Finally! Details on CableCARD and Media Center
Engadget’s Stephen Speicher has an excellent interview with Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore, who runs the eHome division that produces Media Center. I encourage you to read the whole thing. For those who are too busy, I’ve summarized some of the key bits about CableCARD and Media Center here.
CableCARD-ready Media Center PCs will be available after Windows Vista launches. How will the process work?
When you are shopping for a new PC after Vista launches, you’ll have the choice to buy one that is “Digital Cable Ready” and includes the right hardware for you to attach your coax cable from the wall right into your PC. Slap a cable card in and then get all of the great premium High-Definition content like HBO or Showtime or ESPN — all those things that cable makes available today, but requires a set-top box.
Only new PCs?
Yes, it will be only new PCs. .. [T]he cable industry wanted a way to know that any particular PC that was sold as “Digital Cable Ready” would absolutely be able to deliver on the wide range of things that you couldn’t predict with certainty would happen on a home-built PC. … [A]ny vendor that wants to build an OCUR [Open Cable Unidirectional Receiver] device has to take it through a certification process at CableLabs which is well-defined. They have a number of certification waves that happen at scheduled times every year. It’s a published test suite that it has to pass. So, that has to happen for the device that receives cable and translates cable conditional access from the CableCARD to Windows Media DRM. … [T]he entire system as shipped by the OEM has to be, for the purposes of this discussion, “certified.” The PC vendor has to notify CableLabs of the model of the PC that will be “Digital Cable Ready” and indicate that its entire system from the graphics card to the OCUR will support what is needed for things like the Emergency Broadcast System.
What does the certification process involve?
[T]he OCUR component must be certified, and it has to be built into a system that the OEM can essentially self-certify. By self-certification what that means is that it must meet a set of requirements that includes the way that things get displayed like Emergency Broadcast System and closed captioning, that the minimum content protection requirements are met, and that the system functions together as advertised as you would expect from a “Digital Cable Ready” device. The OEM then basically sends a letter to CableLabs indicating that a particular system is one that they have self-certified and can be shipped as a “Digital Cable Ready” PC.
What about system makers who don’t have the size or clout of a Dell or HP?
The smallest of OEMs that license Windows through the System Builder Kit (which you can essentially buy today as an enthusiast user) – those folks are not eligible to do self-certification with CableLabs. So the small PC vendors, as yet, can’t do this. We hope to get that process fixed in time, but as we’re at version one for the time-being it’ll be the OEMs which are a step up in size from that. That includes lots of small OEMs but generally not the mom and pop shops that do PC repair and occasionally build PCs.
Multiple tuners are supported, with multiple OCUR devices.
And what about DirecTV?
We haven’t announced the specific timeframe around when the DirecTV products will be available. … The basic idea is very similar [to the CableCARD/OCUR implementation], which is that you can get essentially a receiver device that is a DirecTV receiver and connect it through some digital connection to your PC. [Doing so] lets you get all the great value from the DirecTV service, including High-Definition. If you subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket, you’ll be able to get that. All that good stuff.
My take? It’s progress, but it’s also a further fragmentation of the digital living room and a step backwards for users. I’ll have more to say later.