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.