Digital Nerd

Monday, August 15, 2005

What Vista Media Center will do to 3rd Party DVRs

Via Gadget Fetish:

For the moment, third party Windows DVRs make a delightful open alternative to Windows XP Media Center Edition but what happens once we switch over to an HDTV world? SageTV, Beyond TV, and Meedio may be on the way to extinction. All their base are belong to Windows Vista Media Center.

Sorry! Couldn't resist. ;)

Seriously, the eventual release of Windows Vista Media Center (some refer to it as "Diamond" which may or may not be Microsoft's code name for the platform) may spell doom for third party DVR companies.

SageTV and its brethren can, at best, only handle Over-the-air (OTA) high definition. Windows XP Media Center Edition suffers this particular limitation as well.

However, Vista MCE, with all of its additional DRM, is rumored to provide support for the CableCARD. For those not in the know, your cable company is required to offer the option of allowing you to rent/purchase a CableCARD instead of forcing you to rent one of their more expensive lower quality set top boxes. The CableCARD, which plugs into many contemporary HDTVs, acts as a decoder for your HDTV, mitigating the need for the set-top box. While the CableCARD provides less functionality than the set-top box (i.e., no on-demand television), having the PC interface with a cable card instead of a clunky set-top box sounds awfully desirable, doesn't it?

While Vista may support the CableCARD, will the 3rd party DVRs be able to use it? There should be no doubt that the cable companies will require that HDTV content, recorded via a CableCARD, be encrypted on a PC's hard drive.

Welcome to HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DRM all over again, folks. We're going from a Digital-to-Analog Converter world to an "All Digital, All DRM'd, All-The-Time" world!

The question that I'm sure SageTV, SnapStream, and others are asking Microsoft behind closed doors is whether Vista will provide an interface to this "trusted data store" containing encrypted cable HDTV programming. If not, kiss SageTV, Beyond TV, Meedio, and the other small fries goodbye. Sure, the third party DVRs will continue to be able to record analog programming and late perhaps even dithered down HDTV programming converted to analog via a set-top box but they won't have access to the original digital content itself! In an all digital world, only HDTV will matter.

Advantage Vista MCE.

Microsoft, with their bend-over-backwards devotion to the content providers/distributors, is clearly setting themselves up to be the PC middle man in the coming "All Your Media Are Belong To Someone-other-than-you" world. While we already know that Microsoft isn't standing up for the consumer, the next question is whether they'll stand up at all for third party integrators or whether it's time to return to the courtroom with the Department of Justice. While, in truth, I expect some semblance of the former but, really, I hope for the latter.

Edit: I inccorectly referred to Vista MCE as the problem. Vista itself will have the DRM support built right in. Vista MCE (or whatever Microsoft may later call it) will presumably employ this DRM when recording HD content.