Rumors of CableCard Demise
Two years ago CableCard was going to release Cable TV subscribers from the bondage of the set top box and provide freedom to digital Cable aware devices like HTPC. A recent story in the New York Times expressed that CableCard is dead. In the words of Richard Doherty researcher from the Envisioneering Group:
"The CableCard is essentially dead, It will go down in history like the Edsel."
The numbers speak of a technology in decline. Six million CableCard ready digital TV sets were sold to consumers and only less than 3% are actually using the feature. Everyone else is simply using the old set top box supplied by the Cable Companies. TV manufacturers have even begun to reduce the numbers of CableCard ready sets they produce. According to Envisioneering 80% fewer CableCard ready models will be available in '06 than in '05. About two years ago when CableCard first came around it looked like it might be a widely adopted technology and help put a boom into the growing HDTV market. The feature is particularly important to third part set top box manufacturers like TiVo which will release its Series3 complete with CableCard 2.0. The FCC supports CableCard to promote competition with set top box manufacturers like Motorola and Scientific Atlanta who currently dominate the market.
If CableCard is truly dead there is plenty of blame to go around for its troubled life. Consumer electronics manufacturers and the FCC blame Cable TV Companies for questionable support and numerous failed installs. Cable TV manufacturers blame a lack of consumer interest in the standard and cite the Digital TVs themselves as the problem for failed installs. According to Charter Communications "problems with the manufacture of digital televisions are responsible for virtually all reported CableCard issues". Um, sure.
The biggest reason for the standards failure to take off is almost certainly a lack of financial incentives. Television manufacturers see CableCard as an increased cost that is passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices, so they're probably indifferent toward it unless the feature isn't selling TVs. Digital Cable TV services have little incentive to promote the technology because they receive rental fees on set top boxes they provide. Matt Haughey from the PVR Blog says that he and many Comcast subscribers are even discouraged from using CableCard feature in their TVs when they've called to have the service activated.
"Cable companies dragged their feet supporting CableCard and only did the minimum to meet FCC regulations. The TV manufacturers released CableCard-ready hardware years ago, before most companies offering programming had their act together."
Matt also says the eulogy for the CableCard could be premature because the best products featuring the standard are still yet to come. TiVo Series3 and Windows Vista Media Center PCs are HDTV recording devices that will benefit us most if they include CableCard. The success of CableCard can only add flexibility control of your Cable programming, that's something in short supply in our DRM constipated era of digital HD entertainment.
If you ask Clint DeBoer, Editor-in-Chief of Audioholics.com, the primary reason is simple: CableCARD asked people to GIVE UP something in order to get the latest technology. Namely, due to a lack of two-way communication, they had to give up all of the interactive features which made cable so (recently) progressive. As iTunes and MP3 have taught us, the fact that CableCARDs presented a better quality picture was insufficient reason for people to give up their cable boxes - especially since both are essentially free... Only after this, should the additional reasons such as lack of education on the part of cable company installers and hardware issues be factored into the equation. Perhaps there can be a resurrection of the technology, but the window of opportunity was squandered and I suspect that manufacturers will not be "fooled" twice.
Special Thanks to www.hometheaterfocus.com