CableLabs Specifies FireWire for OpenCable Digital Set-Top Boxes

Last week, Cable Television Laboratories, Inc. specified an existing high-speed serial protocol called IEEE 1394 (also known as FireWire) as the link between OpenCable digital set-top boxes and devices such as television sets and DVD players. OpenCable is a CableLabs-sponsored initiative aimed at developing key interface specifications in order to foster interoperability among digital set-top boxes built by multiple vendors and used in broadband, two-way cable networks.

The IEEE 1394 protocol is specified in the OpenCable purchase orders of CableLabs' member companies for connecting digital devices. One issue that had surrounded this protocol was the lack of a security system for programming that traveled across it. However, a joint effort by the cable and computer industries and the Hollywood studios recently achieved preliminary consensus about key security issues.

"This is a critical element for cable operators, because the 1394 interface gives us a cost-effective way to provide our customers with the advanced services central to the OpenCable initiative," says Joseph Collins, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable. "With a copy-protection system soon to be available on the 1394 interface, we anticipate seeing OpenCable product with the 1394 interface within a year."

According to TCI Chairman and CEO Dr. John C. Malone, "TCI has required 1394 connections on a wide array of the boxes we have ordered under the OpenCable process. We have made access to television sets and other devices via 1394 a centerpiece of our plans to deliver enhanced services." Malone is also chairman of CableLabs.

IEEE 1394 is a standardized interface that supports high-bandwidth serial connections. The cable itself is a four- or six-wire shielded, twisted-pair bundle that would plug into digital television sets and the digital set-top boxes being created under OpenCable. This protocol allows data rates of up to 400 megabits per second; this kind of speed is important when delivering services such as digital video and data.

CableLabs is a research-and-development consortium of cable-television system operators representing the continents of North and South America.