CEDIA Expo 2009 got off to a bang Wednesday for Windows Media Center enthusiasts.
The biggest news was the announcement that end-users would now be able to add a CableCARD tuner to their WMC PCs for digital cable tuning. Up to this point, CableLabs, the cable industries’ technology standards consortium, had only allowed CableCARD tuners to be sold by authorized OEMs in conjunction with specifically tested and authorized hardware configurations.
Needless to say, CableCARD-equipped PCs had been relegated to high-end offerings from only the largest of OEMs, many of which had shown little interest in pushing the product in the market. There are still some details that will need to be fleshed out before end-users start tossing CableCARD tuners into their favorite PC.
In the announcement, Microsoft stated that they would be releasing a tool that will analyze a PC to see if it meets the requirements for a CableCARD tuner, but so far Microsoft has not specified what requirements that tool will be looking for. There was also no mention of whether current CableCard tuners, specifically the ATI OCUR tuner, would be able to be used nor any insight as to whether new tuners would be coming to market soon. We will probably have to keep an eye on the hardware manufacturers for more insight on that matter.
In addition to working with CableLabs to open CableCARD tuners to end-users, Microsoft also announced that Windows 7 Media Center would be gaining support for Switched Digital Video. SDV technology allows cable operators to relegate less popular broadcasts to the background of more popular broadcasts, sending feeds only to those who specifically try to tune into the broadcast. SDV support will require a CableCARD tuner and a new SDV tuning adapter provided by the cable company. Microsoft and CableLabs also announced that they were working together to ensure that digital cable TV programs that were tagged as CF or “copy freely” could be shared between PCs and with portable devices. To accompany these new developments was an announcement that AMD will soon be providing a firmware update for ATI OCUR tuners to provide support on the hardware side for SDV tuning and CF portability.
Finally, Microsoft also announced the winner of the annual Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest. While these sort of custom integrator installations are way beyond the means of most of us, they can still be fun to drool over for new ideas and implementations.