do On Demand to TiVos directly, without involving your cable company? You can rent/buy from Amazon and Blockbuster, and stream from Netflix. I’d be surprised if your cable company was cheaper or had a larger selection. So, I really think On Demand is BETTER on a TiVo HD – just different.

Next, as far as using a cable box, that just isn’t really technically possible in HD for several reasons, including the horsepower needed to digitize HD video on the fly, and the copyright restrictions inherent in HDMI.

Great summary!
Background: 3 TV’s downstairs + 2 upstairs, on Verizon Fios.
Challenge: New Premier Tivo HD + currently have Fios multiroom dvr & boxes in every room

Q: What is the best way (after getting fios card for Tivo box) and placing in main tv room to be able to play any recorded show on that box from any tv and still watch different shows in those rooms (i.e don’t want all tv’s to show same thing -like using an IR repeater). Buy another Tivo or 5, rent Fios basic boxes for other TV’s?

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