digital cable DVRs... why CableCard?


Oct 20, 2010
This is really just a technical question about DVR and digital cable... but I will give the "long form narrative" of my cordcutting quest. (Skip to the end if you'd like.)


I'm well along the way to cordcutting: dropped of my FiOS equipment just today, and have been looking at "live TV streaming services". Alas, they have some drawbacks... one of which is they still cost. (Ok I might still end up with one of those, but let me continue...)

To my pleasant surprise, I have found that while I ordered Internet only from Optimum about 20 OTA channels are "there" on the cable. I just pop the cable into the back of my TVs, click "scan for channels", and it finds them, and I can watch them. Great! Live TV.... for free.

Now.... how to take this unencrypted content that is streaming into my house, and timeshift and allow commercial skipping? Surely a DVR exists for such a thing...

Ah, well, as everyone else here already knows: it ain't necessarily so.

I tried an OTA DVR (Tablo) which stated it would ONLY work for OTA -- but I ignored that, thinking surely the content is in the same bands, at least for the "VHF" (low-numbered) channels.

Ah, well, as everyone else here already knows: nope.

Other options (TiVo Bolt and SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime Cable 3-Tuner) say THEY will DVR digital cable.... score!

Ah, well, as everyone else here already knows: not without a CableCard.... which, I don't have and don't really want to pay for.

And while venturing into the valley of "Full Home Grown HTPC-land" may be fun for a geek like me, if I concoct something that requires a master's degree to operate, my wife will not be pleased.


Ok, so HERE is the technical question:

If my [not-very-expensive] TV can decode digital cable without a CableCard... then why can't I find a digital cable DVR that works the same way: just plug in the "Internet Only Optimum service that still has a few basic cable channels in the clear on it", tell it to "scan for channels", and I'm up and running?

(PS: Please don't suggest "just get an OTA antenna". I'm just far enough away from the metro area that all the "antenna guide" web sites rate my OTA reception as "generally sucky". This thread is REALLY just a question about "how can my TV work without a CableCard, but any digital cable DVRs seem to require them.)