CableCARD ready HTPCs coming soon

Written by Brett Thomas

March 21, 2007 // 1:16 p.m.

Tags: #ati #cablecard #htpc #mce #mythtv #ocer #velocity-micro #windows

Here's one for all of you who are media centre enthusiasts:

The issue over getting digital cable or satelite video to your HTPC has always required dropping the signal to an analog connection first, resulting in some quality loss and excess processing time. Current-day tuners are just not designed for either the MPEG-2 digital TV standard or the MPEG-4 Hi-Def standards broadcast by most services (including Sky). However, Velocity Micro has recently updated its line of HTPCs with something you can't get at home - digital cable cards.

The new CineMagix Grand Theater will be shipping with the first CableCard ready tuners available, made by ATI. The box boasts two of them, designed to replace the need for set-top boxes (STBs) in your living room. The Intel Core2Duo based system retails for a none-too-cheap $2,195 USD, or $1,795 for an AMD-based version.

Most services, including Sky, will rent CableCARDs out instead of whole receivers, as that's how many enthusiasts who buy their own STBs receive a signal. In the US, take-off has been a little slower, but most big companies including Cox Communications and DirectTV allow you to rent them. However, CableCARDs have been a strong target of the MPAA, which has worried that sending digital signals in MPEG-2 or 4 format can easily get snagged with no trouble at all.

Because of this, the CableCARD systems are only sold to OEMs. That means these shiny new ATI tuners (which are really nice by the look of it) will never see an end-user's hands. To ensure this, the cards are locked down with a BIOS requirement that only OEMs have access to, so if it gets thrown in your good old DFI LanParty, the card isn't worth a pence. At least in a Windows OS...

The hardware from VelocityMicro will start shipping in mid-april, and can be pre-ordered now. One has to wonder how long it will take before we start seeing the cards cracked over to open-source Linux, which has been a friend of many HTPC enthusiasts thanks to its phenomenal MythTV anyways.

Do you have a thought on the new system, or CableCARDs in general? Tell us about it in our forums.

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