Of Jim Allchin, Vista, HD Digital Cable of MCE and more

Thomas Hawk has an excellent writeup on his blogger’s dinner with Microsoft VP Jim Allchin last week. Jim confirmed that in order to get HDTV over digital cable in a Windows Vista PC, you’ll have to buy a PC system that has been “certified” by CableLabs. Unfortunately there’s nothing Microsoft could do here – they must honor the wishes of CableLabs. I’ve been fortunate to be one of those who has been testing the technology and I have to say it’s fantastic. I’ve done A/B switching tests vs. my Comcast set-top DVR and see no difference in image quality, despite the fact that the tuner is a simple USB-based box (RNDIS) that you just plug your cable (and cable card) into and go. No news on whether free and clear QAM services will require a CableLabs certified system but I will check. I suspect local channels in HD may still be an often from after-market or home grown builders. In order to get your premium channels DVR’d you’ll need that CableCard-qualified system and CableCard installed by your local cable operator.

Also news at CES was the DirecTV Media Center announcement. In the future (timing wasn’t discussed), you’ll be able to have an installer come out and install a DirecTV tuner into your Media Center PC and get your local channels complete with DVR. As many know, DirecTV uses their own protection scheme with a “conditional access card” not unlike a cablecard. The big difference here is that they recognize the value in offering an after-market system installed by their own installers. In the past, it was DirecTV that was considered “evil” for their use of DRM and protecting their assets too stringently vs. Cable. Could the shoe be on the other foot? Only time will tell.

10 responses to “Of Jim Allchin, Vista, HD Digital Cable of MCE and more”

  1. Somehow the thought of a DTV installer who can’t sucessfully hook up HDTV so that it isn’t in 480i and stretched installing and configuring a component in a MCE machine is scary. I am glad however it will be an option, then I can finally have MCE and NFL Sunday Ticket.

  2. I’d expect the world of USB2.0 tuners is upon us.

  3. Sean, it would seem to me that there would potentially be an opportunity here for DirecTV to take business away from the cable operators. If someone, for instance, already has a Media Center PC and upgrades to Vista, then switching from cable to satellite might make more sense then buying a whole brand new computer. Am I reading this correctly?

    Also, I did ask Allchin as well about DISH and he didn’t know anything about talks there. DISH has the most robust HDTV lineup of all. Any thoughts on you guys doing something with them?

  4. Great question for Echostar 🙂

  5. I am a current subsciber to DishNet, and in the last few months I have made several phone calls and sent several emails asking if they plan on participating with Media Center at some point, most of whom I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about and emails always went unanswered. Just to throw in my two cents.

  6. Posted on it here. Seems to me that DISH gets left out in the cold and losses subscribers by not playing ball.


  7. I am happily setting up my Comcast HD+DVR to work with MCE2005 and FireWire. Thank you FCC, for finding a way around CableLabs. Wouldn’t it be great if MCE Vista supported 1394 without hacked drivers?


  8. HD locals in Seattle soon and MCE. Where do I sign up for the beta? 🙂 It’ll finally be ok to be a geek and live in the woods.

  9. As a "system builder" I was really excited to see CableCard was coming to MCE. Right now I use my MCE machine as a backup – it records a little HD, but only stuff my DirecTiVo is already grabbing. With CableCard, though, I was completely planning on revamping my home network, adding a media extender (xbox 360?) upstairs and purchasing a nice LCD TV to get the entire experience. Being able to record several programs at once and having them all be available network wide (along with Music, Pictures, movies, etc) is sort of a "Holy Grail" for me and I was excited to hear it was coming closer.

    As you learned more about CableCard, though, it quickly became worthless. After having already paid a premium for an MCE machine, who wants to have to purchase another, transferring music, etc? If DirecTV come up with a USB2 option (I don’t even want to go inside machine) and I can run 2 or 3 on one machine, I would be all over it. 3 simultaneous recordings, full HD…D* would have me sold…