Wednesday, August 6, 2008

CableCards, Set Top Boxes , Government Regulations

I discovered last night that the government has forced digital TV providers to standardize on their encoding/decoding strategies. I'm not quite sure why the government has done this and I'm not quite sure of all the details, but it sounded good to me. It's all part of the government taking care of the little guy.
I hate paying my cable company $50 per month to pay for channels and then have to pay them an additional $20 per month to decode the channels I paid for. You spend $1200 for a new HD TV with an HD tuner and you can't use it because you have cable and your cable is scrambled and the only way to descramble is to use the cable companies set top box.
So, anyway, I read this little thing about the government taking care of the little guy. They have somehow forced cable companies to standardize. So, now there is this little gadget called a CableCARD. It sounds (on the surface) like something I've only dreamed about.
It's basically a descrambler about the size of a PCMCIA card (the little cards that plug into the side of your laptop).
The logical step is to have one of these in your computer. Go to the store, buy a CableCard for my open PCI-e slot and I've got digital HD TV coming into my PC right? Wrong.
The government also has regulations regarding recording and distributing copywritten material. It's not enough for them to bust people that do it. They must try very hard to prevent the possibility that you might be able to do so.
Because of this, the CableCARD readers for the PC can only be sold to OEM's. Currently ATI (an AMD division) is the only company manufacturing these readers. For them to get permission to do this, they had to put in copy protection.
This little device will only work on PC's that are running Windows Vista and have some code in the BIOS (firmware inside the motherboard of the computer). Basically the BIOS tells Vista, that it won't illegally copy (burn) copy protected material (like HD movies from the cable company). When Windows Vista sees this, it will allow the little CableCARD device from AMD to work.
If you have your own home grown PC (like I do), and you could get your hands on a CableCARD device, you'd probably never get it to work. Windows Vista won't recognize it and it won't run unless Windows Vista tells it to.
I looked around to see how many manufacturers are selling PC's with this special BIOS setting. There are a fairly large amount so there is some competition. The cheapest one I saw was about $1200. If I build my own computer, I could build one up with the same specs for about $500.

No comments:

Post a Comment