Quad CableCARD and I Don’t Care (Updated)

Microsoft has announced that Windows Media Center (Vista) will be upgraded to support up to four CableCARDs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t care less. In case you don’t know, CableCARD allows devices like TiVo and Windows Media Center to receive digital (and high definition) cable channels.

Problem is, CableLabs, the folks behind CableCARD, refuse to allow anyone to ship a CableCARD system without first DRM’ing every channel… analog or digital. See, CableCARD really runs most channels though Clear QAM (unencrypted digital cable), but because the channel guide which it passes along is encrypted… CableLabs demands that Microsoft and TiVo encrypt everything that passes through them.

Thankfully, I have a nice HDHomeRun that I use to record HDTV over cable with Windows Media Center (or, for that matter, my MacBook). Granted, I can’t access encrypted digital cable channels, but I can at least record my local channels in pristine HD… and then have those same shows instantly transcode over to my iPhone. Can your CableCARD do that?

Now, Microsoft has realized there is interest in Clear QAM… HDHomeRun has shown that clearly (no pun intended). However, Microsoft has yet to make a move on offering a Clear QAM solution (you can pull the CableCARDs out of your system… but you can’t add CableCARDs to an existing system, defeating the purpose of something easier than getting a HDHomeRun).

Bottom line, Microsoft can add fifty CableCARDs to Media Center… until i can transcode HDTV shows to my iPhone with an existing computer, it’s not going to do much to increase CableCARD penetration.

Update: Engadget chimes in that TiVo has announced that they are taking TiVoToGo HD. Now, the ball is squarely in Microsoft’s court, as TiVo clearly has the competitive advantage, with Digital Cable and personal placeshifting… combined. If Microsoft has nothing to announce by the time TiVo rolls this out… I’ll be picking up a TiVo HD, monthly service fees and all.

2 Responses

  1. Humberto Saabedra
    Humberto Saabedra September 6, 2007 at 1:59 pm |

    Does Microsoft not realize that they could integrate other EPG services besides what the cable company offers? Or, as is usually the case with Microsoft and hardware, are they looking for a way to appease cable companies and manufacturers by forcing DRM?

  2. admin
    admin September 6, 2007 at 2:46 pm |

    It’s a bit harder than that. In the Digital Cable world, a programming guide needs to have proprietary information.

    Specifically, CableCARD’s EPG delivers a mapping of the QAM channels. Basically, where the channels are located across the broad spectrum of megahertz that come in from Digital Cable.

    The only way to work around this is to “scan” for QAM channels. Problem is, the cable operator can change them without notice… so if you don’t re-scan, you lose recordings, get no channels, etc.

    Microsoft could offer a QAM option, like I said, but they would need to re-scan every 24 hours. This could be done like Media Center Optimization at 4 AM daily.

    So, to answer your question, no, Microsoft can’t bypass CableCARD’s restrictions simply by sourcing a separate EPG. Microsoft and TiVo need to convince CableLabs to allow them to silently watermark recordings (similar to TiVoToGo does now) on CableCARD content.


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