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TiVo and cable industry unveil Switched Digital Video workaround

A USB dongle due in 2008 should ensure the compatibility of TiVo's high-def DVRs with SDV technologies that are increasingly being deployed by cable companies.

TiVo HD CableCard slot
To date, TiVo's CableCard DVRs weren't compatible with SDV channels.
CNET Networks

As of the most recent software update (9.2), TiVo's added quite a few fixes to its high-def DVRs: the Series3 and the TiVo HD now offer the TiVo To Go, Multi-Room Viewing, Rhapsody, and expandable storage features that were originally promised. Now it appears that TiVo has solved the other big sticking point: compatibility with Switched Digital Video (SDV) technology. The company announced today that it's developed (with the help of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association) an add-on USB adapter that will enable its two high-def DVRs to properly tune cable channels being broadcast with SDV technology.

Assuming it pans out, the SDV compatibility is something of a breakthrough because it removes a giant caveat from the buying decision for potential TiVo consumers. SDV technology has been hailed as something of a savior for bandwidth-starved cable operators, because it allows them to cram more digital and high-definition channels into their existing channel space as they struggle for "most HD channels" bragging rights with satellite and fiber competitors. The problem to date was that SDV channels--which effectively are delivered "on demand" when you tune to them--were not available on third-party cable boxes using existing CableCard technology. In other words, customers with standard cable boxes were fine, but anyone with a third-party CableCard device--such as a TiVo, some home theater PCs, and many "DCR" (digital cable ready) TVs--would be unable to watch any of the SDV channels.

With TiVo owners still in the minority and SDV technology not yet widely deployed, the incompatibility problem was a looming issue on the horizon. But with more cable providers set to roll out SDV in the upcoming months, it was set to bloom into a full-blown crisis, with TiVo owners suddenly finding themselves unable to watch new HD channels coming online on their cable system. With a solution now on the roadmap, TiVo's high-def DVRs look a lot more future-proof--and easier to recommend.

The press release specifies that the USB adapter will work with TiVo Series3 and TiVo HD DVRs, as well as "any Unidirectional Digital Cable Ready Product (UDCP) that has a USB connector and necessary firmware"--which, ideally, includes the forthcoming Digeo Moxi and aforementioned PC devices, as well as future third-party video devices as well. (With USB ports and upgradeable firmware still a relative rarity on TVs--plus the fact that CableCards are disappearing from the spec sheets of most current TV models--don't hold your breath for an update if you're one of the small number of HDTV owners using a CableCard.) The new adapters are scheduled to be available in the second quarter of 2008. No pricing was specified.