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Widevine Cooks Up a CableCard

Widevine Technologies has developed a CableCard device -- for multichannel video networks using the company’s conditional-access system -- which it claimed will be less than half the price of CableCard devices from Motorola and Scientific Atlanta.

“The operators have certainly realized that the CableCard options available to them are very expensive,” Widevine CEO Brian Baker said in an interview. “We’ve come to market with a CableCard solution that is substantially less expensive than incumbent solutions.”

Prices quoted for CableCards from Motorola and SA have ranged between $50 and $100, although neither vendor publishes prices for the devices. Baker said his company’s CableCard is at least half of the price of currently shipping CableCards. A cable operator or telephone company must be using Widevine’s CA system to be able to use the Widevine CableCard devices.

CableLabs created the CableCard specification to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s requirement that the industry provide a standard way for third-party consumer electronics to access cable TV programming. The FCC required most cable operators to provide CableCard-based set-tops to their own digital-cable subscribers as of July 1.

Baker said the Widevine CableCard is not yet certified by CableLabs but that he expected it to be eventually. The card, which supports single-stream and multistream operation, is being manufactured by an Asian electronics supplier.

Seattle-based Widevine received a request from one U.S. customer to develop the CableCard; Baker declined to name the customer.

Widevine chief technology officer Glenn Morten said the company’s CableCard will work on both traditional quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) and Internet Protocol networks. He said the Widevine product also will conform to the IP-enhanced CableCard specification that the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) is developing --a project initiated by Verizon Communications, which uses a hybrid QAM/IP set-top box for its FiOS TV service.

In addition, Widevine’s CableCard can support a downloadable conditional access security client. “Our CableCard solution will be an effective bridge to common-reliance downloadable security,” Baker said.

PolyCipher, a Denver-based joint venture established by Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable, is in the midst of developing a downloadable conditional access specification that is being licensed by CableLabs.

But whereas PolyCipher’s DCAS requires proprietary security chips from specific vendors, Widevine’s proposed solution for downloadable security -- which it presented to the FCC in August -- works with “off-the-shelf hardware,” according to Baker.

“CableLabs has the ultimate authority to dictate which vendors get to play in the cable sandbox,” Baker said. “We’re taking a very different approach. We’re leveling the playing field.”

Widevine, whose investors include Charter Ventures and Cisco Systems, earlier this year embarked on an effort to license its patents related to downloadable conditional access to other CA vendors. Last month Widevine sued one of its competitors, Verimatrix, alleging that Verimatrix violated a patent for selectively encrypting portions of data sent over a network.