Stop Ignoring Small OEMs, Microsoft

Matt Wright has a
bone to pick with Microsoft with how they bring out features in Media Center
that can’t easily be accessed by smaller OEMs. For those who don’t know Matt
helps run HTPCnews and is a consultant
for 2partsfusion and CreatureHTPC (Formally MonsterHTPC).  These are both smaller OEMs that build Media
Center PCs and other HTPCs.

Matt: Most you all know
me, I have been in the HTPC community for years, and I am big proponent of DIY.
More recently I am also a key member in the small HTPC system builder
2partsfusion. The announcement that even a properly designed Vista PC that
meets the criteria for CableCARD must be certified individually is a huge
problem for anyone building their own HTPC, and is a big issue to OEM’s that
are smaller then say HP/Sony/Dell. Certification is never a cheap process. You
as an OEM have to pay the mighty certification holder to even bother to look at
your pitiful little product.

Microsoft is not totally to blame in this regard as CableLabs is clearly making
the demand. However this is the 3rd improvement to Media Center
that has effectively been limited to a top tier of OEMs. Two features of Rollup
2 are “elite” functionality that need a custom BIOS design (Away
Mode) or an investment in an expensive custom DVD-ROM changer that cannot be
found off the shelf.

Microsoft advertises features like Away
, and CableCARD
as huge selling points (as they should be, and are), however smaller OEMs can’t
take advantage of the features for various reasons.  We just
found out for sure that OEM PCs will need to be certified by CableLabs if it is
to use CableCARDs.
  That’s not too
much to ask, CableLabs does the exact same with STBs, TVs, TiVo’s, etc.  Where the problems start to popup is the
amount of money it costs to get CableLabs to test the product.  Below is the pricing set by CableLabs for
testing of all Digital Cable products.

UDCP Testing Fees
Practice Run:  $20,000
Development Lab Use:  $12,000/week or $2,500/day.  Additional $1,500 per day for extended hrs
(5-10 pm).
Digital Output and
Recording Technology Review:

Digital Certificate and DFAST Licensing Fees
Device Certificates
for Host:
$20,000 annually; plus $0.07 per certificate
DFAST Patent/Secrets

Adding up the prices here, that’s near $150,000 and that
price would assume it got certified on the first run!  Now, we don’t know if CableLabs and Microsoft
are planning to cut a deal where the prices might be decreased, but even
$50,000 is still an extreme amount of money for smaller OEMs.  Jim Allchin did tell Thomas Hawk that “Microsoft
would fight clawing and scratching for these smaller OEMs”
and I would very
much hope for the best with this.

Changers with Update Rollup 2
are a great answer to ripping DVDs, however
with only Sony and Niveus in the game we are locked into either having a Sony
XL1 or a Niveus Media Center.  Powerfile, the marker of both the Niveus and
Sony Changers don’t a version retail that will work with Media Center.  Then there is that price tag, Niveus sells
their Niveus
Disc Changer (Ice Vault 200)
for $2500 and Sony only sells theirs with a XL1
Digital Living System
for $2300.

Mode is a new feature in Update Rollup 2
that allows for instant on/off
functionality of CE to Media Center PCs. 
Great idea, instant on/off is something that many people would like in
their Media Center PCs.  However,
Microsoft apparently did clue in smaller OEMs on the subject with most left not
able to provide the feature due to lack of software/hardware information.

Microsoft needs to realize that they have over 130
PC manufacturers
shelling out Media Center PCs and they can’t just give all
the features and attention to the big 5.  I’d be interested in what other smaller OEMs
think or if you have had better luck getting access to these features.  Please feel free to post comments or
contact me directly with
your thoughts.

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6 thoughts on “Stop Ignoring Small OEMs, Microsoft

  1. I myself was proudly carrying the banner of a “Microsoft Partner”, with a System Builder certification. And yes, MCE PC’s were one of the mainstays of my business.
    Now I’m feeling royally screwed. I will certainly not extend my Microsoft partnership. This announcement just goes to show in which low regard MS really holds their “partners”.

  2. I think Microsoft has a real problem here – when Media Center became available to the small system builders, Microsoft said the reason for that was to get more inovative Media Center products. With the current strategy, they are preventing the system builders to sell these products.

    If Microsoft want to team up with PowerFile, and implement DVD changing features, they should make a deal with PowerFile so that all system builders could purchase units from PowerFile at resonable prices. Most system builders diden’t even know about this before the press releases from their competetors.

    What they are doing here with CableCard could seriously pull out the plug for all small system builders!

    It is a bit down the same route as them implementing US only features when they have Media Center released in many countries!

    Perhaps one should do a planform move, and let Microsoft and their “big 5” kill the system builder innovation themselves.

  3. Do you really think CableLabs is going to give anyone that slaps together a few PC’s a week the ability to build a machine capable of decrypting/recording a signal from any cable company in the country? They want assurance that their licensees will be manufacturing devices for the long haul, and that a $50K-$100K commitment is the least the licensee will be willing to do.

  4. It goes much farther than this…

    Update Rollback 2 and its many requisite brethren seriously break many MCE PCs. Want to use the new Microsoft MCE keyboard ? You have to install Update Rollback 2… So, you can have a working keyboard with a non-working TV or a non-working keyboard with a working TV – classic Catch-22.

  5. As a european user owning my own company on the side . We build many design htpc’s from scratch, that means including the Chassis. We recently stopped using Windows MCE as a front end and give the user a choice of several. (mediaportal, sagetv, meedio and the like)
    This is because Digital TV is taking of here in europe and Windows MCE does not support it. (it does support OTA digital tv but thats behind the decoder here, so CAM’s required – and not supported) If microsoft will not support DVB-S/C/T in vista MCE for every version of MCE, it will not become common here and MCE will remain to exist on a very small user base.

    Want MCE to get more common in other parts of the world? support these three standards and all of europe and a part of asia are on your back! it should not be that hard?

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