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Media Center – CableCARD details

December 1, 2005

Chris Lanier has put up some of the specifics in What’s Needed For CableCARD with Media Center?

No real answer to the “will we be able to add CableCARD support to machines we build ourselves?” question, but here’s one piece of news that’s not terribly surprising —

First, in order to take advantage of high-definition programming, both older monitors and new Digital Video Interface (DVI) models will not work as they may have expected. When a protected High Definition Television (HDTV) program passes through the new Media Center PC, the PVP-OPM system will check to see if HDCP or HDMI is supported. If so, all is fine. If not, the video’s resolution is reduced from HDTV levels to something equivalent to ordinary DVD levels. So if you have an ordinary analog or DVI monitor, no matter how great its resolution, your HDTV channel will look much fuzzier than you expected. In the industry, this is sometimes called “down-rez’ing”.

This means that in at least one case, I’d have to replace a perfectly good HDTV in order to get CableCARD programming — it’s a two year old rear projection unit, and does not have HDMI at all, let alone HDCP compliant HDMI; just good old component video.

It’s hard to tell just who all gets shot in the foot here, exactly. If this whole CableCARD thing came together reasonably, a cable company might just get to sell me TV service, something I’ve not let happen since ’91 (when I went to C-Band satellite, followed by DBS a few years later.)

On the other hand, at this point why would I bother? I get HD DVR premium programming on my two year old set via the STB from my satellite vendor. If I can’t get the same level of service from a CableCARD Windows MCE system, then cable’s not coming in the door, and Windows MCE will remain a supplementary DVR here (as it is today), and won’t displace the STB from my provider.

I still get to see what I want to see, it’s just a question of who I write the check to; it doesn’t look like it’ll be Microsoft or a cable company any time soon.

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