Cable Tech

Microsoft, Cable Get Cuddlier

1:30 PM -- Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has added a series of enhancements that attempt to make the company's Windows Media Center platform just a bit more cable friendly.

In addition to native support for QAM and ATSC, the WMC for Windows 7 (the new OS is to be released this fall) can now access digital channels that an MSO offers in its switched digital video (SDV) tier. In addition to an MSO-supplied "tuning adapter," those users will also have to own a version of the WMC that's linked to a digital cable tuner with a CableCARD interface. (See Microsoft's Media Center Gets SDV Support.)

The tuning adapter (CableLabs has approved models made by Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)) is required for one-way "hosts" (like a Windows Media Center PC) to view an SDV channel, which is streamed out only when a customer in a given service group tunes to it. Older one-way plug-and-play, CableCARD-capable digital televisions and some TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and Digeo Inc. HD-DVR models also need the tuning adapter to grab and view an MSO's switched channels. (See CableLabs Stamps SDV Tuning Adapters , NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag, and Digeo Flips Switch on SDV, Multi-Room .)

Among other adds, consumers who use existing digital cable tuners with CableCARDs can now "enjoy more portability," at least for shows that are marked "copy freely," typically relegated to local channels, and content stored on other PCs and portable media devices -- so plenty of content is still subject to encryption. And consumers will have to install a firmware upgrade for their Advanced Micro Devices Inc.–made "ATI TV Wonder" digital cable tuners to make that feature available.

According to Microsoft, which announced all this at the CEDIA Expo event in Atlanta, Windows 7 also boosts the number of TV tuners that can be connected to the PC from two to four -- so please feel free to copy to your heart's content.

The number of consumers that use WMC PCs with CableCARDs probably isn't huge (and might never get huge), but it at least brings authorized digital cable programming to a video display beyond the typical TV. And we suspect if anyone's excited about the new enhancements, it would be a guy like this:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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