not agree with Kevin
that OCAP and CableCARD 2.0 are to blame for the lack of OEM CableCARD
machines, that doesn’t mean CableCARD 2.0 and OCAP are not important in the big
picture. As I have said in the past,
CableCARD is a great concept. However,
while the concept is great the implementation is flawed and has been since day
one. It’s not just flawed on the PC; it
is flawed in all CE devices. This is
really nothing new, just look at all the headlines around CableCARD and notice
all the issues, many of them revolve around OCAP and CableCARD 2.0. So, let’s explore the future of CableCARD in
PCs (and CE) including CableCARD 2.0, OCAP, and BOCR.
First of all, some quick notes for reference. Here are some basic definitions of things
that I don’t fully explain in the rest of the post.
- OCAP: OpenCable
Application Platform. Basically a Java-based platform that allows interactive
applications via Cable television.
Generally speaking, cable companies like it and want it to be included
in the CableCARD 2.0 specifications. CE
companies hate it, and want to limit its use.
- CableCARD 2.0: New set of standards for CableCARD devices, an
upgrade to the CableCARD platform. Does
not relate to the physical cards, but rather an overall operating
platform. Among other things, would add
support for two-way communication and if cable companies get their way, would
also mandate OCAP for various standard operations. Held up because of OCAP issues above and
- OCUR: OpenCable Unidirectional
Receiver. The CableCARD Tuner that is
made by ATI/AMD. Sold under the name
Digital Cable Tuner. More information
about getting one in my Vista
Bidirectional OpenCable Receiver.
Follow-up to OCUR. This time, it
should support OCAP and two-way communications.
Other information has not been released, nor has a timeline for its
- Bidirectional Communication: Two-way communication between the CableCARD Host and your cable company. Would allow for ordering Pay-Per-View, access On Demand content, and most importantly access to channels on Switched Digital Video (SDV).
- SDV: Switched Digital Video. A way of distributing video via cable. It is more efficient, allowing your cable company to provide more content to you (mainly, HD content). Instead of sending all the video down a pipe, they only send what you request. Because of this, you need Bidirectional communication.
Now that that is out of the way, we will start with
OCAP. As you can see above OCAP is a
Java-based middleware platform that would provide interactive applications and
services on CableCARD 2.0 compliant products.
Skipping all the crap about if it should be in CableCARD 2.0 spec or
what it should be used for within the spec, what does it mean to Media Center?
Well, Microsoft and CableLabs are moving along with
Bidirectional OpenCable Receiver (BOCR).
As the name suggests, BOCR picks up where OCUR left off. Support for bidirectional (two-way)
communications and OCAP is set to be included.
This should mean “CableCARD 2.0 Support.” This is clearly the part of the picture
everyone is wanting for. OCAP has some
interesting ramifications if required for certain tasks, which is a reason why
Microsoft and TiVo specifically have not offered bidirectional products. Microsoft might have a card up their sleeve
through, because at one point they submitted .NET to CableLabs with the intent
to have .NET CLI support in OCAP. I’m no
developer, nor OCAP expert but this might have given Microsoft some extra room
for these developments in BOCR.
CableCARD 2.0 would allow for these two-way communication
which would provide access to Pay-Per-View, On Demand, and SDV (issues outlined
Vista CableCARD FAQ). When I say
that CableCARD 2.0 would provide two-way communication I’m talking about the
Host device. In this case, it would be
the Digital Cable Tuner (OCUR) itself or soon to be BOCRs. The Host device defines either one or two-way
communication. All physical CableCARDs
can support two-way communication (S-Cards and M-Cards), but if the Host device
does not support two-way communication the physical CableCARD itself will be
OCURs support one-way communication, as hinted on by the
name OpenCable Unidirectional
Receiver. Because of this, new Digital
Cable Tuners will be needed to provide two-way communications. Enter, Bidirectional
OpenCable Receiver (BOCR) as mentioned above.
To throw another wrench into the OCUR picture, the Mode the
Host devices operates in plays another big role. All OCURs are currently limited to
S-Mode. S-Mode means that the device is
limited to a single stream (channel).
This is why you need two OCURs to support dual tuning. If OCURs where M-Mode devices, they would
support multiple streams (channels), which means it would support dual tuning
with a single OCUR and CableCARD (an M-Card).
According to CableLabs, “work is underway to extend their
[OCUR] support to allow the M-Mode interface.”
What that means in terms of upgrades, I don’t really know.
CableLabs might be referring to BOCR which is
new hardware, or they might be referring to an upcoming unannounced firmware
upgrade (or hardware add-in) to OCURs. ATI, CableLabs, and
Microsoft have been quite about it, so at this point we really don’t know. So, there is a possibility that current OCUR
owners could get M-Mode support via a firmware upgrade or hardware add-in, and then there are the
upcoming BOCR devices. This will be a new CableLabs hardware spec, M-OCUR (M-Card OCUR). New hardware will be required. OEMs should be able to release M-OCURs in mid-2008. These tuners will have to ability to take M-Cards (Multi Stream) and tune more than one channel (think dual tuner boxes).
The BOCR upgrade path is one of the most important
issues. The OCUR project between
CableLabs and Microsoft was developed with a “migration path” from
unidirectional to bidirectional communications in mind. I would say that current OCUR-enabled PCs
will work fine with BOCRs because of this.
The issue that I can see is how OEMs chose to handle the sales of the
BOCRs, or if CableLabs would open up sales to everyone (don’t count on
it). The good news about this is that
BOCRs should support M-Cards, so you only need a single BOCR for a dual tuner
This is all very early information on BOCR, but as I did
with OCUR I will be covering it from front to back. I just hope this time I don’t have to write
about for years before it launches (first CableCARD posts on this blog were in
Overall, OCAP and CableCARD 2.0 are both very important to
the future of CableCARD and digital cable as a whole (on the PC or not). If BOCR launches with OCAP and support for
bidirectional communication, the only worries left are the reliability and
installation issues that CableCARD PC owners are having. I think all parties involved will have a
better understanding of the current issues and hopefully improve on them to
offer customers the best CableCARD experience possible.
BOCR Details Emerge from Ceton Corp