CableCARD and DRM

November 21, 2005

While I’m thrilled to see Microsoft’s announcement of CableCARD support coming to Windows Media Center next year, I still get a little nervous as to how all of the digital rights managment issues are going to work out.

‘Cuz things aren’t exactly rosy on the CableCARD front, even without involving DVRs.

For example, check out this thread over on the AVSForum’s Plasma and LCD forum:

Panasonic Policy prohibiting digital audio out with Cable Card?

The upshot of it is that owners of Panasonic plasma TVs with CableCARD support are finding that their digital audio output is disabled whenever the cable company sets a flag indicating that a channel contains “high value” content — basically, any time you’re viewing anything other than locals.

This means no Digital Dolby surround for HBO movies, etc.

So CableCARD support means that we’ll be able to record premium HD channels with our Media Centers; but what is the price going to be?

If they won’t even let CableCARD users listen to digital sound today, will we find ourselves limited to watching timeshifted premium content a restricted number of times, or within a restricted number of days, or without ff/rw, etc.?

For that matter, will any such restrictions be just on HD content? Or will we see new restrictions imposed on our viewing of SD channels enabled by CableCARDs, once the Cable company and the providers have more capability to indicate how our “rights” should be “managed”?

It could be a scary rights-managed future, folks…

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