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Cable Operators

FireWire Trade Group: Keep Our Ports On HD Set-Tops

12/10/2009 12:42 PM Eastern

The 1394 Trade Association opposes Intel's request for a waiver to the Federal Communications Commission's rules requiring an IEEE 1394 interface -- also known as FireWire -- on cable operators' HD set-top boxes.

Intel in October requested a waiver to the FCC rule, which is intended to allow consumers to connect HDTVs and other devices to leased cable boxes, arguing that since it was adopted in 2005 "the marketplace has shifted away from little-used and very expensive 1394 technology to the widely-deployed IP technologies." The chip giant called the regulation requiring 1394 "a technological ‘bridge to nowhere'" and suggested that HD cable boxes include an IP-based interface like Ethernet.

Without a waiver to the 1394 requirement, according to Intel, it would be "cost-prohibitive" to produce system-on-a-chip products for operator-sourced set-tops. According to Intel, a chip that supports IEEE 1394 costs more than $5 compared with "a few cents per device" for a chip that supports IP networks.

In a Dec. 9 filing, the 1394 trade group insisted that FireWire is "widely deployed and accepted by consumers." It pointed out that, contrary to Intel's implication, FireWire actually does support IP-based services and claimed Ethernet doesn't offer any advantages over FireWire on that score. In April 2008, for example, the 1394 Trade Association announced its 1 billionth shipment of FireWire ports, of which 25 million are in set-top boxes.

However, the trade group did not in its opposition filing dispute Intel's assertion that chips that support FireWire cost an order of magnitude more than Ethernet-based components.

Members of the 1394 Trade Association include Apple, Texas Instruments, Funai Electric, Hitachi, LSI, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba.

The trade group also said Intel's waiver request is too broad. Intel had cited the waiver the FCC granted to Cable One in May allowing the operator to deploy one-way, low-cost HD set-tops with integrated security in its Dyersburg, Tenn., system, under which the agency also waived the 1394 output requirement because the costs would "outweigh the potential benefits" to consumers. The 1394 Trade Association said the FCC's decision in that case was much more narrow in scope than the latitude Intel's waiver petition seeks.

Separately, TiVo also is seeking a waiver to the FireWire regulation from the FCC as it pertains to RCN's plans to offer TiVo HD DVRs to its subscribers in early 2010.

"The 1394 interface is not widely used today," TiVo said. "Adding a 1394 port to TiVo DVRs would add to their cost without significant consumer benefit."

On another tangent, the FCC, as part of its national broadband plan, last Thursday issued a request for information on "video device innovation," focused on how set-top boxes could help spur the viewing of video over the Internet.

September