If you read the tech press closely, it looks like we are on the verge of an Internet video golden age. HD Roku boxes now cost just $60! The Boxee Box is available for pre-order! Apple TV is finally more than a hobby! Google TV announced features! The fall Xbox360 update will bring ESPN3!
Each of these developments is fantastic. They bring Netflix and YouTube and Amazon Unbox and Revision3 and Pandora and all sorts of Internet goodies to a big TV. They offer attractive, easy to use interfaces. Some even let you move content between various devices.
However, news about these awesome toys may raise a few questions in your mind.
If I already have a box that can render video (my cable box), why do I need another set top box for this Internet stuff? Alternatively, why can’t I use this other set top box instead of my horrible cable box for all of my video? Finally, where is the content? Why can’t Roku/Boxee/Apple/Google/Microsoft show me all of the cable channels that I already subscribe to?
In other words, why is there a firewall between innovation rich Internet video and content rich cable video?
The answer, believe it or not, is not that it didn’t occur to Roku/Boxee/Apple/Goole/Microsoft that people might like to use their boxes to watch Bravo or HBO or TNT or The Food Network. It is just that the FCC has not made a good effort to implement the 1996 Communications Act.
Fortunately (hopefully?) the FCC has decided to work on that. In the short term, the FCC is working on making the CableCARD rules a bit more flexible so people don’t have to trick cable companies into installing them. In the long term, the FCC wants to implement its AllVid system. Ideally, AllVid would allow any device in your home (not just your cable box) to access all of the cable channels you already subscribe to.
Until that happens, the firewall between Internet video and cable content will likely remain. Most cable content will be trapped inside your crackerjack cable box interface and your cool new box won’t be able to access all of that content you are already paying for.