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ATI’s new digital cable tuning TV wonder

External ATI TV Wonder

ATI recently announced their TV Wonder product for Windows Vista equipped PCs. This is the first consumer level Windows Media device that can decode QAM digital cable signals via the use of a CableCARD provided by your cable provider. This allow users to use Windows Vista media center as a PVR for just the cause of renting a card or two (currently $7.99/month for Time Warner customers).

After reading the press release, I was initially excited about finally being freed from the horrible tyranny that is my Motorola HD DVR without having to spend $800 on a better product. However this new product with ATI coupled with Windows Vista has extremely crippling DRM attached to it.

From The Tech Report:

Not just any PC can connect to this TV Wonder, though. It must meet a stringent set of requirements, including OCUR support in the BIOS and support for HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection).

And even more troubling:

Sadly, the OCUR-compliant PC must come from a major PC manufacturer…PC DIYers will be left out in the cold entirely, and AMD could not say whether this situation might change at some point in the future.

Great move AMD, abandon the enthusiast community that bought your initial processors and helped make you a suitable competitor against Intel.

Now the big secret that no one wants you to know: CableCARD is on its way out.

The equipment manufacturers and cable operators have been unable to get CableCard to actually work properly in the real world. On top of that, the current CableCARD standard doesn’t support Video-On-Demand of any type. A bidirectional CableCARD adoption has been halted by the current issues with the unidirectional format.

At this time, there are less than 200,000 installations of CableCARD in the US. To make matters worse, the operator has to endure an enormous deployment cost because every CableCARD installation (PC, digital TV, Tivo, cable box, etc) requires an on-site installation that takes considerably more time for a tech than a standard digital cable/internet install. This means the actual deployment costs for mass adoption of CableCARD are in the multiple tens of billions of dollars. This seems like a lot of trouble for content that you can’t even watch on multiple devices.

Now the good news:

CableCARD is going to be replaced starting in 2009 with something far similar and cheaper to deploy called DCAS, or Downloadable Conditional Access System. It supports home networking, and will allow you to share content with some DRM restrictions, but at least you’ll be able to move it around to other devices unlike CableCARD . The TV and PC manufacturers like it because its far easier for them to implement. Hopefully this is what they’re headed towards. Best of all, there’s no external card to purchase (other than the interface device which, for PCs, will be a coax-to-USB type of connector). Broadcom, a big manufacturer of set top box chips is a big supporter of DCAS.

2-3 years is a long time to wait and a lot of this is subject to change, so if you feel compelled to buy a CableCARD solution now, don’t let this information dissuade you. It’s still a viable option if you don’t care about DVR or on-demand and just want to watch HD content on a single CableCARD enabled device.

Thanks to Kniggit for the DCAS and CableCARD info.

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