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.