ATI's internal OCUR board
Those who want CableCARD support will have to ugprade to Vista Media Center PCs

Microsoft is touting Windows Vista as the definitive next-generation operating system with multimedia capabilities not found in any other system currently available. One of the most talked about features is Windows Vista's support for high definition content, of which is made up of two distinct parts: HDCP and HD CableCARD support. While the former is going to be a mandatory feature requirement for Windows Vista to support high definition video playback, HD CableCARD support is currently a miss and match game right now. Here's why.

Currently, Microsoft documents that Windows Vista will support HD CableCARD but only in the form of pre-built, pre-configured media machines. This means that machines designed to be Windows Vista Media Center PCs will be the only ones that support HD CableCARD content. Customers will not be able to simply go out to their favorite computer store and pick up a HD CableCARD add-in card.

According to reports, this means that ATI's highly anticipated OCUR (Open Cable Uni-directional Receiver) will only be available pre-installed into Windows Vista Media Center PCs. Microsoft previously stated that ATI's OCUR will be supported in Windows Vista. In fact, Microsoft said that Windows Vista will be capable of supporting up to four tuners. ATI's OCUR was originally slated to arrive sometime later this year, but with Windows Vista's delay, it will likely make an appearance inside PCs next year. OCUR is the first true CableCARD tuner for PCs.

What all this means for those thinking of upgrading to Windows Vista later in 2007 is that while Windows Vista will support HD playback with the correct hardware (HDCP enabled), they will not be able to watch broadcasted CableCARD HD content with any currently available PCs. For those who currently own a Windows Media Center PC, CableCARD functionality is unfortunately, out of scope. When Microsoft was asked if customers would be able to go out and buy third party CableCARD tuners, Microsoft's program manager for its eHome division Matt Goyer clearly stated "no." However, Goyer stated that customers would be able to stream OCUR content to a Vista Media Extender, which means customers can watch HD broadcasts on another system that does not have an OCUR device installed -- although having a Windows Vista Media PC is still a prerequisite.

True availability of CableCARD add-in products such as OCUR won't be clear until after Windows Vista ships, but some believe that OCUR products may become available in the grey market. Despite the hint of hope, Cable Labs stated that it will be very strict about CableCARD products for the PCs and there is a good chance that grey market products will not be available.

As for standard HDTV viewers, TiVo recently claimed that its upcoming dual CableCARD Series3 box will be available shortly. TiVo said that the unit has already been distributed to some major cable providers for testing. The company hopes to have the new Series3 out on the market by late fall.

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs
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