The TechCrunch blog usually covers start-up culture, but a post today takes a diversion into the limited, primitive realm of cable boxes. You know 'em, you hate 'em. As post author MG Siegler points out, the interfaces are archaic, the horsepower anemic, and the remotes unappealing. He rightly suggests that cable providers can get away with old tech in their boxes, as well as constant rate hikes, because they still have limited monopolies in most regions of the country.
Siegler suggests that an Apple TV set-top box, created in concert with the cable providers, could be a way out of this mess, though what incentive does the cable industry have since most of us tolerate their DVR and on-demand services from our current boxes. If there is one possible alternative option, it could be based around the latest CableCards, which can actually handle two-way signals for features like on-demand videos (unlike the previous generation of CableCard technology).
To make use of CableCards, you can built yourself a home theater PC, or buy a TiVo HD or HD XL DVR. But hardly anyone is taking the plunge—just roughly 440,000 CableCards are in use among 41 million digital cable subscribers. The reasons are myriad: TiVo hardware is a more expensive upfront proposition than renting a cable box with DVR; the cable companies do not promote CableCards at all, if not do everything to discourage their use; and video on demand and pay-per-view don't work with third-party devices using the CableCards. Sony and Samsung had claimed support for the new CableCards but don't have the products to back those promises up.
Could a company as influential as Apple bake CableCard support into a new Apple TV or the long-rumored-but-unlikely Apple high-def televisions? Is that what it would take to shake cable companies from their lethargy about their boxes? Or could more networked media players that offer options like Amazon or Netflix's streaming video service and Hulu's TV programming render cable features like pay-per-view movies obsolete? Will a TV company put a CableCard slot back in its spec list, after eliminating it when people didn't bother with the first generation of CableCards (maybe as part of Toshiba's Cell TV platform)?
Is there anything that can be done to improve our cable boxes? Or what would be a better alternative? Let us know in the TalkBack section.