Category Archives: 7033

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.

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.

What Do You Think of Windows 7 Media Center?

This weekend I installed Windows 7 on my Media Center and
thought about writing a review.  However,
I think Ben
successfully did that already
so rather than try and recreate it I’d rather
know what you think.

Looking through Ben’s list of new features and changes, the
one thing I noticed was that the vast majority of them are visual changes to
the UI or straight up eye candy.  Sure,
they add additional functionality but channel logos, TV show images, colored
coded EPG, and fancy fading in/out only goes so far when there are dozens of
useful features still needed to make Media Center the center of the home.

Features like HomeGroup are great, but once again it doesn’t
work with protected CableCARD content and some
people aren’t too happy with that
.  Several
of the other cool features existing in the TV Pack, so if you managed to get it
stable enough to use you will see less “new” features in Windows 7 than those
who have been using Vista w/o TV Pack.  Overall I’m happy with Windows 7 for my personal use; however
it fails to make further inroads into any market except the existing enthusiast
market.

What’s your opinion? 
What do you like and dislike? 
What features are missing?

Is Hulu Coming to Media Center?

I don’t
believe that Hulu
has a large interest in Media Center, but those very same
mockup’s that show Media Center’s “PCTV” marketing also show Hulu as a key
experience.  My guess is that the material
Microsoft provided to Lippincott said
Media Center provides an Internet TV experience, and the designers took that as
Media Center providing access to the most popular service for online TV shows.

I don’t believe that the content providers are interested in
seeing Hulu on the big screen as it would jeopardize traditional content
delivery.  Hulu’s entry into the 10-foot
UI marketplace is heavily designed around the desktop PC, and their TOS
makes that very clear.



Media Center Gets "PCTV" Marketing in Microsoft Store Mockups

It has been
my theory
that Microsoft is slowly ditching the concept of using and
promoting Media Center as a whole home entertainment experience and moving to
the “TV on your PC” concept which they have been actively promoting over the
past 6 months.  This concept is something
that most Media Center enthusiasts don’t want to believe as it turns Media
Center into a product that most current users have no interest in.  What better way to find out the future of
Media Center than looking at how it could be presented in the upcoming
Microsoft retail stores.

Gizmodo
got their hands on some leaked mockups
of the retail experience, and while
Microsoft’s PR is pushing the leaked images as “early
prototypes and concepts of our retail store plans” I think it will further key
us in on the future of Windows Media Center.

The images, which are presented in on
Gizmodo show Media Center being marketed
as “PCTV” with such usage scenarios as “watching the Today Show while checking
emails during breakfast” and “watching American Idol while on the blog.”  Other key features in the mockup include PC
as a PVR, watching Internet TV, and managing all media in one place.



The mockup of the retail experience is
driven by what look to be PC monitors or small screen HDTVs.  A theater setting or living room with Media
Center as the center piece doesn’t look to be in the picture if this mockup is
to be trusted.  Also missing in the
mockup is any mention of Media Center Extender’s.


I have no doubt will we see things that are not clearly
outlined in the leaked images, however I do believe the marketing material for
Media Center is what we will end up seeing. 
Notably missing from the mockups are large displays for Xbox 360, Zune,
and even Home Server.  I’m not sure Home
Server will get a large amount of square-footage designated to it, but I do expect
Zune and Xbox to have their place (both Zune and Xbox are outlined
in the product offerings mockup image
). 

What’s your opinion, will the marketing for Media Center be
focused on whatever PCTV is, or can we expect Media Center being pushed as the
10-foot experience that we really want?

Microsoft Focuses Media Center Marketing, Platform to Follow

The first sign of a business in trouble is when you must reinvent
yourself to stay alive.  Microsoft
might
not actually be reinventing Media Center, mostly becasue you can’t
reinvent something that you never actually defined a market for in the
first place, but they are finally attempting to delineate where they
see Media Center competing in such a growing marketplace (and that’s
not a
good thing for most reading this).

Media Center started as a method to watch TV on the PC.  Essentially it was marketed to college
students to cut down the number of devices in their dorm.  Then it grew up and Microsoft focused on getting
Media Center off the PC and onto the big screen.  Media Center 2004-2005 and Extenders helped
drive this concept.  Media Center was the
star of CES keynotes of the past focusing on the next-generation home.  Much of this is outlined in the Evolution
of Windows Media Center
that Microsoft just finished.

The video might have a few hidden messages that are hard to
catch, but I think they define Media Center’s future and show that
Microsoft has finally attempted to focus on a specific market.

image
(Microsoft presented this image at WinHEC)

 “TV on your PC” is
Microsoft’s new marketing talk for what Media Center is and does (hear
it from Media Center marketing PM Ben Reed here
~30 seconds in) .  Not whole home connected entertainment, not
Media Center in your living room, not Extenders, not high-end theaters, but “TV
on your PC.”  In other words, the days of
Media Center being billed as the do-it-all center of your home are over (except
for the custom market).

For the first time, Media Center officially has a market,
and while that is good news that Microsoft has finally defined who they are
developing for, it is bad news for most reading this post as you can now be
sure Media Center will never be the platform you have dreamed of.

Thinking about it, the signs have been developing over the
past months.  The lack
of Media Center at CES keynote
makes perfect sense if it is being billed as
just a way to watch TV on your PC.  No
need to make a big deal about that.  Microsoft
touting touch screen support in Windows 7 half has to do with them putting way
to much emphasis on touch in Windows 7 in general, but also helps them show off
using a kitchen PC for watching TV on. 
Why exactly do I need this in a product that is meant to be controlled
with a remote?  This was recently questioned on The
Green Button
and Engadget
HD’s most recent podcast
.  Mouse
clickable seekbar in Windows 7, yet again a sign of Media Center moving onto
the desktop and away from the TV.

I think Microsoft will continue to focus on the CEDIA
channel as well, which most likely means my fears of Microsoft developing new
cool features that are only available to OEMs is going to come true.  Niveus Media and Exceptional Innovation (Life|ware)
will likely see the majority of the attention. 
Smaller Media Center OEMs will start to fade away after being ignored by
Microsoft who hasn’t grasped the concept that all of the smaller OEMs serve the
exact same high-end customers as Niveus and Life|ware (examples include support
for 10
Extenders, 8 CableCARD tuners for only Niveus/Life|ware
).  I think we will see Microsoft heavily market
an appliances-like
device to these OEMs
(unclear if the functionality will be avaiable to the
masses, but I don’t see it marketed to them).

If there is a plus side (hard to think of it as
that) to this it would be in the form of much lower expectations.   Hopefully
I’m wrong, but this change could end Media Center as we know (or think we know)
it today.

Microsoft Loses the Online Content Fight

I shouldn’t actually call it a fight because that implies
one actually gave effort, but CES 2009 has shown that Microsoft is effectively
out of the race to provide a platform for streaming and downloadable content
via the PC.  I say via the PC because the Xbox is still alive and actually
putting up somewhat of a fight.

With every major display company now pushing integrated
online content embedded or easily attachable to their displays the PC is now becoming
irrelevant.  No longer is the concept PC-to-TV, it is Web-to-TV and
Microsoft fails to offer compelling products that work under this
infrastructure.

Media Center had strong potential to rule the online
world.  In 2002 when Microsoft introduced Media Center the Online
Spotlight provided a mechanism for content providers to offer 10-foot versions
of their streaming services.  As time went on however Microsoft had a
difficult time keeping content providers interested with big names like MTV
Network pulling content for reasons unknown to anyone but Microsoft

In late 2007 Microsoft offered up their Internet
TV plug-in
which scrapped content from their MSN properties.  Then in
early 2008 Internet TV got an upgrade that introduced
interactive ads
, a feature that I thought would give Microsoft a leg up in
streaming   Alas, Microsoft has failed to secure any additional web
content.  Even Netflix, which is on the Xbox 360 didn’t get ported to Media
Center (while unofficial plug-ins fill the gap for users).  Windows 7 hits
hard on integration
of broadcast and broadband
, but that only goes as far as the content you
have to offer.

My advice to Microsoft, buy boxee
and integrate it into Media Center, Xbox 360, and Zune.  Unless you have
some big partnerships in the works (CES would have been a good place to unveil
those), your platform is effectively dead for online content delivery (broadcast
isn’t looking that hot either
).

Media Center Gets Blu-ray, Just Not From Microsoft

I’ve talk about Microsoft and Blu-ray more
times than I can count
and it never fails I end up saying they will not be
the ones to build Blu-ray support in Windows. 
My thoughts have officially come true with yesterday’s announcement that
Microsoft is outsourcing Blu-ray
support in Windows 7 to Cyberlink
.

According to the press release, PowerDVD “automatically
integrate with Windows Media Center to enable full Blu-ray playback capability
on PC equipped with the appropriate hardware.” 
The extent of that integration remains to be seen, but I’m hoping for
full integration using Media Foundation and PVP (aka real integration).  That’s a lot of wishful thinking on my part, what we will likely end up with is Media
Center launching PowerDVD in a Play Movie-esk way.

I guess this is a good start and I’m interested to see what the
product will look like but I’m not getting my hopes up too high just yet for it being the perfect solution.

CyberLink to Demonstrate PowerDVD with Microsoft at CES 2009

TAIPEI, Taiwan – CyberLink Corporation is pleased to announce that
PowerDVD will be utilized by Microsoft Corp. in a demonstration of their newest
version of Windows Media Center, for Windows 7. This demo will be shown in the
Microsoft booth (7144), in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Additional demonstrations of the forthcoming version of PowerDVD will be
available to PC and Consumer Electronic manufacturers and members of the press
by appointment, in CyberLink’s private suite in the Hilton Hotel.

CyberLink has been working closely with Microsoft to support
many of the advanced capabilities of Windows 7. PowerDVD Cinema mode has been
designed to automatically integrate with Windows Media Center to enable full
Blu-ray playback capability on PC equipped with the appropriate hardware.
PowerDVD Cinema mode integrates seamlessly with the advanced user experience
that Windows Media Center provides and allows consumers to be able to use a
remote control to select and watch Blu-ray titles from the comfort of their
couch. PowerDVD also provide a great user experience when launched directly
from Windows, with new and exciting ways for everyone to browse and enjoy
movies and video files on any Windows desktop or laptop PC.

TrueTheater™ HD, one of the new video technology CyberLink
will demonstrate in PowerDVD, provides the capability to up-sample videos and
transform standard definition video files, or DVD titles into high-definition
quality. This would allow users to enjoy DVDs today in high definition quality.

“We are proud that PowerDVD is Microsoft’s choice to support
Blu-ray Disc playback for Windows 7,” said Alice H. Chang, CEO of CyberLink.
“PowerDVD is the leading DVD, Blu-ray Disc and AVCHD movie player software
application, chosen by top-brand PCs and optical disc drives purchased by
consumers and businesses around the world. We are excited to demonstrate the
smooth integration and the incredible sights and sounds of Blu-ray disc movies
for Windows 7 at the coming CES.”