CableCARD Opens Up, but Does the Marketplace?

The news at CEDIA that CableCARD will now be open to all has
got everyone worked up about Microsoft getting things right and that the
platform is back where it needs to be. 
However, while the news of CableCARD getting unlocked from OEM only
machines is fantastic I’m not sure it chances much in the marketplace.

First of all, AMD
appears to be out of the marketplace
which is actually a much bigger deal
than people might think.  While this
hasn’t been confirmed, reports out of CEDIA showed that AMD didn’t have a lot
to say about CableCARD in general.  Most
likely the only reason we are seeing updated firmware for current OCURs is
because AMD never actually wrote the firmware for the cards, Digital Keystone
did.  Clearly competition
is the best way to drive prices down
, so AMD not focusing on the market isn’t
a good thing.

The big news it Ceton
will actually be releasing an MOCUR for retail consumption
.   This isn’t the BOCR
I have talked about in the past
(CableLabs still hasn’t published any specs
for that), but it is the first MOCUR.   My question here is what kind of distribution
will Ceton be able to get?  I’m not
exactly expecting the card to show up at my local Best Buy.  If CableCARD tuners aren’t going to be
available at brick-and-mortar retailers the concept of the market opening up
dramatically is still slim.  Maybe Dell
and HP get back into the market now that OEM BIOS isn’t required, but they seem
to have a bad taste in their mouth from previous experiences plus selling the
tuners with new PCs gets us right back to where we were before.

Price is another issue when we talk about expanding the
current marketplace.  Preliminary reports
are that Ceton is currently targeting a price between $300-$600, which would be
a huge upgrade from current AMD pricing, but this is still very costly when you
consider 46 out of the 65 PCs Best Buy lists on their website cost $750 or
less.  Without a big retail partner Ceton
will surely not be an AMD-sided production run which means prices are likely to
be higher simply because economics of scale doesn’t work.  Maybe if/when Hauppauge
ships a CableCARD
tuner the distribution side will be fixed (however, I don’t
believe the HD PVR has retail distribution either).

There is still the possibility that Microsoft
would market this for the living room
, but that’s still highly
unlikely.  Trust me, the lack of cable
HDTV isn’t the one thing that stopped Microsoft from ever marketing Media
Center and Extender’s, and it surely won’t change that.  Microsoft isn’t likely to ever market Media
Center or Extender’s, or any pairing of the two.

It is no doubt the Media Center community will jump on this
change, but do you believe Media Center is now in a better place to expand in
the marketplace now that CableCARD is not locked to an OEM machine?

Microsoft Enhances the Digital Cable Experience and Names 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Winner

Customers get new capabilities, more
options, and a better digital cable experience in Windows Media Center.

ATLANTA, Sept. 9 – Today at CEDIA EXPO
2009, Microsoft Corp. discussed key Windows Media Center features for Windows 7
and announced a series of initiatives that enhance the digital cable experience
in Windows Media Center. With the addition of native support for additional
international broadcast TV standards, including QAM and ATSC, there will now be
support for switched digital video (SDV), a new tool that will make it possible
for end customers to add a digital cable tuner with CableCARD to their PC, and
for existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more
portability for digital cable TV that is marked as “copy freely”
(CF). In addition, Microsoft and the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA)
announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest,
showcasing the many ways Windows Media Center can be used in a whole-home
solution.

“We’re continuing to work on creating opportunities for
partners that will enable great entertainment experiences on the PC,” said
Craig Eisler, corporate vice president of entertainment client software for the
TV, Video & Music Business at Microsoft. “Consumers understand that
having access to content via the PC is critical when it comes to entertainment
experiences, and with these announcements, we’re underscoring our broader
commitment to deliver a rich experience with Windows Media Center.”

Switched Digital Video (SDV) Support Added for Windows
Media Center

In response to customer requests and cable providers’
deployment of SDV, Microsoft now supports SDV in Windows Media Center for
Windows 7. In conjunction with a device known as a tuning adapter, supplied by
a customer’s cable provider, Windows Media Center and a digital cable tuner
with CableCARD will be able to tune to SDV channels. Customers can enjoy SDV
broadcasts on PCs running Windows Media Center in Windows 7 and a digital cable
tuner with CableCARD.

End Customers Can Now Add Digital Cable Tuners With
CableCARD to Their PCs

Microsoft and CableLabs announced that customers will now be
able to add digital cable tuners with CableCARD to a Windows 7-based PC with
Windows Media Center. A new tool will be provided by Microsoft that assesses
the PC’s ability to support the solution. This tool will analyze the customer’s
PC and enable digital cable support if the PC meets requirements, opening
digital cable options to Windows Media Center customers across the country.
Microsoft also announced that, with Windows 7, it has increased the number of
TV tuners that can be connected to the PC from two to four per tuner type,
thereby allowing customers to simultaneously record or watch as many as four
digital cable TV channels.

“We are excited that digital cable customers will now
be able to take advantage of this new opportunity to bring great cable TV programming
to the PC,” said So Vang, vice president of OpenCable at CableLabs.
“We are dedicated to helping customers get the most from their cable
service, and this will be a great win for both the customer and the cable
operators.”

Digital Cable Customers Can Now Enjoy More TV Portability
in Windows Media Center

Microsoft and CableLabs also announced that they worked
together to enable digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more
portability for digital cable TV that is marked as “copy freely” (CF).
Customers will be able to play CF-marked digital cable recordings, such as
those from local channels, on other PCs, devices and portable media.

Windows Media Center Features in Windows 7 Highlighted

Using new Windows 7 features such as Windows Touch,
HomeGroup, Remote Media Streaming and PlayTo, sharing recorded TV, videos,
music and pictures throughout the home, while on the road and to remote
locations has never been easier. There is also support for the AVCHD format.
This allows customers to view HD video from many popular HD video cameras.

In addition, support for the international broadcast TV
standards that was released with the Windows Media Center TV Pack 2008 will
also be included in Windows Media Center in Windows 7. This includes native
support for both ATSC and QAM, the ability to remap channels, and support for
subchannels.

New Firmware for ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuners

In conjunction with the Microsoft and CableLabs
announcements, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) will be providing a new
firmware update that is available to all ATI TV Wonder digital cable tuners
being used with Windows 7 and Windows Vista. This firmware update will allow
existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability
for digital cable TV marked as CF. Customers will be able to play CF-marked
digital cable recordings, such as those from local channels, on other PCs,
devices, and portable media. In addition, the firmware will contain support for
SDV. When installed on a Windows 7-based PC with a digital cable tuner with
CableCARD and a tuning adapter from a cable provider, it enables access to
switched digital channels in locations where SDV has been deployed.

2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest Winner
Announced

Microsoft, in collaboration with the Media Center Integrator
Alliance (MCIA), announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate
Install Contest. The winning installation was submitted by Dustin Anderson,
general manager at Vision Audio in Lubbock, Texas, who built a system with
Windows Media Center at the core of the entertainment experience in an
extensive whole-home installation for a customer in Odessa, Texas. The
installation integrates six Windows Media Center-based servers, one Windows
Home Server, five dedicated theater-style rooms, 12 media racks, 98 speakers,
and 30 zones of distributed audio. The home includes products from key MCIA
member companies such as Autonomic Controls Inc., Crestron Electronics Inc. and
Niveus Media Inc.

The Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest, now in
its third year, encourages integrators to show off their talents by presenting
their most unique and creative installations that leverage Windows Media Center
technologies. Vision Audio’s integration of the family’s music, movies, videos
and pictures, as well as the integration of Windows Media Center and Windows
Home Server with the Crestron home automation system, and the large scope of
the installation set it apart as the winner for 2009.

“We’re thrilled to receive this recognition from
Microsoft and the MCIA. The Windows Media Center platform has enabled us to be
on the cutting edge of technology, which has provided us with critical business
advantages during the economic downturn,” Anderson said.

More information on the contest and images from the install
can be found online at http://www.microsoft.com/ultimateinstall.

Also on Display at CEDIA EXPO 2009

At the Microsoft booth at CEDIA EXPO 2009, Microsoft will
show additional hardware and software installations that enhance the digital
cable experience. Demonstrations include these:

  • The new Zune HD portable media player using the Zune HD AV
    dock to display 720p content on an HDTV. The Zune HD and updated Zune PC
    software will launch on Sept. 15.
  • A home server powered by Windows Home Server software. The
    upcoming Windows Home Server Power Pack 3, currently in beta testing, will add
    enhancements for Windows Media Center. Power Pack 3 features include the option
    to move recorded TV content to the home server in a variety of resolutions, and
    the ability for users to see statistics about the home server through Windows
    Media Center.
  • A technology preview of the new Multi-Channel Cable TV
    Card from Ceton Corp., which enables PCs with Windows Media Center to play or
    record multiple live channels of premium HDTV at once, and stream live HD
    channels or recordings to multiple TV sets throughout the home, all with a
    single CableCARD.

OCURs Finally Approved for Tuning Adaptor Support

While I still haven’t seen specs updated to confirm how I
believe CableLabs would handle Tuning Adaptor’s with OCURs
, I can confirm
that the next firmware release (in theory 1.19) will support Tuning Adaptors as
CableLabs has officially approved all ATI OCURs as Tuning Adaptor ready (hooray
for me being wrong!).  In addition the
firmware should allow for less
DRM on non-flagged CableCARD recordings
.  Expect more next week at CEDIA.

This is one of the very few predictions
that Ben at Engadget HD
made that I believe will come true.