Instead of a cable company-provided DVR, Leon uses a TiVo. It gives him greater flexibility, since he can transfer programs to his backup hard drives to free up space, then transfer the programs back when he is woefully short on entertainment. Only the cable networks and Time Warner Cable don’t want us to be able to do this. Where Leon lives, every program that’s not on one of the over-the-air broadcast networks is copy-protected. He can’t copy any of these shows to his backup drives. It’s as if it were 1990, and every time Leon ejected a recorded TV program from his VCR, a cable company employee stormed through the door, confiscated it, unspooled the tape, and set it on fire. Only less labor-intensive.
While the “broadcast flag” idea (which would have given TV stations complete control over the ability of viewers to use DVRs for particular shows) may have finally died 2011 when the FCC withdrew the regulation, the same sort of restrictions are being quietly implemented by cable providers.
I use a Tivo DVR and one of the key features I like about the Tivo is that I can transfer the recorded video files off of the TiVo to my desktop computer to save them to an external hard drive, freeing up room on the Tivo itself for more shows. When I want to watch the old shows I can browse the list of transferred shows and with a remote control press send them right back to the Tivo to watch. The files remain encrypted and I’ve done this for years without issue.
However I recently moved to a location with Time Warner as the cable provider. I was a bit confused when I went to transfer some shows and found that nearly everything newly recorded was marked as “Copy Protected”. After doing some digging I found out that while THE broadcast flag got shot down, A broadcast flag called “Copy Control Information” or CCI was implemented for cable customers.
In short the CCI has three settings: any copying permitted, copy one time only (the DVR recording is considered a copy), and do not copy (the DVR recording self-destructs after 90 minutes). Each program has it set individually and all equipment which can use cablecards is required to read and respect it. Over the Air channels are required by the FCC to be set to the first setting, but all other programs are left up to the discretion of the cable provider. Most cable companies have until now set premium channels such as HBO as copy-once and PPV as do not copy but leave the rest of the channels set to copy freely.
Time Warner is not so friendly and sets the flag to copy-once for EVERYTHING besides over the air channels; even analog channels which I would be able to record without the cablecard are locked down by the cablecard. I highly doubt that QVC cares if I want to archive the Memory Foam Bedding infomercial, yet TW tells me I cannot.
With the large hard drives mounted in my desktop I had in excess of 700 hours of recording capacity for my DVR, and this cuts me to 45. This is highly annoying, especially because I was planning on taking advantage of my setup to record and watch the Olympics this summer, but the channels carrying the live coverage of the less popular sports (CNBC, MSNBC, and Bravo) will all be locked for me. It seems a bit like allowing the cable company to come into the house and remove the eject button from a VCR.
This doesn’t just affect my (rather uncommon) situation. Tivo (and other setups such as Windows Media Center) normally allow for shows recorded on one DVR to be viewed on another DVR or on a mobile device but this removes that option. Other people report that other cable companies are rolling out similar blanket blocks as they implement an unrelated upgrade of their systems to use Switched Digital Video. It seems as though the cable companies have found a way to neuter time-shifting and DVRs and are trying to implement it quickly and quietly.
For me this just makes cord-cutting and using a combination of Netflix instant, Amazon, and extralegal video sources even more tempting. They all would work just fine with my Tivo and would have the added benefit of no ads.