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.
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CableCARD uncertainty setting in?

November 28, 2005

Apparently a few other people are now wondering whether CableCARD support is going to really be available outside of designated pre-built MCE systems

Ed Bott writes in CableCARD and Media Center PCs: More questions than answers:

Does this mean that CableCARD-ready Media Center PCs will only be available from name-brand PC makers? If so, this is an unwelcome step backwards. The best news of last year was Microsoft’s move to make OEM copies of its Media Center software available to enthusiasts rather than forcing them to buy pricey name-brand systems.

The ideal solution will allow users on any Windows PC (assuming it meets the Media Center specs) to upgrade to Windows Vista, add a compatible TV tuner and CableCARD decoder. Expect screams of anguish if people buying high-powered PCs in the next year discover that there’s no CableCARD ugprade path.

No kidding.

There’s a bit of vague handwaving in the comments by some of the usual suspects, but the real question is becoming the same question we’re used to seeing where DRM is concerned, namely “How bad did the users get sold out to the content holders in order to make this happen?”

There’s plenty of evidence of other manufacturers drasticly affecting the user experience in order to make the CableCARD powers that be happy.

What makes us think Microsoft will be any different?

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.
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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.
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HD PVRs – Rock and Hard Place

May 19, 2005

Thomas Hawk has some comments on my Dish 942 article.

Thomas writes:

These type of HDTV PVRs will be the competition for TiVo and Media Center going forward. It will be important that TiVo and Media Center are able to distinguish themselves in the HDTV PVR space in order to convince people that it is worth spending the money over what you can get for free (kinda free anyway) from your cable or satellite provider.

Absolutely — and there’s the rub.
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