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Media Center Edition to support CableCARD

November 17, 2005

Speaking of recording premium HD content…

Thomas Hawk has the scoop — Microsoft has just announced CableCARD support in Media Center PCs — by “Holiday 2006 time frame”.

REDMOND, Wash. and LOUISVILLE, Colo., Nov. 16 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Microsoft Corp. and Cable Television Laboratories Inc. (CableLabs(R)) today announced they have reached an agreement that will allow Microsoft and PC manufacturers to bring to market digital-cable-ready Windows(R) Media Center-based PCs in the holiday 2006 time frame.

These Media Center PCs, capable of supporting a CableCARD(TM) module, will allow consumers to enjoy one-way cable programming, including premium high-definition cable content, on their personal computer and throughout the home on compliant network-connected devices, such as Xbox 360(TM), while protecting cable operators’ investments in high-value content in a digital environment. Microsoft is working closely with CableLabs to document final approval of Windows Media(R) Digital Rights Management (DRM) as a content protection technology for OpenCable(TM) products that receive one-way cable content under the terms of this agreement.

This is great news, and has the potential to put Media Center over the top in DVR capabilities, but even outside of the lengthy wait (a lot can happen over a year), there are a few things about this that concern me.

Maybe it’s nothing, but the phrase “will allow Microsoft and PC manufacturers” makes me nervous. Will we see CableCARD-supporting HD tuners as seperate products? Or will this support be limited to pre-configured Media Center boxes only available from selected manufacturers?

If it’s the latter, will these boxes have their configurations locked-down hard for DRM purposes, as well as locking the user into the manufacturer’s configuration?

If we see CableCARD supporting tuners sold, then it opens the door for the BeyondTVs and SageTVs and MythTVs of the world to keep competion alive in the world of premium HD content.

The primary beneficiaries of that kind of competition are the users — as long as one vendor isn’t the only game in town, then there is constant pressure to produce better products.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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