I decided for once to attend a Microsoft Expert Zone Chat. These chats are buried in the old Windows XP area of Microsoft’s site (for some strange reason). They offer a rare chance for Microsoft leadership (engineers, product managers, etc) to chat right with customers. I wanted to get the straight answer on CableCARD’s DRM limitations.
Issue Recap: Media Center normally only copy-protects shows that have been flagged as such (like shows on HBO… premium channels). However, when a CableCARD is inserted into Media Center, Windows then copy-protects all shows… including unencrypted broadcast content. The FCC has said that CableLabs should not be doing this, pointing the finger at Microsoft. Microsoft has not explained why other CableCARD vendors (TiVo) do not have to do this, while they do.
Microsoft’s unofficial workaround is to physically remove the CableCARD when you want to record a show, sans the added/unnecessary DRM and copy protection.
The response? Not good, in my opinion. Here’s the chat transcript.
A: We work closely with CableLabs and our other partners to ensure that our solution maintains the right balance between compliance with their standards, the needs of the content providers, and providing a good experience for our users. Unfortunately, I can’t speak for or comment on the policies or decision of other solutions.
Q: To be clear, I’m not asking about other solutions. I’m asking why CableCARD on Media Center encrypts unencrypted content. The FCC has said cable operators can’t do that.
A: *Crickets Chirping*
Okay, I made the last answer up (they refused to respond). Granted, the right people to answer the question may not have been in the chat. However, the lack of answers to this all-year-long is not isolated to this chat. Since CableCARD went live on Media Center, Microsoft has stonewalled addressing the situation.
It’s sad. Really. Others started following up, in hopes of getting Microsoft to clarify (and not ignore just me), but they just started ignoring all OCUR/CableCARD questions.