A number of news outlets reported in the last 24 hours on the fact that the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that cable companies can offer DVR-like services with the video stored in the company's network rather than on a DVR hard drive -- called a remote-storage DVR. For instance, USA Today covered the story reporting the win for Cablevision's plan to offer DVR anywhere a consumer has a digital set-top box, even if that set-top box isn't equipped with DVR functionality. Turner Broadcasting, among others, opposed Cablevision in the appeal. Certainly the ruling is correct. There is no difference as to where content is stored and if you trust Cablevision with your content then you have to rust their ability to buffer it securely. But I want the industry to take the next step. What about tying DVRs to home network storage?
Since the advent of Tivo, there has been more red herrings flung about content security than I can count. Early on, I asked Tivo about an external disk drive or a link to a home network to boost DVR capacity. The company claimed that content owners wouldn't allow such technology. Realistically, Tivo planned to own the living room and wanted nothing to slip beyond their controls.
It's always about control and more revenue. Tivo wanted the consumer to pay for a unit with a bigger hard drive -- and/or a second subscription. Turner wants to cash-in twice on its content rather than once. Meanwhile the consumer time and again doesn't get an optimum user experience.
There is no reason today that DVRs from cable companies, satellite companies, or independents like Tivo shouldn't support storage on a home network. We just need a champion to take that fight to the U.S. Court of Appeals. A DVR could easily create a secure, encrypted partition on a home network. I'm not normally a fan of Apple business practice. But look what Apple does on the iPod. Songs go on an encrypted partition. The user, via USB, can also use the iPod as a external hard drive. Moreover the sizes of the two partitions can be altered dynamically.
Today, we only have one option for the DVR function on our networks, and that's Windows Media Center capability in XP or Vista. But the Cable Cards that link the PC to digital cable have limited functionality. And I'm not aware of a way to link a PC to satellite service although presumably such capability is coming. Media Center is a bit clumsy, but at least it would allow me to scale my capacity -- if I could use it to access quality digital content. My Cox HD-DVR can be hacked to support an eSATA-connected hard drive but not to link to my network. Why not?