Unencrypted QAM In Vista Media Center?

There have been lots of questions over at AVS Forum
about Vista Media Center
and unencrypted QAM.  I think those who
want unencrypted QAM (Clear QAM) might have more luck with Vista,
but only if using a PC with OCUR (CableCARD Reader).

CableLabs says that an OCUR must be able to function without
a CableCARD and make available “unscrambled digital high-definition”
content as defined in ANSI/SCTE 43.

If CableLabs says the OCUR must do it, then I assume this
means that Microsoft is obligated to have Media Center
scan for unencrypted QAM and map it in the EPG. 
1080i29.97 and 1080i30 are included in SCTE 43. As is 720p at just about
every frame rate.

I don’t know about getting QAM working with other HDTV
tuners like the Fusion, Vbox, etc. but unencrypted QAM lovers might have more
luck in Vista and OCUR.

Update: Stephen correctly pointed out in the comments that Microsoft doesn’t have an obligation to map unencrypted QAM channels to the EPG, rather they should have an obligation to allow tuning of unencrypted QAM with the use of an OCUR.

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14 thoughts on “Unencrypted QAM In Vista Media Center?

  1. Hey, if that is the case, then that’s some good news! Thanks for catching that.

    Curious, what forums over there in AVS Forum do you watch and/or frequent. Thanks!

  2. Hey Stephen, that is based on what information?  The documents relate to the OCUR itself, but it seems like the software would need to support the same (and considering MCE is the only application OCUR’s support at this point, one would think QAM would be within MCE).

  3. All I’m saying is that there is a difference between being obliged to scan and display channels and being obliged to map those channels to an EPG. I’m not saying that you might not end up being correct. All I’m saying is that there is no obligation to map to an EPG. It would be perfectly within their legal rights to have a “no program data available” descriptor for program information.

    Hopefully that was clear.

  4. I’m not sure I understand why there would be any desire to use the OCUR without a CableCard. If you’ve spent the money for the device, and you’ve spent the money for a cable subscription, just exchange your STB for a CableCard. Even a basic-cable subscription will benefit from using the CableCard, as the non-premuium networks (UHD, INHD, ESPNHD, etc…) would become available on your Media Center. It’s highly unlikely that Vista MCE will map any unencrypted QAM channels to the Microsoft EPG without using the CableCard. Straight from CableLabs OCUR specs:

    8.2 OCUR Functionality without a Card

    REQ49..When the OCUR is operating without a Card, any channel map created from Control
    Stream data while previously operating with a Card SHALL NOT be used.

    Just so there is no confusion with that wording, from the CableLabs definitions:

    “SHALL” This word or the adjective “REQUIRED” means that the item is an absolute
    requirement of this specification.

  5. Alot of people aren’t really interesting in paying +$50 a month for cable w/ HD.

    For example, TWC in Houston $43.99 for Basic Digital, $5 for HD Plus (ESPN HD, HDNet and HDNet Movies, Universal HD), and the CableCARD monthly fee.

    For someone who just wants basic service, it’s $15.50 and QAM is included in the price!  Great for some enthusiasts, of course not great for the average person who wants of the content/channels in digital on their PC.

  6. VJames,

    To answer your question as to why people might not pair a device…

    I think that it’s a fear of what REQ113 might end up meaning in practice.

    As to the mapping of channels… that’s not to say that Microsoft couldn’t do it. They just can’t use the CableCard to fill in the data, unless I’m missing something.


  7. Doubtful that people who are willing spend several thousand dollars between an HDTV and a new Vista Media Center PC are then NOT going to supply that equipment with anymore than the four or five broadcast HD channels. A much more common scenario would be a customer with a family cable plan or above just exchanging their STB, or requesting a CableCard. The cable provider in my area, Cablevision, charges $1.25/month for a CableCard, which is $4/month less than they charge for the STB. Maybe I’m way off base here…I was under the impression that most Media Center users, especially HD Media Center users, are fairly “into” TV/Movie viewing to begin with, and wouldn’t settle for a basic cable subscription.

    With regard to CableLabs 113, any programs that had copy prevention schemes enforced on them would still be welcomed compared to the alternative of not having the programs available in Media Center at all.

    And the guide mapping wouldn’t be possible because the sources that supply the Microsoft EPG system with the guide information don’t relay any mapping information for the channel designations. For example, when a Media Center PC is bought and set up by a user with Comcast cable, Media Center will not be able to determine what actual frequency Comcast is sending ABC, CBS, etc… on to be able to map those channels correctly with the Microsoft guide information. A customer on a Time Warner cable system might have different networks on those same frequencies. Even if the user could somehow manually configure the mapping, cable companies can change those frequencies as they need, and since they control the cable boxes/cable cards that receive and use the channel mapping info, customers don’t notice any problems. And because cable companies don’t use the exact same PSIP system as ATSC digital signals, you can’t just have Media Center scan that data and configure the channel mapping that way either.

    Even the CableCard equipped Media Center may soon have trouble receiving HD cable, as more companies start implementing switched service. The current generation of CableCards aren’t able to communicate with the cable system, and any channels that require switching become unavailable to these CableCard devices.

  8. I think that what you’re missing is that 113 doesn’t necessarily require a program to be copy-protected to begin with. It states that the DRI will be the only output for a paired scenerio. It would be logical to assume, therefore, that ALL content coming from a paired OCUR would have copyright protection. It would be the only way that something like MCE could ensure that the DRI was the only output (as opposed to say copying it off the harddrive). I obviously don’t know this to be a fact and I wouldn’t take it as such. With that said, it wouldn’t surprise me that in order to deal with this (and other) CableLabs restrictions MCE just said “screw it; if it’s paired it’s encrypted.” That’s of course if CableLabs didn’t outright dictate that.

    *If* the above is true — there would be a reason to want an unpaired box (for some). Otherwise there would be no transcoding and archiving on something that should be without protection.

    If I’ve misread the specs or you think that the above *won’t* happen, feel free to correct.


  9. You are correct about the DRI being the only output scenarios for the OCUR device when paired with a CableCard; it actually is the only output scenario for the device at all times. And I agree with you, not everything coming through the DRI requires copy protection. However, I think you may be confusing copy protection and encryption. The conditional access copy protection in the cable signal must be applied verbatim to the output stream of the OCUR device. So it wouldn’t be up to Microsoft to apply a copy control to all output streams from the device. Similiar to the current system Microsoft uses for applying copy protection, only those streams where copy protection is indicated would become DRM controlled, or encrypted, recordings. But since all output streams from the OCUR device will flow through the DRI, a user buying an OCUR-equipped PC with the intent of using it without a CableCard wouldn’t gain, or lose, any transcoding or archiving ability over a user with an active CableCard.

  10. The problem with copy-protection and encryption in this scenerio (i.e. an open one) is that in order to truly achieve protection you need to do encryption… Otherwise you’ve got an open file just sitting there (before it hits the output.

    In any case, my thinking was as follows…

    Because none of the terms fit quite correctly in an open PC (e.g. a case could be made that there is a gap between the two parts) it would make sense to solve the problem (and not risk the ire of CableLabs) by saying that stored files will be encrypted and we’ll apply any copy-protection to the output of the computer (on the other side of the media server MCE). I just see that as a CYA for 113.

    The problem is that the terms don’t quite map to a computer…

    I couldn’t tell; are you suggesting that you’d be able to a) transcode NO stuff with or without a pairing or b) copy-free (for lack of a better term) stuff with or without a pairing?

    Hope that made sense?


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