Two-Way CableCARD Appears in Windows 7

I’ve long talked about the
addition of two-way CableCARD within Media Center
, but so far no real
timeline has been drawn.  Microsoft has kept
their lips locked as has CableLabs about actually finishing (or announcing) the
specs for the two-way tuners (called BOCRs). 
All of this leaves us to fill in the blanks ourselves.

Frankly, I don’t see full two-way CableCARD tuner support
until Windows 7.  There are several reasoning’s behind this,
but the first being CableLabs timeline for the actual specs.  At this point CableLabs has been focusing on the
M-Card extension to OCURs.  I never got
around to doing a good post on MOCURs, but the basic idea is that CableLabs
approved an extension to the OCUR specs which allows OEMs to make OCURS that
support M-Cards in M-Mode.  This means
your single MOCUR is really two tuners when paired with an M-Card.  Currently, OCURs with an M-Card revert to
S-Mode which means you only get a single stream (one channel per tuner).  I’m not exactly sure why they have chosen to
do this and yet again have CableCARD fall behind what the market needs, but a
little late to change that.

Outside of the BOCR specs you have the next issue being
Media Center release schedules.  As
Microsoft currently has one that should be
getting ready to start any day now
, you can bet that BOCR support is not a
part of it.  So that would set the stage
for support in the following Media Center release.  As Windows 7 is predicted to be released in
2009/2010 I’m betting it will be the follow-up for Media Center as well.

So it looks like our two-way CableCARD dreams are going to
have to wait.  Here’s to hoping your cable
company doesn’t deploy SDV
, and if they do here’s to hoping the TiVo
Tuning Resolver will actually be made to work with OCURs
(don’t hold your
breath though).

Short Bits: Plug-ins, Media Center Show, Prices

Plug-in News/Reviews

Ian Dixon will
have Ed Bott on The Media Center Show
today live at 12pm PST.  Click
here for the live link

Speaking of The Media Center Show, Pasquale
DeMaio & Terry Walsh
are on this week (pre-recorded) show.

cut prices on some Vista SKUs
which translates into no one is buying Vista
at retail.  More here.

Linksys Extender Review Part 3: Wrap-up

previously stated that v2 Extenders are too expensive
to really make a
splash and I think that still stands. 
While the Linksys DMA2100 and DMA2200 both are available online for less
than their MSRP, when you consider that multiple purchases are needed in
several occasions to make full advantage of the whole home Media Center
experience it is a very pricey way to go when you add up all the issues.

File format support, while greatly improved over previous
Extender offers still isn’t where it needs to be.  The simple fact is that the majority of
customers looking at Extenders are specific format demands, if this device
can’t meet those it’s not going to go over well.  For the rest of the market, they just want to
play the content they have.  Changing
FourCC codes of their files and/or re-encoding is not a step they should have
to take.

I’d give the Linksys
DMA2200 a 6/10
.  It still needs a lot
of work, and I really feel at this point with it being a second generation
product that these issues shouldn’t exist. 
For simply extending the “core” Media Center experience (minus videos),
the DMA2200 is fantastic.  However, it
still lacks in providing format support to bring the device to the level it
should be.

If you’re in the market for a small form factor Extender for
the bedroom or alike where 5.1 audio is not the main issue (for AVI/WMV files), the Linksys DMA2100
or DMA2200 are perfect for you.  If you are
looking to get your loud/hot Media Center PC or Xbox 360 out of your living
room the DMA2100/DMA2200 may not be your best option at this point if you are a power user.

I’d really like to see Extenders
integrated into future Blu-ray Disc Players
.  I believe this could generate additional
revenue streams for manufactures by offering the Extender software download for
a small price.  The hardware that many
players are built off of already supports everything it needs, so I believe
this is truly the next step.

Other than that, Linksys needs to offer a firmware update to
fix the video format capability issues ASAP. 
These v2 Extenders were delayed and delayed leaving the Xbox 360 as the
only choice, now v2 Extenders are starting to become available with so many
issues that the wait was hardly worth it.

Thanks to Microsoft, Linksys and everyone at Edelman!

Pros and Cons of the
Linksys DMA2200 (6/10)


  • Solid design in small package
  • Completely slient
  • Integrated Upconverting DVD player
    a plus
  • Supports HD streaming
  • Easy setup and installation


  • No HDMI cable included
  • Lackluster file format support
  • Doesn’t output AC3 within AVI
  • Doesn’t output WMV9 Pro as AC3
  • Transitions/animations clunky
  • Horrible included remote
  • Upconverting DVD only so-so


Extender Review Part 1: Media Center & PC Setup

Extender Review Part 2: Extender Experience

Linksys Extender Review Part 2: Extender Experience

the PC setup now on the Media Center side of things
I moved onto the
Extender.  The first step was connecting it to my display (or Receiver in
my case).  I used HDMI to do this, but the DMA2200 has just about every
output you could want if HDMI isn’t an option.  One of the first things I
noticed about the DMA2200 is that it is rock solid in terms of design. 
Cheap feeling plastic is nowhere to be found on the unit itself.  The
remote however is a different story that I will get into later.

My first test involved connecting the Extender to the PC
over a hardwired connection.  This is
still the preferred way to connect any device in my opinion, and I had no
issues doing so.  The standard process
involves putting in the unique code from the PC and then the Extender/PC does
the rest.  Over the hardwired connection
I had boot-ups around 25 seconds on average. 
I’d like to see this improve, but it not horribly bad.

Now presented with the exact same Media Center UI as on the
PC, you can do just about everything you could on the PC.  I scheduled recordings, watched some
previously recorded HD content, listened to music, etc.

Problems and Issues

The first problem with the DMA2200 (and most other v2
Extenders) is the lack of power when compared to an Xbox 360 or the PC
itself.  Because of this the transitions
and menu animations make the unit feel clunky. 
Disabling these in the Settings menu brings the Extender to life.  I would like to see this improved upon
because Media Center frankly looks and feels so much nicer with the
animations.  If it can’t be fixed due to
processing reasons, the Extenders should really disable animations to being
with.  A first time user being greeted
with the poor performance brought on by the animations alone isn’t a good

On the same topic of lack of processing power, v2 Extenders
lack the use of the forth Zoom mode (nonlinear zoom) which is annoying for
those who have come accustomed to using it on the PC or Xbox 360.

The included remote is trash.  Unlike the DMA2200 itself which is solid feeling, the remote is a cheap feeling plastic piece of trash.  You can actually use any Media Center remote with Extenders, however this presents some problems for local DVD playback controls (the Linksys remote has extra bottons for the DVD playback portion).  A learning or univeral remote would be my choice to replace the Linksys remote, you can program a Harmony remote in seconds via the Harmony software and then learn the extra DVD playback controls from the Linksys remote to complete the setup.

Video Formats

Video playback was my next place to test and instead of a
bunch of explaining in text here is a graphic that outlines most of my


As previously discussed Linksys has disabled playback of
DivX content by blocking DivX specific FourCCs. 
While the DMA2200 will play DivX just like (it’s MPEG-4 ASP, same as
Xvid), you have to use a FourCC Changer on all your DivX files before they will
playback.  What better what to confuse
people than this?  I want to see this
fixed in the first firmware update, it is simply ridiculous that any user
should have to go through the process to play the content they already have.

MKV containers are not supported, but MOV and MP4 both
worked in my testing with H.264 encoded video. 
I’d love to see an update include MKV support; after all it’s a free
open standard.

The Linksys DMA2200 has major issues with outputting
audio.  While DVR-MS files with AC3
(Dolby Digital) are output correctly, AVI files with AC3 audio are not in my
testing (output over HDMI).  Instead the
DMA2200 decodes the AC3 internally and outputs PCM.  Done correctly this isn’t that bad, however
it’s not mixed correctly at all.  The
center channel is completely destroyed in the process, as are the rear

In addition to AC3 issues, the DMA2200 doesn’t transcode WMA
Professional 5.1 to AC3.  This means that
unless you have an AVR that decodes WMA Professional, your 5.1 channel WMV
files are simply output as two-channel PCM.

VOB files are not supported; however playback does kind-of
work if you rename them to .MPG. 
However, the skip functions on the remote don’t work nicely even after
running the VOB through VideoReDo (QuickStream Fix).

The next issue that I ran into was playback of WMV9 Advanced
Profile content (WVC1).  There is a
problem with the Linksys DMA2100/2200 freezing at 20 minutes into the file.  Not exactly sure why this happens, but it has
be reproduced by several users including myself.

DVD Streaming/Playback

Ripping and streaming DVDs is one of the most common things
people want to do with these Extenders. 
Some things to consider here is that Media Center’s included DVD Library
doesn’t extend to any Media Center Extender, neither do DVD Changers.

 If you want to
catalog movies then using My Movies is your best option.  File format support must match to the above
chart for the content to play via My Movies.

The main problem here is that the lack of a good file format
for such.  In my testing VOBs didn’t work
nicely, DivX/Xvid with AC3 didn’t output correctly, WMV with WMA Professional
5.1 outputs as 2 channel.  Bottom line,
there is no good option at this point for ripping and streaming DVDs.

The DMA2200 also includes a upconverting DVD player locally in the unit.  While a nice addition, it is hardly a top of line DVD player.  Upconverting quality is so-so, and it does appear to suffer from pauses from layer changes.   The box for the DMA2200 states it does 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, however 1080i is the max output resolution that you can actually set the unit too.  I’m not sure if they are planning to add 1080p support at a later date, but the hardware “supports” it if they enable it.

Wireless Experience

As my review package included the Linksys WRT600n Wireless-N
Router I decided to give the DMA2200 a test using Wireless-N instead of my
preferred hardwired connection.  Much to my surprise connecting over 802.11n worked very well minus a few setup issues.

When first setup I did have some pixilation and blocking while playing HD recordings and was prompted that I have a network issue.  I ran the Network Tuning Wizard on the on the Extender (which it prompted me to do) and it looked okay.  I rebooted the router and tried to connect again and was able to stream HD recordings without an issue.  I continued to connect over wireless for the remainder of my testing and didn’t have any other issues.

Despite my success with the Wireless-N setup, it still seems like a hit or miss thing.  802.11n is really a must for nice wireless streaming of HD content, but if audio and SD video is your main usage you might be able to work with 802.11g.  A hardwired connection is always perferred, but clearly not everyone has that option.  Your milage may vary with the wireless aspect of the DMA2200 as their are several factors that come into play.

One cavet, it appears from fellow MVP Barb Bowman that the DMA2100 doesn’t have draft 2.0 compliant Dual Band Wireless-N (doesn’t detect non-Broadcom based (eg. Atheros) WiFi networks that are broadcasting SSID’s).  I didn’t have a DMA2100 to test, but I didn’t have any issues with the DMA2200.  I’ll note that I’m not exactly knowledgeable when it comes to wireless, so I’ll see if I can get a comment from Linksys.  Barb Bowman might be able to followup in the Media Center Newsgroups, but she is one wireless master and the one to point it out.  The DMA2100 also only includes two antennas, while the DMA2200 includes three.

Update: The above should have read “non-Broadcom” based.

Media Center UI on PC & Extenders


Extender Review Part 1: Media Center & PC Setup

Extender Review Part 3: Wrap-up

Short Bits: Xbox HD DVD, Stage6

Microsoft made it official that the Xbox
360 HD DVD drive is now dead
.  If you
wanted one, I hope you got it already. 
You will likely find stock marked down all over the place, some
retailers going as low as $50 now.

DivX Inc has pulled
the plug on their streaming service Stage6
mainly do to the high costs of
keeping it running.  This will impact
Media Center users that take advantage of Yougle to stream Stage6 content.  It also puts into question their DivX
Connected STB
concept that I’ve
questioned in the past.
  DivX does say “Products powered by DivX Connected, our new
initiative that lets users stream video, photos, music and Internet services
from the PC to the TV, are hitting retail outlets.”

ThinkRemote To Bring SideShow To Everyday Devices

As first spotted this morning on The
Green Button
, ThinkRemote
is an upcoming application that aims to bring SideShow to “everyday devices” like
your Windows Mobile phone, iPhone, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, web browser, and

The application is Media Center ready, and also focuses on
home control with the ability to support IR bridging, Z-Wave, WiFi, and

Check out the beta sign-up at controlthink’s

Linksys Extender Review Part 1: Media Center & PC Setup

Update: Skip to
Extender Review Post

Between Microsoft and Linksys I’ve received a whole package
of Media Center related goodies to test.  Instead of this being just a review of the
Linksys DMA2200 Extender, it will also cover the overall Media Center setup process
from PC to wireless.  Most of the time
when I review something Media Center related I use my own PC which has
generally been configured exactly how I want, and for the most part how it
should be.  This is not always the case
with your standard OEM PC, so I’m taking a step back and beginning the process
closer to how a first time Media Center and Media Center Extender user would.

Hardware used is listed below.

Pavillion dv6500 Laptop

  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 TK-55 (1.80GHz)
  • 2GB of RAM
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 3.6 Windows Experience Index
  • VGA and HDMI Outputs

WRT600N Wireless Router

  • Dual-Band Wireless-N
  • Draft 802.11n support
  • Gigabit Router

DMA2200 Extender

  • Included DVD Player
  • HDMI, Component, Composite,
  • Stereo RCA, Digital & Optical
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • Dual-Band Wireless-N

TV Tuner/Other

  • HP ExpressCard Digital/Analog TV
  • Used ATSC (OTA HD) in testing
  • HP ExpressCard Remote Control

General PC Setup

I started my setup by looking at the Linksys WRT600N
Wireless Router.  Linksys has done a
pretty good job over the years of providing end user software to basically
automate the whole setup process (for those who don’t want to use the router
configuration homepage).  Setup was
pretty simple, I just connected my Ethernet cable from a switch into the
router’s port marked “Internet.”  Most
people will make this connection directly from their modem; however in my test
environment I just used a live connection through my switch.

After this basic setup I moved onto the laptop which was
where I encountered my first problem. 
Upon first bootup I had connected to my existing home wireless network
(non-Linksys) and everything worked fine. 
However, now wanting to connect to my newly setup wireless router I came
to find that Windows didn’t detect any wireless adaptor.  Ok, first stop was the device manager to make
sure it wasn’t disabled.  It wasn’t even
listed.  Next step was Windows Update to
see if it has the drivers.  No luck.  On to the box to find the product CD, no
go.  Finally I checked out the C: drive
to find a Drivers folder with a WLAN folder inside.  Ran the setup, rebooted and now I was in
business.  Of course, I did this to later
think through that I still wanted the PC connected over hardwire for the best
HD streaming experience.

I picked up the HP ExpressCard Digital/Analog TV Tuner and
slide it into the card slot.  The drivers
were already installed, however if they had not been I had the setup CD sitting
next to me.

Media Center Setup

The next step was to setup the TV tuner and related Media
Center bits.  To start the setup of the
TV tuner and Guide I simply selected the Setup TV option that was already on
the Media Center Start Menu.  It walked
me though the setup including downloading the Guide data, selecting and setting
up my TV source, etc.

I choose to use the recommended automatic TV source scanning
feature in Media Center which found that I was using a Digital TV card with a
single antenna connection.  Setting up
the Guide was equally simple and just involved entering my zip code into the
wizard.  About two minutes later Media
Center had downloaded two weeks of Guide data and I was presented with the
signal strength for my digital tuner.  To
my surprise, the HP ExpressCard and small included antenna yielded excellent
signal strength on all my local channels. 
At this point, I was ready to start watching and recording some of my
favorite shows.

For those of you new to Media Center, you can see what the
UI looks like here.  The exact same UI is remoted to any Media
Center Extender, of which five can be connected to the PC at once.  The PC can still be used independently either
for traditional PC tasks or hooked up to a display running Media Center.

Product Shots 


Extender Review Part 2: Extender Experience

Extender Review Part 3: Wrap-up

Fact or Fiction: Microsoft and Blu-ray

I’ve gotten a fair amount
to the various articles I’ve posted on Microsoft and Blu-ray, and
it still seems the overall consensus on the web is that Microsoft will fall
head over heels for Blu-ray in their products.

I want to preface this post by saying that I’m not
advocating Microsoft not supporting Blu-ray. 
The fact is that Blu-ray won, while I think HD DVD had its clear
advantages those don’t matter anymore.  I
want Blu-ray support in any product that markets itself as part of a digital

Microsoft should support Blu-ray on the Xbox 360

I truly don’t understand why Microsoft would add Blu-ray
support to the Xbox 360 at this point. 
When Microsoft added HD DVD support they did so by adding some four
million lines of code to the Dashboard and had Toshiba manufacturer and sell
the HD DVD drives at a loss.  How do I
know it was at a loss?  Just look at the
fact that the standard IDE drive was selling for far less than any other IDE HD DVD
drive on market.

Toshiba didn’t make any money on the 300,000 that were sold
and neither did Microsoft.  Microsoft
took the development time to add support simply to counter Sony including
Blu-ray in the PS3.  This was an
extremely poor counter, but it provided a fairly cheap way for a consumer to
add support for a next gen DVD format on their Xbox.

As that was the only real reason, what reason does Microsoft
have now to do the same for Blu-ray?  The
war is over, Blu-ray won.  Your not fighting that anymore. The Xbox 360
is nearly two years old with an approximate four year total turn-over time for
the next console.  Why add Blu-ray in any
form to the Xbox 360?

The simple fact is that it’s not in Microsoft’s best
interest to provide Blu-ray support in the Xbox 360.  The drives are going to be too expensive as
there is no reason to sell them at a loss anymore.  Pair that with the development time for BD+
and BD-J, two technologies that Microsoft didn’t agree with in the
first place and you have a recipe for no Blu-ray on the Xbox 360.

As for internal drives, that’s even worse.  Going back to the drawing board, yet again
losing money for an integrated drive that can only be used for movie
playback.  Remember, developers can’t use
Blu-ray Disc’s as that you limit your market by some 18 million current Xbox
360’s (Microsoft also wouldn’t allow it either).

I strongly disagree that Microsoft already has some of these
things planned and working as Derek
Flickinger suggested on CE Pro yesterday
I don’t believe the Xbox 360 will ever have Blu-ray Disc support.  As for the Xbox 720 or whatever you want to
call it, I think it is too soon to say it won’t but I don’t think you can say
it will either.

Fact: Microsoft
should support Blu-ray playback on the PC

There is no doubt that Microsoft should support Blu-ray
playback on the PC, but as I’ve
talked about several times this comes with a major technical concerns

For native Blu-ray playback to happen in Microsoft
applications they will need to update Vista’s Protected Media Path to support
BD+.  This is a pretty significant change
to the system that already supports AACS, the only protection that was needed
for HD DVD.

It has always surprised me that BD+ never got the bad press
that any other DRM/content protection system does.  It runs code in a virtual machine within the
player, if that’s not something for the DRM opposed to get upset about I don’t
know what is.

The need for BD+ and the equal need for Java-based BD-J
interactivity support instead of the Microsoft developed XML-based iHD leaves a
huge shadow of doubt about what Microsoft is going to do.  No doubt Windows Media Player and Windows
Media Center users will suffer from having to use PowerDVD or alike to playback
their Blu-ray Disc’s.

This also leaves Media Center and the connected Extender ecosystem
in doubt.  Managed Copy in the still unfinished
AACS specs will give Blu-ray the ability to offer streaming too, but BD+ is
still an issue.  Microsoft might get
burned by the PS3 again as there is a good chance it will be the first product
to take advantage of such features.

Microsoft should wait for digital downloads

Digital downloads are exactly what Microsoft wants.  Why? 
Because from VC-1 to WMDRM to Silverlight to Windows Server to Windows
Vista they can push their products from point A to point B and collect on them

The clear problem with this is the lack of bandwidth in the
US.  Streaming and downloading of large
files just isn’t an option for most US broadband users, and no matter how efficient
VC-1 is as a video codec.  The fact of
the matter is US ISPs are holding up streaming being a viable mass market

The best way to explain this is with a graphic from Vudu, another
streaming hopeful (via Dave
).  As you can see from the
graphic, those with broadband connections less then 2Mbps have up to a four
hour delayed wait before they can start enjoying an HD download.  It should also be noted that the audio/video
quality provided in these sorts of streams just can’t match what Blu-ray has
been delivering for the past year.  Highly
quality means higher bitrates with means larger file size which means longer
download times.


Those ISPs that do have the bandwidth (>10Mbps) charge a
pretty penny when compared to a basic lower bitrate DSL connection.  Are customers willing to both pay high dollar
for an Internet connection and then pay high dollar for an HD download that it
many cases has to be watched within 24 hours? 
There is still a lot of work that has to be done before digital
downloads can replace physical media for good.

Of course, itshould be noted that digital downloads already exist using Microsoft technologies.  The Xbox 360 has downloads via the Xbox Marketplace and the same basic concepts from above apply in terms of download times and bitrates.  Many are waiting for Microsoft to extend the reach of the Marketplace downloads to Windows Media Center (and thus Media Center Extenders) as well portable devices like the Zune.


Ramblings About Blu-ray & Xbox 360

Short Bits: Media Center Show, On10, PowerDVD, more

Ian Dixon had Microsoft’s Steve
Lindsay on the Media Center Show today
talking about various including Windows
Home Server, Extenders, Home automation and his new blog.

Some other stuff that I have not talked about, On10 has
videos with S1Digital,
and Niveus
.  The Windows Mobile team is
looking for feedback from users
with Zune’s and Windows Mobile devices
which is always good to see.

Missing Remote has some tips
on integrating PowerDVD Ultra with Media Center
for a better Blu-ray/HD DVD
playback experience.

Lastly, Jeff Atwood has an interesting article on Tivoization and
the GPL

Blu-ray on Xbox 360 Not Going to Happen

Some websites are reporting “rumors” of Microsoft getting
ready to add Blu-ray support to the Xbox 360. 
I’m not going to link to the main website in question, because nothing
on that site has ever been true (unless there is an Xbox 360 with HD DVD intergated out there, it was said to be true by this website on at least three different occasions.  There are several other false stories out of this site too).

Unger of CE Pro does
have the basic rundown
of the issue, but don’t believe that Blu-ray is on
the way to the Xbox 360.

Among the reasons behind this are outlined
in a previous post I wrote about support in Media Center
.  All of these issues apply for the Xbox 360 as


  • Blu-ray support means adding a Java-based BD-J interactivity
    layer to the Xbox 360.  Highly doubtful
    to ever happen
  • The video/audio codecs are not really in question here, both
    HD DVD and Blu-ray use the same basic codecs.
  • Blu-ray has extra DRM in BD+.  The Xbox 360 can already do AACS, but they
    are not going to add BD+ support. 
    Microsoft has been opposed to it from the start.

I really wish more respected sites like Engadget would stop
linking to well known false stories and publishers.


Fact or
Fiction: Microsoft and Blu-ray

Ramblings About Blu-ray & Xbox 360