Sorry folks, I’m writing this as a technical post. I am assuming you know what CableCARD (OCUR) is. I’m also assuming you know about the options with Windows Media Center and using CableCARD with it. If you don’t, I encourage you to run a few web searches and check the technology out… it is the ultimate in cable television out there currently. This post is aimed at the Media Center team and community. If you know someone from either, you might want to email the article onto them.
CableCARD has a problem, it requires DRM on every channel and recording. Microsoft says they want to provide TV DRM-free, but CableCARD requires the DRM. So how can Christopher Price come up with a solution? Well, because. Mostly, because I’m sick and tired of having to have multiple receivers and seven cable drops for a single TV and a single PC.
Here’s how CableCARD works. CableCARD is an advanced tuner with QAM at its core. It has an analog tuner, a QAM tuner, and a digital tuner for pulling in compressed channels (or, channels spread across the spectrum for optimization). Ideally, you should be able to record, without DRM, the non-encrypted channels (things like HBO, which the providers mandate are encrypted, have to stay encrypted).
But, CableLabs doesn’t see it that way. They mandate all recordings from a CableCARD receiver contain DRM. Yeah, even those over-the-air channels. CableLabs justifies that because the tuner data is copyrighted, and the only way to encrypt the channel data is to encrypt everything. Right. And because humans can swim must mean they can breathe underwater too. Anyways, I’ll leave mandating decrypting CableCARD to the FCC and Congress. I’m here to find a solution for Media Center.
Now, as we know, when you remove the CableCARD from an OCUR tuner, the encryption goes away. This is because the channel data is no longer being pulled from the CableCARD, it’s being pulled from Microsoft’s EPG. Also, the QAM mapping is being manually scanned, rather than deciphered from the CableCARD mapping.
But, pulling the CableCARD each time we want to record without encryption is not sustainable. The user gets frustrated quickly. So, here’s my solution: Give the user the option to not use the CableCARD when it isn’t necessary.
Essentially, Microsoft doesn’t have to use the CableLabs data when it isn’t needed. It’s only needed for the non-QAM digital channels. So, only use it when you need to! The result is that Analog and QAM channels are deferred to the MS EPG and the automatic QAM scan (which OCUR can do without the CableCARD anyways). The result? Analog and QAM channels are not DRM’ed, and only the channels you wouldn’t be able to receive without the CableCARD, are indeed encrypted with DRM.
This can be handled by a simple setting under Media Center > Settings > TV > DRM. Simply ask the user if they want to disable encryption when possible. Notify the user that this will require additional resources at times (to download the MS EPG and scan the QAM channels).
I hope Microsoft seriously considers adding this. The only other option for Microsoft would be to offer QAM tuners in addition to a CableCARD tuner… something they are considering. This is costly both for Microsoft and the consumer, and in my opinion, totally needless.
So, Microsoft let OCUR be OCUR whenever Media Center does not need to use the CableCARD. That’s the fix, and it’s that simple.
Actually, that is not true. When the CableCARD is pulled, the OCUR drops out of digital alltogether, and reverts to an Analog tuner. So pulling the CableCARD, while offering a better copying experience, does NOT provide the clearer picture associated with Digital tuners, even in non-HD mode.
Really? When I asked Microsoft (and it was awhile ago), they said it would revert to Clear QAM.
Regardless, that should be fixed by TV Pack 2008, which adds official Clear QAM.