Category Archives: 2322

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.

Going Beyond The Enthusiast Market

Charlie Owen, a former Media Center team member wrote a post this
week about Media Center expanding its marketplace, specifically
going from
the current enthusiast market to a more mainstream market
.  Charlie analysis comes to the pretty simple
answer of It’s
possible, but highly unlikely at this point.”

I had previously come to this conclusion, but to me
the real question is “
will Microsoft attempt to develop for the
enthusiast market?”  Lucky for me,
Charlie replied to my comment with exactly what I was expecting

Charlie: “No. That’s because they have never done so. The enthusiast market is
always a subset of the overall market any product targets. Put another way:
Where the goal is making a profit you wouldn’t sacrifice a broad market
opportunity of 100 for the narrow enthusiast market of 10. Making a
Microsoft-sized profit is different than making a profit if you were a much
smaller company.”

In other words the future for Media Center is one or two
options.  Option 1: Microsoft stops
development of Media Center (very unlikely).  Option 2:
Microsoft transitions Media Center to a market which has the possibility to
create a “Microsoft-sized profit.” (Hint: TV on your PC)  Re-quoting
myself
from early this year, the days of Media Center being billed as the
do-it-all center of your home are over.

My opinion continues to be that Microsoft will focus more
and more on the Xbox
360 as the center of the home
.  The
benefits of the Xbox 360 over Media Center are almost endless from a business
perspective.  The massive amount of end
users (an unquestionable 30 million, with 20 million of them being Xbox Live
subscribers) means content providers are going to flock to the platform.  Microsoft can sit back and rake in yearly
recurring revenue from these 20 million Xbox Live subscribers along with the
massive amounts of licensing accessories and the Xbox 360 brand.  Media Center on the other hard makes
Microsoft absolutely no money as it is a part of the standard Windows SKU (eg.
No one except members of The Green Button ever purchased a Windows license just
to get Media Center).

There are still people holding out hope for Media Center to
become a platform for the home.  The
recent announcement that Dish
Network will not be shipping
their tuner anytime soon didn’t
surprise me one bit
.  Why would Dish
bother to continue with Media Center when it is pretty clear Microsoft is
moving away from the consumer they thought they were buying into?  This same concept is at play with Media
Center Extender’s.  There is still some
hope that Toshiba
will be releasing an Extender, but I think the concept
that most people miss is that whether it gets released or not means little in
the grand scheme of things.  If
Microsoft’s heart is not in providing a platform for the home, you can really
know going into your purchase that you’re going to end up disappointed at some
point.

The biggest question mark might be Windows Home Server.  For years I have said the concept of
including Media Center in Windows Home Server is pointless
and does nothing to expand the current market
.  If HP ditched Extender’s and CableCARD due to
poor sales, why exactly would they have the least bit of interest in shipping a
Media Center+Home Server box?  If OEMs
are not interested, why is Microsoft going to develop it?

Most people underestimate the OEMs when talking about Media
Center.  OEMs are really responsible for
Media Center from start to finish from a customer’s perspective.  HP and Dell have shown they have little
interest in Media Center by either discounting CableCARD PCs, killing off
Extender’s, and even in HPs case killing off their HT-styled z-series Media
Centers.  Dish
Network
and DIRECTV
are just as important and have shown that they are increasing less interested.

Microsoft’s latest attempt to make a market for Media Center
has been the custom integrator channel, and some have big
expectations
for what Microsoft might have in store.  Sadly most of the possibilities have already
been proven false, and based on what I’ve been told from those in the industry
interest in Media Center in the custom channel is dropping fast.  I’m interest to see how much longer Microsoft
attempts to push into the market.  With
their partner OEMs such as HP, Linksys, Dish Network pulling out these leaves
the custom OEMs like Niveus Media and Life|ware to pick up the slack.  Unfortunately there is only such much they
can do.  If Microsoft’s commitment in the
channel falls it might be the end of the custom market experiment.

So once again the question is what’s next.  Recently there have been some great new
bloggers
show up in the Media Center community with some great
suggestions.  I’m done with
suggestions.  Microsoft knows exactly
what we want, let’s not pretend they don’t. 
The issue is it is no longer in their best interest to pursue most of
it.  What’s next?  Who knows. 
All I want at this point is for Microsoft to publicly provide a roadmap
for what Media Center is to become.

CableCARD Takes First (Unofficial) Step to DIY PCs

A fair amount of headroom has recently been made for
CableCARD support on non-OEM machines. 
CableLabs regulations have limited only Microsoft approved OEMs to build
and sell CableCARD machines using well outlined stipulations including a
special BIOS and additional product key.

Smart thinking guy’s at The Green Button cracked open the
public CableLabs specs to find out more. 
As I’ve talked about before, the BIOS is actually a OSFR table which in
theory can be put in any motherboard BIOS. 
Turns out Asus might have shipped a revision of their P5K with the table
present and populated.  Two fun threads
to follow for more are here and here.

Now, getting the BIOS “hacked” doesn’t mean too much.  The hard part of this equation is the OCUR PID
that will be much harder to hack.  Right
now people are recycling their Dell XPS 420’s PIDs to home build a custom
CableCARD mahine.

I will caution everyone, Microsoft and CableLabs are
supposed to have a method to remotely disable this stuff and your PC is also
supposed to check every so often to ensure everything is cool.  If you spend a lot time and money getting
into something like this and one day it just breaks don’t get too mad.

Ceton Gets Official with Industry First MOCUR

Microsoft might not have hit on it in their Media
Center-less keynote, but there is one big change getting ready to happen.  Well over a year after it was first spotted, Ceton
is out with the news that they will be shipping an MOCUR
in 2009 (Via Media
Center Blog
).

There are a few things that are unique to the Ceton MOCUR
over the current ATI OCUR.  The first and
most noticeable is the ability to use a single M-Card and tune at up 6
channels.  While most people know that
M-Cards can offer multiple streams, not many know they actually can be well
above two.  Using a single M-Card and a
Ceton MCOUR with add-on tuners you will be able to record up to six shows at
once.

image

While you will still need a CableCARD Ready PC (sorry, no
home built) this tuner will be a welcome change from ATIs.  Ceton will hopefully stay a-top their
firmware releases and ship the tuners with that relaxed
DRM support
that ATI hasn’t bothered to get around to yet.

Sadly, this isn’t a BOCR (tru2way).  CableLabs has
still
not finished the specs for two-way CableCARD tuners for the PC.  While not noted in the press release, Ceton
will hopefully
be providing support for SDV Adaptors
which CableLabs has said will work
with OCURs but that a timeline for support has not been made public.  If SDV support isnt planned on, this tuner
will be dead in the water.  I’ve got to
believe that Ceton wouldn’t release the tuner at this stage without ensuring
SDV support.

Big hat tip to
the Media Center Blog

Ceton Announces Development of Next-Generation Cable TV Card for PCs Running Windows Media Center

(Via Media
Center Blog
)  LAS VEGAS, NV —
01/08/09 —
Ceton Corp., a Seattle-area technology company, today announced
the development of the next-generation Ceton cable TV card for Windows Media
Center-enabled PCs. PCs incorporating the Ceton Multi-Channel Cable TV Card
will be able to natively support high-definition pay TV including premium cable
TV channels, without the need for a separate cable set-top box, including
playing or recording up to six simultaneous high-definition TV channels using a
single multi-stream CableCARD(TM) and single RF connection.

The Ceton solution also enables standard- and
high-definition cable programming to be securely distributed from a Media
Center PC to multiple TVs throughout the home via Media Center Extenders while
preserving the encryption and digital rights of the content. The Ceton
Multi-Channel Cable TV Card was developed using Microsoft Corp.’s broadcast TV
platform capabilities in Windows Media Center and conforms to the CableLabs®
OpenCable(TM) OCUR and DRI specifications.

“PCs running Windows Media Center are a great platform
for enabling a wide variety of really useful whole-home entertainment
options,” said Gary Hammer, president and CEO of Ceton Corp. “The
Ceton Multi-Channel Cable TV Card for Windows Media Center-enabled PCs not only
brings pay TV functionality of the set-top box inside the PC in an
easy-to-set-up and very cost-effective way but it also enables unique
capabilities such as whole-home distribution of premium HD TV content with up
to six tuner support with a single multi-stream CableCARD.”

“Microsoft is pleased to see Ceton deliver this new
hardware solution built on the robust capabilities of Windows Media Center and
its broadcast TV platform,” said Geoff Robertson, General Manager of
Windows Media Center for Microsoft. “Ceton’s digital cable tuner will
bring multi-stream pay TV services to Windows Media Center-enabled PCs and
multiple connected Media Center Extenders.”

The Ceton Multi-Channel Cable TV Card for Windows Media
Center-enabled PCs is expected to be available bundled with Windows Media
Center-enabled PCs from leading manufacturers in 2009.

About Ceton
Corporation

Ceton Corporation is a Seattle-area technology company that
is developing the next-generation of in-home digital entertainment and
communication solutions. Combining stellar hardware and software engineering
capabilities with market-making, patent-pending technology, Ceton aims to help
unlock the potential of the digital home to unleash a new generation of in-home
connected entertainment and communication services for PC and device makers,
software developers and consumers. More information about Ceton and its
solutions is available at http://www.cetoncorp.com.

Short Bits: SideShow Remote, Big Screen Savings, Video Testimonial Program, More

Ricavision is officially dead now, but Phillips
is sort-of taking their place with the SRM7500 SideShow Remote

Hardly the eye candy that the Ricavision was, but at least it is shipping with
a much lower price tag.  Clear downside here is the screen which will
limit functionality.

The Holidays are here and that means deals for you on Media
Center plug-ins.  Up
until January 15 you can save up to 40% off on Big Screen applications.
 

Speaking of deals, how about getting a free DV cam? 
Microsoft has launched their Media Center
Consumer Video Testimonial Program at The Green Button
(you need to be logged into your TGB account to see this).  Microsoft
will send you a $140 Flip Camera (not sure about model, but my guess is this one)
for you to make a quick 2 minute video about your life using Media
Center.  You send them the video on CD/DVD along with the camera back, and
they send you a brand new Flip Camera for you to keep!

NCTA says there are officially 374,000 CableCARDs deployed
in third party devices (eg. TiVo, Media Center, HDTVs, etc).  You can
compare that to the 9.76 million CableCARDs deployed in the boxes leased by
Cable Providers.

CableLabs Confirms Tuning Adaptor Support in Media Center (Kind of)

Good news, OCURs (can) support Tuning Adapters.  Bad news, OCUR is an open spec and the fact
that they “can” doesn’t mean a whole lot. 
CableLabs
recently addressed the issue (PDF)
with the two fantastic (ok, maybe not) bits of information below.  Pair
that with Microsoft’s own fantastic response
from a few months ago and the
bottom line is not to expect a Tuning Adapter mixed with an OCUR any time soon.

If things work the
way I think they will
then we are waiting for one of two things to happen.

Possibility A:
CableLabs updates the specs for the TA/TR to clearly state that it can work
with OCURs using the PC as a hub.  ATI
provides a firmware update for the OCURs to work and Microsoft updates Windows
and Media Center to allow it to work.

Possibility B: ATI
or some other company releases new OCURs (eg. New hardware) with the correct
firmware upgrades and USB port configuration to work with the current TR specs.  Microsoft provides an update for Media Center
because CableLabs is suggesting it will be needed.

Judging by CableLabs verbiage in the below statements, I
think a bit more than a Tuning Adapter connecting to the PC is involved.  It isn’t a good sign when the main entity
behind these things is saying that a timeline for development hasn’t been
identified.  Stay tuned for some other
changes CableLabs is making.

Can existing DTVs, STBs or OCURs by upgraded
to support the Tuning Adapter?

“Existing one-way products that already include an USB port may be able to be upgraded by the
manufacturer to support the Tuning Adapter. 
Some manufacturers have announced plans for much upgrades.  For more information, check with the
manufacturer of your unidirectional Digital Cable Product.”

Will the Tuning
Adapter work with a Vista PC that is equipped with a Digital Cable Tuner?

“The TRIF specification is designed so that it can also with
a Vista PC that is equipped with a Digital Cable Tuner.  However
the timing for the development, availability and support of compatible products
depends upon the PC and OCUR manufacturers’ schedule, as well as necessary
upgrades provided by Microsoft.”

Microsoft Releases October Media Center Updates

October 2008 Cumulative Update
for Media Center for Windows Vista
(KB955519)

  • Fixes an issue in which you cannot seek through recorded TV
    shows on Windows Media Center systems that have digital cable tuners.
    Additionally, the recorded TV shows display the incorrect length.
  • Fixes an issue in which Windows Media Center Extenders
    cannot re-connect to a host computer after the host computer resumes from the
    suspend mode or the sleep mode.
  • Fixes an issue which is introduced by KB950126. In this
    issue, a video that is paused may resume if you minimize or maximize the
    Windows Media Center window or if a screen saver starts.
  • Implements support for Digital Rights Management (DRM) free
    copy for digital cable tuners that have the latest digital cable tuner BIOS
    that support DRM free copy.
  • Expands the solution that was introduced in KB950126 to
    improve the experience of recording analog TV broadcasts to include set-top box
    scenarios. Previously, some analog TV broadcasts were blocked with the
    “protected content” message.

October 2008 Cumulative Update
for Media Center TV Pack for Windows Vista
(KB956147)

  • Addresses an issue in which Windows Media Center Extenders
    cannot re-connect to host computer after the computer resumes from the suspend
    or sleep mode.
  • Improves the experience of recording analog TV broadcasts to
    include set-top box scenarios. Previously, some shows were blocked with
    “protected content” messages.

    • Note: This
      solution does not apply to configurations that use analog TV over digital cable
      tuners. The BIOS for the digital cable tuners provide content protection.
  • Addresses an issue in which incorrect PlayReady API is
    called.
  • Addresses an issue in identification of systems with the
    Windows Media Center TV Pack installed for server-related content.
  • Addresses an issue with certain extensibility applications
    that pass the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) protocol-based URLs.
  • Addresses an issue with .wtv files that are listed as
    unsupported file type after the third-party decoders are installed.
  • Addresses an issue with Terrestrial Integrated Services
    Digital Broadcasting (ISDB-T) digital TV signal when it uses component or
    composite output.