Broadcast Flag Follow-up

I’ve been attempting to learn about the Broadcast Flag over the past few days, and instead of focusing on what it can/can’t do I decided to look at a few other things.

First of all, I want to say that I believe the issue early this month with NBC was a total fluke.  I think a lot of people are getting bent out of shape considering this has been and continues to be a onetime bug not reproducible by anyone at Microsoft, NBC, EFF, etc.  This is compounded with the lack of understanding between different technologies, mainly Copy Generation Management System – Analog (CGMS-A) and the Broadcast Flag.  The Broadcast Flag only applies to Over the Air (ATSC) broadcasts.  It doesn’t and can’t apply to NTSC, CableCARD, etc.  It is understandable that people are upset when something like this happens (especially with the longstanding CGMS-A issues, and CableCARD issues that mostly appear to be software conflicts), but everything needs to be kept in check.

With all of that said, this whole situation doesn’t match up.  On Microsoft’s side first, they said “Microsoft included technologies in Windows based on rules set forth by the (Federal Communications Commission).”  CNET published the story under the title “Microsoft confirms Windows adheres to broadcast flag” despite the fact nothing they published from Microsoft said “Broadcast Flag.”  It is also worth noting that the FCC doesn’t have any rules on the Broadcast Flag.  Ten days later CNET published a follow-up story refuting parts of their previous story quoting Microsoft as saying “Please note that Windows Media Center does not support Broadcast Flag.” 

Cut to NBC’s side of things, CNET reported that NBC “made an inadvertent mistake” and “incorrectly flagged” the shows in question and they later reported that “It was a CGMS-A flag, not a broadcast flag.”

Where does this leave us?  With a seemingly rare occurrence that can’t be reproduced.  Microsoft says the Broadcast Flag isn’t supported, NBC says they didn’t put the Broadcast Flag on and instead they magically enabled CGMS-A(nalog) on a pure digital ATSC broadcast.  These two bits of information are where things actually get interesting.

NBC first, they are saying they enabled CGMS-A, an analog (NTSC) copy protection technology on a non-analog (ATSC) broadcast.   In NTSC, the CGMS-A bits are broadcast in Vertical Blanking Interval (VBI) which also carries closed captions, V-chip data, and other digital data.  However, best I can find there is no standard for CGMS-A in ATSC broadcasts.  There is a VBI extension for ATSC, but based on the specs it doesn’t support CGMS-A.  Can CGMS-A even be put on ATSC?  Based on what I’ve seen the answer would be no.  If this is the case, it leaves NBC with no idea what really happened on the broadcast end.  If it was somehow CGMS-A on ATSC it would also seem to be a onetime occurrence that has ever been reported before.

On Microsoft’s side, the question is does Windows support the Broadcast Flag?  Microsoft says “Windows Media Center does not support Broadcast Flag,” but there is more to the story then that.  Who knows what the software truly supports, but Microsoft has developed for the Broadcast Flag in the past.  Most notability while developing for Vista which would be prior to the time it was officially stuck down.

Microsoft’s position on the Broadcast Flag is simple and is even semi-outlined in a 2003 document.  Basically it boils down to we will support the Broadcast Flag if it is created with us in mind.  This is exactly how I would expect Microsoft to deal with it in a world of digital video on the Internet and Microsoft wanting to push their Windows Media technologies.  It is no secret, Microsoft supported CGMS-A in Windows Media Center way back in 2002 and now they are the only PC-based platform with CableCARD and pending DIRECTV support.  It is a game that Microsoft knows how to play, and it pays in the end (it also helps grow their digital download aspirations, Microsoft TV division, etc).

Other interesting bits are the ASF specs which reference and start to define how to deal with the “Broadcast Flag” (I’m assuming that’s proper Broadcast Flag and not general flag in a broadcast).  And then there are the PBDA PowerPoint’s from Vista, which show a nice block diagram of 8VSB demodulation (which is ATSC)  with the Broadcast Flag clearly being detected with dealt with.


Since Microsoft really never published any of the in-depth specs for PBDA type stuff we don’t know for sure if Windows does “support” it, or rather if Broadcast Flag support is in the live implementation.  I’m not trying to scare anyone or suggest Microsoft wants to kill access to all of your media (they want the opposite), but I think it is important for everyone to understand what can be done.

While I haven’t had the time to do in-depth research on the Broadcast Flag in general, I do see that the issue between NBC and Microsoft from a few weeks ago is appearing to be nothing but a fluke.  I’m interested to see if anything like this (copy protection on ATSC) happens again, but truthfully the situation is looking more like a single rare occurrence to me than an issue with the Broadcast Flag.

Short Bits: HD PVR, Windows 7, Media Center Show, Akimbo

Brent Evans has (almost) all your answers on the HD PVR that finally has started shipping.  And remember, it doesn’t work with Media Center (yet?).

Joe Wilcox has Eight Things About Windows 7 following Microsoft’s first public demo of the OS at All Things D.  Overall I think Windows 7 is going to be more like Vista Second Edition.  It really isn’t a “whole new OS” as Vista was from XP.  Nonetheless I’m excited about it, and I hope Microsoft is planning to make the transition away from the Vista name that has become a horrible brand.

Ian Dixon has The Media Center Show #158 with FUZE Media Systems.

Lastly there is a very interesting article on the downfall of Akimbo.  You might remember Akimbo from the days where Media Center was their target market before things really started to go wrong.  In 2005 I had a number of suggestions for Akimbo (before they launched the Media Center plug-in), and a number of them actually happened.

Could Dell Be Part of CableCARD Instability?

No doubt that CableCARD has turned out to be a less than stellar technology from a stability point of view, but could Dell be a big reason why CableCARD seems so unstable?  As a part of Microsoft’s investigation into “Restricted Content” errors on CableCARD PCs we have learned a lot, specifically about Dell.

First of all, Dell has 10x as many CableCARD PCs out then any other OEM.  That’s not incredibly shocking given the price they have been pushing them out at, but interesting nonetheless.  Second, it seems users are targeting their own issues with Dell’s CableCARD PCs, and their issues revolve around Dell’s Support Center software.  Several users have commented that removing the software fixed (at least part of) their problem.

Considering the large amount of Dell XPS 420 with CableCARD, is Dell’s Support Center software (or other pre-loaded software) contributing to the constant instability of CableCARD in Media Center? 

Update: The Dell issue has been confirmed by both Dell and Microsoft now.

Short Bits: Ulitmate Setup, Open Media, clipShow

I’m not sure if I’ve posted about this before, but Ian Dixon has been doing his own “Ultimate Media Center Enthusiast Setup” contest and it is down to the voting.  As I expected there are several fantastic Media Center setups, some of which I never would have pictured in my mind.  Check them all out here and don’t forget to vote on your favorite.

Wondering what Open Media Library is currently looking like?  Check it out for yourself.  This is one amazing plug-in, hard to believe it started as a clone of Niveus Media’s Movie Library just a month and a half ago.


Speaking of open source plug-ins, clipShow is a new plug-in on CodePlex that looks to provide video playlists in a simple fashion.  Moreso you can do clipshows by playing 30+ seconds per video for your whole playlist.  Neat idea.

Don’t forget, Friday May 30, 2008 at 5:00pm PST is your last chance to enter the Dragon giveaway at The Green Button.

Win an HP HDX Dragon PC at The Green Button

We are taking our turn at The Green Button to give away an HP HDX Dragon PC ($5,000+ value), so everyone should make sure to enter.  Entering to win is easy, just tell us (at The Green Button, not here) what our next site upgrade should focus on and look like.  What are we doing wrong now, what could be do better, what type of format should the upgrade be, etc.

That’s all you have to do to enter.  To enter you must have registered an account at The Green Button before 4/28/08.  Check out the rest of the rules here, and remember you only have until Friday 5:00pm PST, May 30, 2008 to enter.  The winner will be posted on Saturday, May 31, 2008.

I’ve put a few buttons in the sidebar to remind you to enter, so I expect everyone to give us something we can do better (and I know there is a lot we could do better).

Update: So of course as soon as we start something like this the site craps out. Admin’s have been notified, clearly everyones top suggestion for The Green Button should just be a site that works.  I think we will work on that first.  Other suggestions welcome as a part of the contest or outside of it.

Update 2: Back up and working.

Microsoft and Cannon PC Partner to offer CableCARD Media Centers

Cannon PC, LP announced its Direct OEM partnership with Microsoft and will be offering a Digital CableCARD on its Home Series and Pro A/V Series Media Centers.

May 25, 2008 – Cannon PC, the award winning Media Center specialty company, announced May 25th its partnership with Microsoft and will be offering dual Digital CableCARD on its line of Media Center PCs and has plans to release quad CableCARD systems in the near future.

 “We are excited about our partnership with Microsoft and the opportunity to offer our customers Digital CableCARD” said Gregg Cannon of Cannon PC.  Cannon PC has worked hard over the years to establish itself and major player in the Media Center market and CableCARD will allow us to bring the next level of this exciting technology to our customers.”

For those not familiar with Digital CableCARDs, they allow customers to watch and record their cable TV channels, including premium HDTV channels like HBO-HD and ESPNHD directly on their Media Center without the need for a set-top box.  You can even stream the HD content to other rooms in the house via Media Center Extenders.

As the winner of nine national and international awards, Cannon PC has been designing Microsoft Windows-based Media Centers for over four years. Their business model is specifically targeted to Media Centers and Media Center technology. “We contribute our success on focusing our resources on what we do best and aligning ourself with strategic partnerships including A/V integrators, homebuilders and cutting-edge home automation companies.” said Cannon.

Cannon PC offers a of line of Media Centers for the tech savvy consumer as well as a high end line of Media Centers tailored for the custom integration market.  Cannon PC has a unique dealer program for qualified A/V installers and integrators that are looking to offer their clients reliable feature rich Media Centers at a competitive price.  Unlike other Media Center manufactures, each system can be completely customizable to fit the customers need or the A/V project.

Their Home Series line of Media Centers consist of the AMD-based ultra small form factor FX Series Media Center as well as the Intel-based MC Series house in an A/V style case.  Either system can be purchased through their online site.

The Cannon PC Pro A/V Series consists of three models; the LX, EX and RX.  The LX has been redesigned to include a stylish new case that integrates gold plated front audio connectors, quick access USB and Fire Wire connections as well as a 28 in 1 media card reader.  The EX features a 12” HD touch screen and room for over 6 TB of disk storage.  The RX unit is a sleek rack mount system that will fit nicely into any standard A/V rack and each system comes standard with a Blu-ray DVD drive.

All Cannon PC Media Center’s come standard with features such as a 28-in-1 media card reader, front IO, USB and Firewire connections, dual NTSC and HDTV tuners (with CableCARD shipping soon), 8 channel HD audio, P35 Express chipset, Quad Core and Dual Core Processor, high end ATI or NVIDIA graphics cards, up to 8 GB or RAM and up to 6 terabytes of internal SATA hard disk storage.  Each system uses state of the art motherboards and components that utilize cool and quiet technology to ensure that their systems are whisper quiet and low on heat.  All systems are backed by a 1 year factory warranty.

Cannon PC has been designing high end Media Center since its founding in 2004.  To learn more about Cannon PC Media Centers, visit them online at

For information contact:

Short Bits: Restricted Content, Plug-ins, XP SP3

Niveus Media has released another exclusive plug-in for Niveus owners, this time they have got your basic weather needs covered.  Niveus Weather looks very nice based on the screenshots and I assume it is MCML also. (Via Missing Remote).


Mike is back with another Life with a Plug-in review which today features BigScreen Headlines 2.  How does it measure up?  Well, it is approved for everyday use (and it’s MCML) so check out the review.

Microsoft is finally hitting on one of their many content protection issues within Media Center.  Right now they are starting an investigation on Digital Cable Tuners (CableCARD) and Restricted Content errors.  If you have any feedback, please direct it to The Green Button.

If you are still running MCE 2005 and attempt to install a new Media Center Extender after installing Service Pack 3 you are most likely running into a few issues.  Fear not though, Jason Tsang has the fixed covered.

Windows Live for TV Officially Dies

Remember Windows Live for TV?  The plug-in for Windows Live Spaces/Messenger that promised cool features like chat and voice conversations, PC-to-PC calls, and of course Windows Live Spaces access via remote has officially died.  “The project was moved to a different organization internally in the spring of last year and will most likely not come out of beta” replied a Program Manger around the product.

Can’t say I’m surprised, after all it had one release well over a year ago and nothing else was ever said.  I wouldn’t be shocked if parts of this came back from the dead for Media Center in Windows 7, but I don’t think we will ever see Windows Live for TV as the plug-in it was once meant to be.

CinemaNow Launches Media Center Plug-in

CinemaNow has launched a new Media Center plug-in available through the “Explore” tile in Vista Media Center.  Currently their library features over 3,400 feature-length movies, 3,000 TV episodes and over 2,900 music videos that can be downloaded without using a mouse and keyboard.  This includes Pay-Per-View and Download-to-Own movies, new release and catalog favorites, with titles available day-and-date of retail DVD release as described below.  All downloads are also streamable to Media Center Extenders.

CinemaNow offers a variety of services now available through Windows Media Center:

Download-to-own: Hollywood movies, popular TV shows, and music videos are available for purchase, providing an unlimited viewing period on up to 3 devices. Download-to-own movies are priced from $9.99 to $19.99; TV shows and music videos are priced at $1.99.  Download-to-Own movies are available day-and-date of retail DVD release.

Pay-Per-View: Hollywood movies are available for purchase, providing customers a 24 hour window to watch the video. As with all CinemaNow downloads, customers can start watching in minutes or download the file and watch it anytime, anywhere. Pay-Per-View movies are priced between $2.99 and $3.99.  Select Pay-Per-View titles are available day-and-date of retail DVD release.

Burn-to-DVD: Enables customers to legally download a DVD, play it back on their PC, and burn a copy to a blank DVD disc. The disc can then be played in virtually any DVD player with full remote control navigation and access to all of the special features. Burn-to-DVD movies are priced from $8.99 to $14.99.




In addition to CinemaNow, Windows Media Center delivers a variety of TV and video content to millions of consumers:

TV – Consumers can watch both live and recorded TV in Windows Media Center.  A variety of TV options are supported, including broadcast over-the-air NTSC and ATSC, analog digital cable and satellite, all with a no-charge Program Guide.

Internet TV Beta– Internet TV Beta is a U.S. offering within Windows Media Center that allows consumers to choose from more than 100 hours of TV entertainment, music concerts, movie trailers, news, and sports content, and you don’t even need a TV Tuner to watch it. Consumers can watch Internet TV Beta full-screen on their Windows Media Center PC or use Extenders for Windows Media Center to watch it on their TV.

Online Media – Online Media gives users access to a variety of digital media, including sports news and statistics from Fox Sports, XM Radio, HSN Vision, and Showtime TV. Online Media also provides the ability to browse through top stories from NPR, Reuters and other news outlets, allowing users to quickly catch up on the day’s top stories. There are also several Windows Media Center add-ons available from the providers, which allow you to watch NetFlix, YouTube videos or check the weather, to mention just a few of the services available from Online Media services partners.

Movies – In addition to CinemaNow, Windows Media Center provides access to Starz Entertainment’s VONGO and MovieLink, which are additional premium movie and TV downloading services. Digital home movies can also be easily accessed through Windows Media Center and watched on a television via an Extender for Windows Media Center.