No homebrew CableCARD MCEs.

In what comes as no surprise at all MS have verified that CableCARD functionality within the Vista version of MCE will require ‘certification’ by CableLabs. The certification process is expensive and time-consuming which will limit it to deep-pocket, mass market OEMs such as Dell, HP, Gateway, etc. Time will tell if the high-end MCE builders, such as Niveus will have the resources to get the certification. It most certainly eliminates the cottage industry that has sprung up supporting folks building their own MCEs. Joe Geek will certainly not be able to buy a CableCARD receiver card and install it into an MCE of their own creation. Sigh.

At issue here is the ‘protected video path’ that is required by CableCARD for certification. This effectively locks out all of the ‘analog holes’ between the content delivery (cable system) and the display. Vista ensures this by requiring that all drivers that touch the content be ‘signed’. These digital signatures, roughly equivalent to the SSL certificates that protect web sites, ensure that the creator of the software is known and trusted. It also locks out all ISVs and open-source developers from the platform. Nice.

It such a sad, old story… early adopters create the buzz, build the foundation and then when things become mainstream the established players rush in and squash all the innovation in a futile effort to protect their anachronistic business models. Pathetic.

CableCARD HDTV tuners, such as this one from ATI, allow you to receive and record HD content delivered over your cable system without the need for a settop-box (aka ‘dust magnet’). This version (v1.0) is ‘uni-directional’ which means that it will get you the HD version of The Sopranos on HBO but not pay-per-view content. Version 2.0 brings ‘bi-directional’ communications required for PPV content.

CableCARD on Vista to require CableLabs certification – Engadget

It’s in the New York Post so it must be true.

From today’s Digital Music News:

Sources Point to Discussions Between Google, Napster

Speculation has recently focused on a possible digital music store play from Google, especially following the release of Google Video. Now, well-placed sources have pointed Digital Music News to discussions between the search giant and Napster, though the sources were unable to share additional details. Meanwhile, sources to the New York Post offered the possibility that “Google is considering an extensive alliance with Napster, which could include an outright acquisition”. Earlier, sources from within Napster told Digital Music News that the company is considering a sale or liquidation, though a Napster representative denied those claims. Napster is unlikely to respond to the most recent information, due to a quiet period ahead of an upcoming earnings call on February 8th.

Having built a digital music store from scratch I can tell you that it is a Herculean task. Mix that with the anachronistic business practices and models of the major labels and you get an extremely high barrier of entry into the digital music store business. If your goal is to get into the business quickly and with a minimum of fuss (read: dealing with the labels) the only path is to buy an established player.

This ‘news‘ (life-essence-sucking registration required), if true, would fast-track Google into the digital music space by granting them access to an established catalog with download and subscription rights from the labels. However, if they hope to leverage the dMarc acquisition they had better read those label deals carefully to ensure that streaming rights are included on the in-place agreements.

Update: Turns out, not so much.