A Reader’s GuideTo ‘The Cable App’

gadget giddiness from this year’s
International Consumer Electronics
Show. We’ll spare you a roundup
and instead focus on perhaps the
most promising thing to happen to
cable at a CES, ever: the rebirth
of the “cable-ready TV,” this time
without federally mandated technology

We’re talking about the debut of “the cable
app,” by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, on
“smart TVs” made by Samsung and Sony.

First of all, what’s “smart” about a “smart
TV” is the same thing that made phones “smart
phones” last year: an Internet connection.

For cable, it means this: Consumer Jane buys a
smart TV. She brings it home, hangs it on the wall
and hooks up the Internet connection. (Warning:
When you try this at home, have that crazy-long,
un-memorizable Wi-Fi password handy.)

Then, voila: Apps start popping up. Netflix
comes to mind. But, next to the Netflix icon,
there’s perhaps an “Xfinity” logo, for Comcast
customers, or the Time Warner Cable icon, for its

(Note: So far, none of the manufacturers are
accepting a premium to put one company’s icon
higher in the queue. So far, it’s by popularity —
whichever app is used the most is highest on the
list. We’re taking bets on how fast that changes.)

How does it work, technically? Let’s start easy.
Let’s say Consumer Jane lives in Comcast territory
and is already a broadband and video customer.

In the past, and in a huge oversimplification,
streaming live video meant getting an encrypted
stream to her set-top box.

Now, getting a live stream to a “connected”
or “smart” TV means sending an HTTP stream,
wrapped in digital rights management, “from the
cloud” (translation: from a server in the network).
That stream moves over Internet protocol through
the cable-modem termination system, through the
cable modem, through the Wi-Fi router, to the TV.

Then, to move that stream around to other TVs
and screens in the home, two other components
come into play. One is DLNA with DTCP-IP, a form
of link-layer protection that keeps the signal encrypted
as it moves around the home.

The other is HTML 5, to render the user interface
on the other screens in the home.

So, no set-top, no CableCard, no OCAP. Just
cable, going into television sets, without all the
rest of it. Sounds to me like a cable-ready TV, and
a way to get the services people are already paying
for onto their other screens — without the Federal
Communications Commission’s “help.” Amen!

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