Microsoft CEDIA News - CableCard to be available to everyone

Sep 09 2009

Tonight at the CEDIA show Microsoft held a press function announcing several very important announcements for Windows Media Center and cablecard usage. For those unaware, Cable card is the method by which you are able to receive high definition programming directly into your Media Center PC without any set top box or other device besides the Cable Card (OCUR) tuner itself. Here's the highlights from their announcements:

  • Switched Digital Video to be supported via the Tuning Adapter
  • No More OEM BIOS Restrictions
  • Appropriate DRM Flagging for content

These are some huge announcements and will all be included in the upcoming firmware for the tuners which should be launched in conjunction with Windows 7 on October 22nd--and yes, you will need Windows 7 for all of this goodness.

While many people might see this and believe the most significant news here is the lack of BIOS restriction, I think it's going to be the relaxed DRM restrictions. Up until this announcement, anyone who was "lucky" enough to own a cable card system was under a LOT of restrictions since Windows copy-protected every show, whether the station provider flagged it or not. What that meant was that you could only view that show on that single system--no copying to laptop for travel, no compressing, no commercial removal! It's such a restrictive process and was more ridiculous when you factor in that a lot of content available is not flagged as copy-protected. It's unknown exactly to what extent the amount of shows without the restriction are, but it's better than before which had none.

I do think that the BIOS restriction removal will be significant as well, but given the hacks around online it was not really a hinderence anymore. Any HTPC geeks who really wanted cablecard could do so easily. It's still unknown how the distribution plan for the ATI OCUR tuners will change, but I would anticipate seeing these available in Newegg and similar OEMs very shortly. 

In the end I think this is fantastic news for both Media Center users and in general, as it can only help to increase the popularity of cable card users and hopefully encourage ATI to continue innovating their tuner for future developments. Once Dell and the other major OEMs left the cable card market it really suffered. Hopefully this announcement will breathe some life into it. I've been a cable card user for quite some time now and it's about time for some great news like this!

Click Read More to read the full Press Release from Microsoft.

Microsoft Enhances the Digital Cable Experience and Names 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Winner

Customers get new capabilities, more options, and a better digital cable experience in Windows Media Center.

ATLANTA — Sept. 9, 2009 Today at CEDIA EXPO 2009, Microsoft Corp. discussed key Windows Media Center features for Windows 7 and announced a series of initiatives that enhance the digital cable experience in Windows Media Center. With the addition of native support for additional international broadcast TV standards, including QAM and ATSC, there will now be support for switched digital video (SDV), a new tool that will make it possible for end customers to add a digital cable tuner with CableCARD to their PC, and for existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV that is marked as “copy freely” (CF). In addition, Microsoft and the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA) announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest, showcasing the many ways Windows Media Center can be used in a whole-home solution.

“We’re continuing to work on creating opportunities for partners that will enable great entertainment experiences on the PC,” said Craig Eisler, corporate vice president of entertainment client software for the TV, Video & Music Business at Microsoft. “Consumers understand that having access to content via the PC is critical when it comes to entertainment experiences, and with these announcements, we’re underscoring our broader commitment to deliver a rich experience with Windows Media Center.”

Switched Digital Video (SDV) Support Added for Windows Media Center

      In response to customer requests and cable providers’ deployment of SDV, Microsoft now supports SDV in Windows Media Center for Windows 7. In conjunction with a device known as a tuning adapter, supplied by a customer’s cable provider, Windows Media Center and a digital cable tuner with CableCARD will be able to tune to SDV channels. Customers can enjoy SDV broadcasts on PCs running Windows Media Center in Windows 7 and a digital cable tuner with CableCARD.

End Customers Can Now Add Digital Cable Tuners With CableCARD to Their PCs

Microsoft and CableLabs announced that customers will now be able to add digital cable tuners with CableCARD to a Windows 7-based PC with Windows Media Center. A new tool will be provided by Microsoft that assesses the PC’s ability to support the solution. This tool will analyze the customer’s PC and enable digital cable support if the PC meets requirements, opening digital cable options to Windows Media Center customers across the country. Microsoft also announced that, with Windows 7, it has increased the number of TV tuners that can be connected to the PC from two to four per tuner type, thereby allowing customers to simultaneously record or watch as many as four digital cable TV channels.

“We are excited that digital cable customers will now be able to take advantage of this new opportunity to bring great cable TV programming to the PC,” said So Vang, vice president of OpenCable at CableLabs. “We are dedicated to helping customers get the most from their cable service, and this will be a great win for both the customer and the cable operators.”

Digital Cable Customers Can Now Enjoy More TV Portability in Windows Media Center

Microsoft and CableLabs also announced that they worked together to enable digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV that is marked as “copy freely” (CF). Customers will be able to play CF-marked digital cable recordings, such as those from local channels, on other PCs, devices and portable media.

Windows Media Center Features in Windows 7 Highlighted

Using new Windows 7 features such as Windows Touch, HomeGroup, Remote Media Streaming and PlayTo, sharing recorded TV, videos, music and pictures throughout the home, while on the road and to remote locations has never been easier. There is also support for the AVCHD format. This allows customers to view HD video from many popular HD video cameras.

In addition, support for the international broadcast TV standards that was released with the Windows Media Center TV Pack 2008 will also be included in Windows Media Center in Windows 7. This includes native support for both ATSC and QAM, the ability to remap channels, and support for subchannels.

New Firmware for ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuners

In conjunction with the Microsoft and CableLabs announcements, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) will be providing a new firmware update that is available to all ATI TV Wonder digital cable tuners being used with Windows 7 and Windows Vista. This firmware update will allow existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV marked as CF. Customers will be able to play CF-marked digital cable recordings, such as those from local channels, on other PCs, devices, and portable media. In addition, the firmware will contain support for SDV. When installed on a Windows 7-based PC with a digital cable tuner with CableCARD and a tuning adapter from a cable provider, it enables access to switched digital channels in locations where SDV has been deployed.

2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest Winner Announced

Microsoft, in collaboration with the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA), announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest. The winning installation was submitted by Dustin Anderson, general manager at Vision Audio in Lubbock, Texas, who built a system with Windows Media Center at the core of the entertainment experience in an extensive whole-home installation for a customer in Odessa, Texas. The installation integrates six Windows Media Center-based servers, one Windows Home Server, five dedicated theater-style rooms, 12 media racks, 98 speakers, and 30 zones of distributed audio. The home includes products from key MCIA member companies such as Autonomic Controls Inc., Crestron Electronics Inc. and Niveus Media Inc.

The Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest, now in its third year, encourages integrators to show off their talents by presenting their most unique and creative installations that leverage Windows Media Center technologies. Vision Audio’s integration of the family’s music, movies, videos and pictures, as well as the integration of Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server with the Crestron home automation system, and the large scope of the installation set it apart as the winner for 2009.

“We’re thrilled to receive this recognition from Microsoft and the MCIA. The Windows Media Center platform has enabled us to be on the cutting edge of technology, which has provided us with critical business advantages during the economic downturn,” Anderson said.

More information on the contest and images from the install can be found online at http://www.microsoft.com/ultimateinstall.

Also on Display at CEDIA EXPO 2009

At the Microsoft booth at CEDIA EXPO 2009, Microsoft will show additional hardware and software installations that enhance the digital cable experience. Demonstrations include these:

  •  
    • The new Zune HD portable media player using the Zune HD AV dock to display 720p content on an HDTV. The Zune HD and updated Zune PC software will launch on Sept. 15.
    • A home server powered by Windows Home Server software. The upcoming Windows Home Server Power Pack 3, currently in beta testing, will add enhancements for Windows Media Center. Power Pack 3 features include the option to move recorded TV content to the home server in a variety of resolutions, and the ability for users to see statistics about the home server through Windows Media Center.
    • A technology 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.

About CableLabs

Founded in 1988 by members of the cable television industry, Cable Television Laboratories is a non-profit research and development consortium that is dedicated to pursuing new cable telecommunications technologies and to helping its cable operator members integrate those advancements into their business objectives. Cable operators from around the world are members. CableLabs maintains web sites at www.cablelabs.com; www.packetcable.com; www.cablemodem.com; www.cablenet.org; www.opencable.com; and www.tru2way.com.

About the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA)

The MCIA is an open and independent non-profit consortium formed to advance and administer the support, promotion, and enrichment of the media center ecosystem. Charter members of MCIA include AMD, Crestron, HP, Intel, Life|ware, Microsoft Corp., and Niveus Media.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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