Tuesday, August 28, 2007

CableCard Rules relaxed: Big News for Home Theaters?

I bring what I think is huge news for Home Theater PC (HTPC) owners everywhere. As reported by Ars Technica, there is now an approved DRM method that allows encrypted cable TV to be recorded and streamed in the house. I know news with the acronym DRM isn't typically received as good news in any case, but bear with me here. From the Ars Technica article:
"Here's what consumers will get: they will be able to move content across
their home networks for viewing on devices that aren't attached to a set-top
box. That will include PCs as well as portable devices, and high-definition and
video-on-demand programming will be covered by DTCP-IP."
Why does this matter? Right now, encrypted TV shows can only be played on the same VISTA, CableCard PC that makes the recording. It can't be streamed to an extender, it can't be moved in any way to another device in the home. Because of this restriction, CableCard has been so restricted and locked down that it has been a major failure. This new cablelabs approved method opens the door for extenders and network media players to receive streamed encrypted cable channels. Almost all cable systems are encrypting (clear QAM) all but the local channels so that QAM tuners such as the HDHomeRun tuner can't get to many of those cable channels.
Does this mean that HTPC's with Beyond TV, SageTV, MythTV, Media Portal or GBPVR could access the encrypted cable channels in the near future? Only time will tell, but I sure hope so. There is no good reason to give the monopoly of CableCard to Microsoft alone. At the very minimum, this ruling likely means that in the future you will be able to buy a CableCard tuner as a separate device instead of the way it is today where you have to buy a complete computer system with the CableCard already installed by an OEM PC maker.
What do you think? Is this a positive change by CableLabs or just another way to get DRM in the home?