Short Bits: Media Center University, Broadcast Flag

Microsoft’s CE Installer blog posted
today about the Broadcast Flag issue
that I
previously talked about
proclaiming that “Windows Media Center does not enable or utilize the Broadcast Flag.”  They clearly want to make sure that the CE
installers and integrators using Media Center know this isn’t an issue, or is
it….

Just hours later the CE Installer blog posted a link to
part one of the Media Center University
that Microsoft and Life|ware did a
few months ago at EHX.  In the presentation
(A must watch for technical types, CE installers, etc), Mike Seamons
(ex-Life|ware, current Microsoft) went over content protection types associated
with Media Center.  When he got to ATSC
he had this to say about the Broadcast Flag; “It [ATSC] has a Broadcast Flag…so the broadcasters can put a
flag with that MPEG-2 stream that makes it so that signal is actually protected
when it gets to your Media Center…and
Media Center obeys the flag.”

Mike is a very knowledgeable person on Media Center and
clearly understood the difference between CGMS-A (covered just before) and the
Broadcast Flag so something still isn’t right (Mike also seemed to think he has
had Broadcast Flag issues in Media Center before).   Todd
Rutherford, a Program Manager at Microsoft was sitting in the front row, so I
assume something this big would of warranted a correction.

Bottom line, I don’t trust Microsoft to tell me if Media
Center “truly” supports or respects the Broadcast Flag, but they do need to
ensure the same story is getting out via high level people like Mike.  I might believe that the issue last month was a
complete and total fluke
, but consistent information on any DRM related
subject is required for the Media Center platform to succeed in any market.

6 thoughts on “Short Bits: Media Center University, Broadcast Flag

  1. Thanks for the follow-up Chris.

    Although, its too bad no one, especially Microsoft, seems to know how their software actually works. That in itself is quite scary. What else doesn’t Microsoft know about their own code?

    Why can’t this simply be tested? Is there no test harness? How does Microsoft test their Media Center code in the QA lab wrt broadcast signals? I can’t imagine that they write the code “blind” and then wait for the graces of the networks like NBC to actually perform testing. Or perhaps they do, and that is part of their problem.

  2. I wasn’t recording Gladiators, so I don’t know if I had that problem on my custom built MCE (since the begining). I do not use a cable card, but I do have a QAM256 tuner. The night of the Oscars, I ran into the same problem on the Barbra Walters specially that immediately followed. The messaging when I tried to record was very similar if not identical to what others saw trying to record Gladiators. As I do not have some sort of Dell support software installed, I’m more likely to believe this was a Broadcast Flag, but I did not look further into it at the time.

  3. I have had restricted content messages at least once a week on different channels, OTA and analog cable (and yes it didn’t record Gladiators either for me on OTA). My question is, if it is illegal for the content to be restricted by the broadcast flag being sent out, who can we contact to make this stop? Can the FCC start fining broadcasters that release a broadcast flag, whether it is intentional or not?

  4. Jim: You would be the first and only person to say they have issues with OTA multiple times a week. Can you confirm this is ATSC OTA (eg. digital) and not NTSC (eg. analog)?

    If you get this on analog channels (OTA or cable) then it is CGMS-A, not the Broadcast Flag.

    Please let me know.

  5. You are right, it is mostly ntsc, but I would say in the past 6 months I have been denied about 3 times with atsc, that is including gladiators the other week, I believe the girlfriend had the issue with Grey’s one week also.

    Sorry, after rereading my post I noticed it didn’t come across quite right.

    I guess this still brings me back to any legal actions that can be taken. If I pay for a dvr from my cable company and I am able to record a show on their box but the same show on my HTPC will not record, isn’t that illegal. I mean it could get to the point where every show on every channel has a cgms-a flag coming across making it impossible to record anything on VMC, would it still be legal then? Aren’t there anti-trust laws to prevent this sort of thing? If it’s blocked for VMC it should be blocked for everyone else.

    I had finally got tired of this a few weeks ago when “Special Report” on Fox News (I know, please keep the comments to yourself) 😉 came up as restricted content and didn’t record, I called a friend near by that had a DVR from the same cable company I use (Cox) and he had no problem recording the entire show.

    It would be ok if it was all (DVR and HTPC) or none, but just some (HTPC being restricted) is not right!

    Does anybody know what government department would handle this? Can we start some sort of petition to send them? Can we do anything as citizens?

    By the way Chris, love the site, keep up the good work!

  6. That’s funny, I could swear “Jessica” at greenbutton used to say, often, that the broadcast flag is recognized and used by MCE and that they had no choice but to comply.

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