Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Microsoft Media Center Announcements from CEDIA – Mostly CableCard News

Andres, Dana McCall and Ben & Richard from EngadgetHD all live-blogged the Micrsoft MediaCenter event tonight at CEDIA and there was a couple of morsels of good news including:

  1. No OEM Bios restrictions for CableCard – so any installer or enthusiast (pretty much anyone) can use CableCard with Media Center.  Let’s not kid ourselves, this is an extremely welcome change from Microsoft – one that will make CableCard much nicer for all MediaCenter users.   This will be for Windows 7 only.
  2. Looser DRM Flagging for content – The ATI Tuners will get a firmware update that will relax DRM.  I believe this means that only content flagged as “protected” by the cable company will have DRM – all other content should be DRM-free unlike current CableCard recorded content.  No ETA on when the firmware will be available.  This is something they should have done from the beginning of CableCard and will be welcomed with open arms from all CableCard users.   This will be for Vista & Windows 7 users
  3. As part of the relaxed DRM mentioned in #2 above, Microsoft and CableLabs are allowing CableCARD customers more portability for content marked as "copy freely" (CF) on other PCs, devices and portable media.
  4. Switched Digital will be supported for CableCard via Tuning Adapter – again we heard this one rumored and then confirmed in the past few weeks, but it’s definitely a needed improvement.   This should arrive about the time Windows 7 launches on 10/22.  According to Andres (reporting from CEDIA), the ATI CableCard firmware update should be available in the next two weeks – before Windows 7 Launches!  It will involve a tuning adapter being connected to your PC’s USB port with a coax CATV connection to the adapter.  Then the CATV Coax goes from the tuning adapter to the CableCard.

All of the above applies to Windows 7 only of course.  UPDATE:  The relaxed DRM firmware update will be available to Vista users as well as Windows 7 users.  All other new items mentioned above are for Windows 7 only.

My Questions & Comments about the press event:

  • When will the firmware update be available?   UPDATE: as mentioned above it looks like it should arrive in the next few weeks.
  • Will CableCard tuners be available at NewEgg, Amazon and other retailers now that the OEM restriction has been lifted?
  • Where are the extenders?  I had feint hopes that they would surprise us with this one, but alas it wasn’t meant to be.  to me this is the one big thing that will keep Microsoft from taking MediaCenter further than it is today in terms of userbase and wider acceptance in homes.
  • Canada doesn’t get much from these announcements and that’s a bummer.
  • Windows 7 Media Center is definitely a nice update to Vista Media Center and we shouldn’t forget that.  But I long for more (of course) and hope that Microsoft doesn’t give up on the MediaCenter platform.  I really want the focus to be “MediaCenter on the TV” instead of “TV on the PC”


One more news item from Microsoft’s Press Release:

During Cedia, they’ll have a tech 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.  Read more about this new Ceton Card here.

What do you think?  Are you excited, disappointed or indifferent?  Is Microsoft making the right moves for the MediaCenter platform?


Microsoft Press Release