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.