So, I have a computer with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 installed, in my living room. This PC has a dual tuner Hauppauge PVR-500 TV card, and a high performance graphics card. I have recently purchased 48” widescreen TV, and the next thing on my mine was getting an HDTV signal from my cable company (Comcast) so that I can view and record high definition quality TV….
Only snag is that it cannot be done! There are lots of articles, blog posts, and forums on this discussion topic, but the consensus is that Windows XP MCE 2005 can only process HDTV from over-the-air, and not from a cable or satellite signal. The following are some of the reasons why HD-TV-Junky-Geeks are going to have to wait for HDTV quality TV in MCE:
Originally MCE 2005 did not support HDTV. With the release of rollout SP 1, Microsoft introduced support for over-the-air broadcasts only. OTA will only provide consumers with public stations, and in most areas not all stations carry HDTV, so it’s pretty useless.
Cable providers require consumers use a set-top-box to receive HDTV signals. This cable box is responsible for decoding digital HD signals from the cable line and pumping out a decoded analogue signal for HD TVs. This box also contains a tuner, so all channels changing is performed with the cable box remote, which is contrary to how MCE operates – MCE typically tunes to channels directly using one or more inbuilt tuners.
What about the IR Blaster? This device transmits an infrared signal to change channels on set-top-boxes, and is used by MCE when cable or satellite TV demands the use of a proprietary box. However, this doesn’t help when the set-to-box is pushing out HDTV because the signal is likely using QAM (Quadrature amplitude modulation), which involves doubling the bandwidth of the signal with phase modulation. HDTV requires much more bandwidth than conventional SDTV (single definition), and QAM enables cable and satellite providers to push the signal down the wire. MCE 2005 doesn’t support QAM.
What about an HDTV PCI Tuner Card with QAM support? Great, but without the support of QAM from MCE, only OTA HD is possible. These cards are usually shipped with their own software for watching HDTV in QAM, but not in MCE. Also, many premium channels are encrypted by the cable/satellite company, as well as using QAM. Decryption is managed by the set-top-box, provided by the cable/satellite company.
MCE 2005 requires at least one analogue signal. From what I can gather, this is required by MCE to setup the tuner configuration, but can support other HD tuners in addition.
Cable Card is supposed to solve the issues surrounding viewing of HDTV content without a set-top-box. Instead of box containing dedicated tuner, channel changing will be controlled by the inbuilt tuner in TV and DVR units, and the card will decrypt premium content and manage your communication with the cable/satellite company. TV manufactures are already starting to support Cable-Card in high end flat screen and projection HDTV units (source: http://tvaerialsmanchester.com).
The next version of MCE – part of the Vista operating system release in 2007 – will have built in support for cable card. ATI have produced a demonstration unit to accept Cable-Card and connect to MCE 2007 via USB, but it is not in production at this time. There are also rumors floating around about CableLabs – the company the produces cable cards – in that they wish to certify the hardware in which cable cards are fitted. Supposedly this is so that the company can retain a tighter grip on the consumer’s use of HDTV content and introduce DRM, which will cause a problem for those with home brew media center PCs. Time will tell.
According to Comcast support, they are offering Cable-Card now, and for a small monthly fee I as a consumer can make use of the technology. So, I just have to wait for Visa with MCE 2007 to launch in the first quarter of 2007 (assuming there are no more delays) and keep an eye on CableLabs.