HP Relaunches CableCARD at Cheaper Price Points

Adding another page to the story book
that is HP and CableCARD
, they have them back in stock today!  It confirms that they had issues
with the configuration of the m8010y
, because the select PC to have
CableCARD now is the m8100y.

Changes include the processor and video card, with the E6550
as the base option along with video card choices of a GeForce 8400GS or GeForce
8500GT.  If you are thinking about
picking one of these up I highly
suggest the GeForce 8500GT, both because of power and because HP doesn’t note
if the GeForce 8400GS is HDCP or not (though, it has to be for them not get to screwed by CableLabs). 
Bottom line, please get the GeForce 8500GT even though HP lets you configure it with the 8400GS.

Configured with a GeForce 8500GT and Core 2 Duo E6550 the price comes out to a very reasonable $1,279.99.

Still no option for a second Digital Cable Tuner, and it is still listed as not for sale via HP Parts.  If anyone at HP would like to
contact me about whether or not customers would be able to purchase a second
tuner at a later date, please do so.  At this point, I really can’t recommend anyone get in on this deal just because they might be stuck with a single tuner system.

Thanks for the tip davcauf!

Vista View Saber DA-1N1-I Review

The folks at Vista View were nice enough to send me one of their
latest cards, the Saber
DA-1N1-I
to test out for a bit.  This
review is coming a bit late because I was a bit under the weather when I first
got the card and the last thing I was up for was digging around in my dust
filled PC.

The Saber DA-1N1-I is an interesting animal as it is a PCI
tuner, not PCIe (though they also have the DA-1N1-E
which is PCIe).  Vista View seems to realize
that their still is a market for PCI tuners. 
While PCIe might be the latest and great, the truth is that in many occasions
it does pay to use a PCIe slot for a tuner. 
Many motherboards out there have limited PCIe slots and with PCIe
graphics cards taking up one of those slots right off the bat, it is nice to
see that you can still fill the void using a PCI tuner.  Another issue along these lines are graphics
card manufactures building their heatsinks on the cards so they spill over and
semi-occupy the lone second PCIe slot. 
Older PCs that are getting help from the newest graphics cards from ATI
and NVIDIA will also benefit from not needing to be upgraded in order to play top
notch HD video.

One source for that top notch HD video comes from this card.  In my testing the Saber DA-1N1-I tuned digital
ATSC content with fantastic signal strength. 
In my case using an antenna in my attic I was getting the signal
strength from low 90% to 100% from all my major digital channels.  The Saber DA-1N1-I is a half height combo
tuner that will tune both analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) signals at the same
time, allowing to record two programs at once and satisfying Windows XP Media Center
Edition 2005’s hardware encoding analog tuner requirement.  Analog tuning was above far above trusty Hauppauge
cards, and rather than reinvent the wheel, I will point everyone to Missing
Remote’s Saber DA-1N1-I Review
to compare analog image quality.  In my opinion, the Saber DA-1N1-I is right up
there with the best analog cards on the market. 
Digital quality was excellent as expected with the high signal quality
that I was getting with the card.

Overall, I can highly suggest that you take a look at the Saber
DA-1N1-I
if you are in the market for a new digital or analog tuner.  It includes all the cables you need, and
minus the antenna and PC the box had everything I needed in it.  Driver installation was smooth in both Media
Center 2005 and in Vista Media Center, though I did the majority of my testing
in Media Center 2005.  For $100, it is
hard to go wrong with the Vista View Saber DA-1N1-I.  Purchase two of them and be ready to record
up to four programs at once, two in HD and two in SD.

Pros

  • One PCI slot give you dual tuners
  • Combo tuner (analog and digital at the same time)
  • $100 price tag
  • Great analog and digital tuning
  • Includes cables and brackets (Mini Stereo to RCA, S-Video to
    Composite, Low Profile Bracket)

Cons

  • None to really speak of

Paul Thurrott Clears Up All Vista SP1 Rumors; Sort of

Paul
Thurrott is doing his best to clear up all the rumors about what Vista SP1 is
and isn’t.  In his Windows Vista Service
Pack 1 (SP1) FAQ
he sets out the “facts” in his “No rumors.  Just the
FAQs” post.

Hang
on now, make sure you read through all the fine print in this “no rumors”
FAQ.  Some classics include Paul or his source “guessing” several times, using information based on “his understanding”, along with some
“based on his own” discussions or
things “expected” by Paul
or those sources.  Huh?

I’m
no “professional” journalist, but shouldn’t a “no rumors” FAQ actually include
information that’s not based on the same?  Paul’s seemingly mythical
conversations with Microsoft employees are going to be the same type that all
other reports have been based off of.

The
great thing about covering anything within Microsoft is that it always changes
or you always get stale information.  Paul has been wrong several times in
the past, Mary Jo has too along with everyone else who has covered Microsoft
either professionally or as an amateur (such as me).

In
fact, readers here will remember this jewel from Paul in 2004.  Paul
Thurrott: ” Softsled, the software version of a Media Center Extender is
currently under development. It won’t ship any time soon, but it is
happening.” 
It is 2007 and Microsoft claims to have no plans for
Softsled, so it looks as if Paul got that one wrong.

My
point is while I respect Paul, Mary Jo, et al the information all of them get
is subject to change and plain wrong part of the time.  Do your best to
seek out correct information, but if you are the slightest bit unsure (or if
you are going to load it up with guesses and expectations) don’t sell it as a
“No rumors.  Just the FAQs” when clearly it is far from it.

I
did this when I found out some information about what I’ve heard to be
Fiji, the upcoming Media Center update
.  While I would love to be 100%
right, I did note that it is “water-cooler talk” where I heard it and that
dates are subject to change.  I try my best to get correct information,
but I’m not going to sit here and lie to everyone that I have THE source for
information.  I could be right, I could be wrong.  When information
comes out that I might be wrong, I’ll post it and let everyone know what’s up. 
On that subject, I’ve heard that at least part of it might be wrong.  I
trust the person I heard that from, but have no idea what part.  Might be
a ship date, might be a feature.  Really don’t know, when I do, I’ll post.

My
point is, you can’t trust anything you read until Microsoft decides to publish
a press release.  They withhold information for a reason.  Features
and release dates are subject to change all around.  I’ll do my best to
get my readers good information, but I also do my best (and sure, I’ve made
mistakes there) not to sell the information as die-hard correct until a press
release shows up in my Inbox to prove it.

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player Moves to $179

Xbox LIVE to promote HD DVD versions of “300” and “Heroes:
Season 1.”

SAN DIEGO — July 26, 2007 — Today at Comic-Con
International 2007, Microsoft Corp. announced it will lower the price of the
popular Xbox 360™ HD DVD Player from $199 to $179 ERP (United States only)
starting Aug. 1, 2007, and will add five free HD DVD movies for anyone
purchasing an Xbox 360 HD DVD Player between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30. In addition,
Microsoft further solidified the Xbox 360 as the ultimate high-definition (HD)
entertainment platform, with key announcements around the HD DVD launches of
“300” from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group and “Heroes: Season 1” from
Universal Studios.

To promote the HD DVD versions of “300” and “Heroes: Season
1,” Microsoft unveiled exclusive content for Xbox LIVE® Marketplace.
Xbox LIVE will offer “300” on demand in HD starting Aug. 14, and is working
with Warner Bros. at Comic-Con on a Bringing It Home campaign featuring “300”
and other Warner Bros. properties. In advance of the street date for the
“Heroes: Season 1” HD DVD boxed set, Xbox LIVE members will be able to download
for free the show’s pilot episode in high definition for a limited time. Members
will also be able to download trailers, teaser scenes and other promotional
materials highlighting the “Heroes: Season 1” boxed set on HD DVD.

Already the most affordable high-definition player
available, the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player is the best solution for movie lovers
seeking HD content in the highest possible resolution. The player’s price
reduction to $179 (U.S. ERP) continues to set the bar for value, making the
Xbox 360 platform the most affordable solution for consumers seeking the
broadest, most compelling selection of next-generation gaming and HD video
experiences.

“With the price reduction to $179, the Xbox 360 HD DVD
Player continues to be the most affordable way to enjoy high definition,” said
Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of Global Marketing, Interactive
Entertainment Business, Entertainment and Devices Division at Microsoft. “From
the beginning, we set out to offer Xbox 360 owners an unrivaled high-definition
experience, with a choice of optical discs on the HD DVD format and digital
downloads through Xbox LIVE Marketplace — both of which have a selection of the
best content Hollywood has to offer. Today’s announcements around ‘300’ and
‘Heroes: Season 1’ are great examples of how we believe HD content can be
offered to consumers.”

In addition to the price drop, Microsoft is extending
Toshiba’s highly successful “Perfect Offer” of five free HD DVD discs to Xbox
360 consumers. Previously exclusive to Toshiba HD DVD Players, with the
purchase of an Xbox 360 HD DVD Player at the new low price of $179 ERP,
consumers can choose five HD DVD titles for free from a selection of 15 popular
titles through a mail-in offer. With a retail value of over $140 (U.S.), this
promotion makes the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player one of the most compelling offerings
for consumers looking to make the leap into HD this holiday season.

What’s Next For CableCARD and Vista

I might
not agree
with Kevin
that OCAP and CableCARD 2.0
are to blame for the lack of OEM CableCARD
machines, that doesn’t mean CableCARD 2.0 and OCAP are not important in the big
picture.  As I have said in the past,
CableCARD is a great concept.  However,
while the concept is great the implementation is flawed and has been since day
one.  It’s not just flawed on the PC; it
is flawed in all CE devices.  This is
really nothing new, just look at all the headlines around CableCARD and notice
all the issues, many of them revolve around OCAP and CableCARD 2.0.  So, let’s explore the future of CableCARD in
PCs (and CE) including CableCARD 2.0, OCAP, and BOCR.

First of all, some quick notes for reference.  Here are some basic definitions of things
that I don’t fully explain in the rest of the post.

  • OCAP: OpenCable
    Application Platform. Basically a Java-based platform that allows interactive
    applications via Cable television. 
    Generally speaking, cable companies like it and want it to be included
    in the CableCARD 2.0 specifications.  CE
    companies hate it, and want to limit its use.
  • CableCARD 2.0: New set of standards for CableCARD devices, an
    upgrade to the CableCARD platform.  Does
    not relate to the physical cards, but rather an overall operating
    platform.  Among other things, would add
    support for two-way communication and if cable companies get their way, would
    also mandate OCAP for various standard operations.  Held up because of OCAP issues above and
    other reasons.
  • OCUR: OpenCable Unidirectional
    Receiver.  The CableCARD Tuner that is
    made by ATI/AMD.  Sold under the name
    Digital Cable Tuner.  More information
    about getting one in my Vista
    CableCARD FAQ
    .
  • BOCR:
    Bidirectional OpenCable Receiver. 
    Follow-up to OCUR.  This time, it
    should support OCAP and two-way communications. 
    Other information has not been released, nor has a timeline for its
    release.
  • Bidirectional Communication: Two-way communication between the CableCARD Host and your cable company.  Would allow for ordering Pay-Per-View, access On Demand content, and most importantly access to channels on Switched Digital Video (SDV).
  • SDV: Switched Digital Video.  A way of distributing video via cable.  It is more efficient, allowing your cable company to provide more content to you (mainly, HD content).  Instead of sending all the video down a pipe, they only send what you request.  Because of this, you need Bidirectional communication.

Now that that is out of the way, we will start with
OCAP.  As you can see above OCAP is a
Java-based middleware platform that would provide interactive applications and
services on CableCARD 2.0 compliant products. 
Skipping all the crap about if it should be in CableCARD 2.0 spec or
what it should be used for within the spec, what does it mean to Media Center?

Well, Microsoft and CableLabs are moving along with
Bidirectional OpenCable Receiver (BOCR). 
As the name suggests, BOCR picks up where OCUR left off.  Support for bidirectional (two-way)
communications and OCAP is set to be included. 
This should mean “CableCARD 2.0 Support.”  This is clearly the part of the picture
everyone is wanting for.  OCAP has some
interesting ramifications if required for certain tasks, which is a reason why
Microsoft and TiVo specifically have not offered bidirectional products.  Microsoft might have a card up their sleeve
through, because at one point they submitted .NET to CableLabs with the intent
to have .NET CLI support in OCAP.  I’m no
developer, nor OCAP expert but this might have given Microsoft some extra room
for these developments in BOCR.

CableCARD 2.0 would allow for these two-way communication
which would provide access to Pay-Per-View, On Demand, and SDV (issues outlined
in my
Vista CableCARD FAQ
).  When I say
that CableCARD 2.0 would provide two-way communication I’m talking about the
Host device.  In this case, it would be
the Digital Cable Tuner (OCUR) itself or soon to be BOCRs.  The Host device defines either one or two-way
communication.  All physical CableCARDs
can support two-way communication (S-Cards and M-Cards), but if the Host device
does not support two-way communication the physical CableCARD itself will be
limited.

OCURs support one-way communication, as hinted on by the
name OpenCable Unidirectional
Receiver.  Because of this, new Digital
Cable Tuners will be needed to provide two-way communications.  Enter, Bidirectional
OpenCable Receiver (BOCR) as mentioned above.

To throw another wrench into the OCUR picture, the Mode the
Host devices operates in plays another big role.  All OCURs are currently limited to
S-Mode.  S-Mode means that the device is
limited to a single stream (channel). 
This is why you need two OCURs to support dual tuning.  If OCURs where M-Mode devices, they would
support multiple streams (channels), which means it would support dual tuning
with a single OCUR and CableCARD (an M-Card).

According to CableLabs, “work is underway to extend their
[OCUR] support to allow the M-Mode interface.” 
What that means in terms of upgrades, I don’t really know.  CableLabs might be referring to BOCR which is
new hardware, or they might be referring to an upcoming unannounced firmware
upgrade (or hardware add-in) to OCURs.  ATI, CableLabs, and
Microsoft have been quite about it, so at this point we really don’t know.  So, there is a possibility that current OCUR
owners could get M-Mode support via a firmware upgrade or hardware add-in, and then there are the
upcoming BOCR devices.
  This will be a new CableLabs hardware spec, M-OCUR (M-Card OCUR).  New hardware will be required.  OEMs should be able to release M-OCURs in mid-2008. These tuners will have to ability to take M-Cards (Multi Stream) and tune more than one channel (think dual tuner boxes).

The BOCR upgrade path is one of the most important
issues.  The OCUR project between
CableLabs and Microsoft was developed with a “migration path” from
unidirectional to bidirectional communications in mind.  I would say that current OCUR-enabled PCs
will work fine with BOCRs because of this. 
The issue that I can see is how OEMs chose to handle the sales of the
BOCRs, or if CableLabs would open up sales to everyone (don’t count on
it).  The good news about this is that
BOCRs should support M-Cards, so you only need a single BOCR for a dual tuner
machine.

This is all very early information on BOCR, but as I did
with OCUR I will be covering it from front to back.  I just hope this time I don’t have to write
about for years before it launches (first CableCARD posts on this blog were in
early 2005).

Overall, OCAP and CableCARD 2.0 are both very important to
the future of CableCARD and digital cable as a whole (on the PC or not).  If BOCR launches with OCAP and support for
bidirectional communication, the only worries left are the reliability and
installation issues that CableCARD PC owners are having.  I think all parties involved will have a
better understanding of the current issues and hopefully improve on them to
offer customers the best CableCARD experience possible.

Related: First
BOCR Details Emerge from Ceton Corp

Short Bits: Vista Report Card, Cookbook, Upcoming Stuff

Lots of stuff that I have not got to over the past few days,
so here is a run down of some of the more interesting stuff.

Over at Missing Remote, Mike is an excellent 6
Month Vista MCE Report Card
.  Out of
all those things that were going to be new and great, it turns out that several
of them have been no shows or disappointments. 
Things like native 64-bit support, which when you factor in driver
support is less then something to get excited about for most people.   The
new start menu in Media Center, which was supposed to be easier to find and
access your media has made some enemies along the way.  The list goes on and on.  There have been some great upgrades in Vista
Media Center, but I don’t think Microsoft listened to what the users
wanted.  They had their own agenda
(rightfully so), but they left out (or ignored) the opinions of many of their
customers.

Olcay e-mailed this bit about MCEDev working with ad notam to
create an amazing looking Media Center cookbook application for Vista
.  I’m really excited about this, as time goes
on I’ve personally been more and more interested in actually cooking (rather,
learning to cook at my young age) and having access to all my recipes via Media
Center.  Not only that, the idea of the
application is to mix photos and videos in with it.  So, even it you couldn’t cook it would be
right there in video form helping you through the process.

The kitchen and mirror displays from ad notam look
pretty amazing too!

image

eHomeUpgrade reports there is a new application called VME that looks like it is trying to challenge Transcode
360.  I haven’t played with it, but if
you have having issues streaming videos to your Extenders you might want to
check it out.

Lastly, I just got done taking my 70-292 MCSA Upgrade to
Windows Server 2003 which is the main reason I’ve missed posting all the
above.  Good thing though, I just scored
a 925 out of 1000.  I guess it was worth
studying and not posting.  Next up, finally starting MCSE.

Coming up I’ve got lots of information on CableCARD, and a
small review of the Saber DA-1N1-I Combo
Tuner from Vista View.  Saving you the time
for waiting for it, I would recommend this card highly.  I’ve had nothing but a good experience with
it.

OCAP and CableCARD 2.0 Holding OEMs Back? Nope

Kevin
wonders if OCAP and CableCARD 2.0 are holding OEMs back
from releasing
CableCARD PCs.  I say, no way.  OCAP and CableCARD 2.0 are holding the whole
cable industry back, but they have the smallest amount to do with OEMs not
accepting and offering CableCARD.

Why would Dell, HP, Gateway, etc care if what they sell is
going to be obsolete?  The reason these
guys are still in business is because a PC is obsolete the day they assemble
it.  Obsolescence is their business, and
it’s a fact of the industry.  More so,
with television technology set to change rapidly in the next few years, you
would need to apply to same concept to them selling NTSC tuners.  Did any OEMs back away from selling NTSC
tuners in PCs year ago when they knew in 2009 the airwaves would go dead?  There are dozens of other examples, but hardware
becoming obsolete is the last thing on these OEMs minds, and it is not the
reason for a lack of CableCARD options in PCs.

What is holding OEMs back? 
I have no idea.  Maybe they don’t
see the value anymore after failing with Media Center PCs over the past few
years.  Maybe they are not interested in
the extra work signing a piece of paper and sending it to CableLabs.  I don’t think we will know the real answer,
but I doubt OCAP and CableCARD 2.0 have anything to do with it.

The more interesting things that I have found and that Kevin
brings up in his post is that Dell sends out
review units of the XPS 410
, but fails to release them to the public.  Did they take Engadget’s review and really
look at it hard or is there another reason? 
Still, no idea.

CableCARD has its problems, but I have no doubt that OCAP
and CableCARD 2.0 are not the issues holding up OEMs from shipping machines.  If you are interested in what’s next for
CableCARD in Vista, stay tuned subscribed.