Microsoft Corp. Wednesday edged one step closer to its vision of offering a complete home digital entertainment system through PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition OS. The company revealed a deal with a cable television consortium that will allow PC vendors to offer digital-cable-ready Windows Media Center PCs by next December.
Microsoft has been working with Cable Television Laboratories Inc. (CableLabs), a nonprofit cable-research consortium, for two years and now the technology partners have developed technology specifications for adding support for a CableCARD module on Windows Media Center PCs, said Justin Hutchinson, group product manager, Windows Client Division at Microsoft.
Microsoft and CableLabs also have documented final approval of Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) as the content-protection technology in the PC CableCARD module so Media Center PCs can receive one-way digital cable content from digital cable providers without the use of a set-top box, he said.
"It’s really a first step in a relationship we're going to build between Microsoft and the U.S. cable industry to deliver premium digital content and high-definition content via digital cable to Media Center PCs," Hutchinson said.
Digital cable providers give customers CableCARDs that allow them to receive premium digital content, such as programming from channels such as HBO, Starz and Cinemax, by plugging the cards directly into hardware that supports them.
Between now and next December, Microsoft and CableLabs will work with hardware vendors such as Dell Inc., Gateway Inc. and Toshiba Corp. to make sure their Windows Media Center PCs and notebooks support the hardware specifications for CableCARD modules equipped with Windows DRM. Once the computers are certified by CableLabs and are shipping, Windows Media Center PC users can get cards from their digital cable providers that plug directly into their computers that give them direct access to whatever cable programming they purchase.
While customers of these new Windows Media Center PCs will be able to watch and record digital cable and high-definition content, they will not be able to purchase on-demand content such as movies that cable companies sell, since the cards will support only one-way content, said Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research.
Still, if all goes smoothly and these PCs are ready to ship by next December, the deal with CableLabs will advance Microsoft's plan to replace traditional home entertainment technologies with Windows Media Center PCs, he said.
CableLabs plans to host interoperability events to enable vendors working on products based on these specifications to test products in CableLabs facilities and conduct formalized certification testing. More information about the OpenCable project is available at http://www.opencable.com.
To date, Microsoft has sold more than 4 million Windows XP Media Center Edition licenses, and more than 130 PC manufacturers around the world offer Media Center PCs. The cable industry supports more than 370 models of digital televisions manufactured by 22 companies that display one-way cable content via CableCARDs.