Using a computer to make a TiVo look like a potted plant in comparison is far from uncommon nowadays. In fact, Media Center PCs have taken on such a roll in tech-savvy houses that we've started to really devote some time into reviewing, building, and tweaking them (actual articles on that will be released soon!). So it's natural that we've been pretty excited about Windows Vista having a Media Center feature built into its high-end version...after all, what's not to like about better, native HD support?
Well, unfortunately, it looks like Vista won't be so supportive after all
, having finally come clean that it will not
support add-in CableCARD tuners. It will still support CableCARD tuners that are pre-installed into purchased Media Center machines, but it looks like support for things like ATI's OCUR tuner will be limited to pre-builts. This is a real disappointment for Build-your-own MCE box enthusiasts.
For those not familiar with CableCARD technology, here's a brief explanation: Normally, to receive digital cable or satellite channels, a set-top-box (STB) is required. This uses hardware decryption to decrypt MPEG-2 streams, and then convert them into analogue signals, which can then be recorded by your tuner card or played on your TV. The joy of HD and CableCARDs was that you could remove this STB from the equation altogether, instead allowing the MPEG-2 to just be decoded and recorded instead of converted. This eliminates two steps (analogue conversion at the STB, then converting back to digital via the tuner card) from the process and provides considerably better quality at a smaller file size.
Nobody is really sure at the moment how Vista will know the difference between pre-built machines and add-in cards, but the speculation is that ATI and other vendors are being asked to only sell their CableCARD tuners to MCE machine manufacturers. This, of course, leads to the question of, "will there be a grey market?" At this point, it's anybody's guess. For the moment, though, if you want HDTV on your Vista box, you'd better plan on buying a whole new one.
Though we'd love to blame Microsoft for this move, it's much more likely that they have bowed to industry pressure due to the lack of DRM and the high quality of the recording. Of course, nobody at this point is willing to claim forcing Redmond to act, as Microsoft often makes a nice scapegoat.
Got a thought on the change? Are you sorry to hear MS's decision to bow out of add-in support? Tune in to our forums
and let us know your thoughts.