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Old 09-01-09, 12:07 PM   #1
CaptNKILL
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Thumbs down The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

http://www.anandtech.com/weblog/showpost.aspx?i=637

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For those of you with cable TV service, for some time now you've been witnessing the slow transition of cable TV from a pure analog service to a pure digital service. With cable systems finally at their limits for bandwidth, within the last year the cable companies have finally begun what has been dubbed the "analog reclamation" - removing analog channels from their service and replacing them with digital versions that require 1/6th (or less) the bandwidth. Because the reclamation involves removing analog versions of most for-cost channels (what's commonly called the Expanded Basic tier), the reclamation has been tied with the deployment of Digital Transport Adapters - low-cost cable boxes that are little more than a basic QAM tuner attached to an RF modulator. This has allowed cable companies to reclaim this space without deploying otherwise very expensive Set Top Boxes to every TV at an affected household.

A side effect of this has been that computer TV tuner users, such as HTPC owners who in the analog age were accustomed to getting access to the EB tier on their computers with a simple analog TV tuner, were able to access those same channels in their digital form using ClearQAM-capable tuners. This is because the FCC mandated that the security mechanism be separate from the STBs, which gave rise to the continually problematic CableCARD. In the name of cost, DTAs do not have the ability to use CableCARDs, and as such do not meet the separable security requirements. Ultimately this required cable operators to put the digital versions of their EB tiers in the clear if they wanted to use DTAs, and this is why ClearQAM tuners can exist in a useful manner.

That age, however short it was, looks to be coming to a close. DTAs may be little more than a basic QAM tuner, but that "little more" is that they support a very basic form of encryption - a 56bit DES-based cypher known as Privacy Mode - which would allow them to receive and decrypt lightly encrypted channels. The FCC separable security mandate has previously prevented Privacy Mode from being used, but we have known for some time that cable companies and device manufacturers were looking to get a waiver for DTAs. In effect they have been soliciting the FCC for permission to encrypt all EB tier channels with Privacy Mode, so that reception would be limited to DTAs and CableCARD devices.

The FCC has granted their request.

The ramifications are two-fold. For the cable companies, once they implement this Privacy Mode across the board they will no longer have to install and maintain expensive signal traps to keep customers on lower tiers such as Limited Basic from accessing additional channels. For computer/HTPC users, this is an end to being able to directly receive EB tier channels with any kind of commonly available digital tuner. Privacy Mode is not open for licensing, and CableLabs will not license CableCARD for any kind of open (read: not locked down to hell and back) tuner. This means ClearQAM tuners made by ATI, Hauppauge, SiliconDust, and others would no longer be useful for receiving EB tier channels.

For pure digital reception on computers/HTPCs, what would be left would be two things. One would be fully licensed systems that implement head-to-toe DRM, the only way that CableLabs will license CableCARD for computers. This is not cheap, and brings with it all the disadvantages of not building your own system. The other would be utilizing the Firewire output of some STBs, but such STBs can be hard to acquire and the FCC allows broadcasts to include a copy-never (5C) flag that disables this output.

The last option would be to take advantage of the analog hole left by the component video output of STBs, using devices such as Hauppauge's HD PVR that can redigitize the output of STBs for importing into a computer. The drawback of this is a loss of quality due to an analog generation being included in the process, and whatever pitfalls that come from using the STB such a device would be attached to. None of these options are as simple and cheap as things stand today with a ClearQAM tuner.

At this point there's no reason to believe that cable companies won't deploy Privacy Mode across their networks, so it's a matter of "when", not "if" this will happen. It goes without saying that if you're currently enjoying the use of a ClearQAM tuner to receive EB tier channels, you'll want to enjoy what time you have left, and look into other solutions for the long-haul. At this pace, it looks like cable TV and computers will soon be divorcing.

On a final note, the loss of ClearQAM access is likely going to be followed by the loss of some fraction of the HTPC market, where users will not find as much value in a device that can no longer watch or record live TV from their cable company. Because of this potential nosedive in the HTPC market, I would be very surprised if Microsoft stayed entirely mum on the issue. They've put a lot of effort into Windows Media Center as a TV viewing platform and HTPC suite over the years, and this drives a stake right through that given the low adoption of CableCARD systems. Microsoft has been diversifying their TV operations over the years by getting satellite companies on-board and making some investments in IPTV/Internet TV, but cable TV is too big to ignore if Microsoft wants to keep pushing WMC. What this may lead to is anyone's guess, but unless they're going to drop the emphasis on TV viewing with WMC something will need to happen to keep WMC relevant in the cable TV space.
This certainly sucks for a lot of people.

I don't have cable TV (or any TV) so it doesn't effect me but this will really piss a lot of people off. If you have a TV tuner and your cable company makes this change, the tuner will no longer work on that service.
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Old 09-01-09, 12:16 PM   #2
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

you didn't see that comming? this is the real reason why they wanted to change to pure digital signal
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Old 09-01-09, 01:01 PM   #3
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

Quote:
Originally Posted by nekrosoft13 View Post
you didn't see that comming?
To be honest, I never really thought about it since I don't watch TV.
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Old 09-01-09, 01:59 PM   #4
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

Damnit this pisses me off. We really rely on my HTPC. I've got four tuners in it recording analogue. I can share the TV throughout the house. And, I only have to pay once for the hardware.

Now I'll have to pay 30-50 extra a month for the same level of service.

Super.
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Old 09-01-09, 03:18 PM   #5
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

I haven't found a decently priced TV Tuner card to record from Comcast or DirecTV anyways so this doesn't really matter.
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Old 09-01-09, 04:16 PM   #6
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

Thanks god I'm living in the EU territory, although I rarely use the TV Tuner card I have (Hauppauge HVR-1300) for more than hooking up some consoles, this is an odd decision for sure :S
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Old 09-02-09, 01:49 AM   #7
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

My brother used to use an ATI Theater 550 Pro to record standard definition analog TV but he recently switched to DirectTV HD and they gave him a dual tuner HD DVR. The recording quality is incredible compared to any other recording device (or TV service) I've seen. We watched a recording of the Falcons pre-season game from last weekend and it looked absolutely perfect in 1080i.

He hasn't been able to use his tuner since switching to DirectTV, but the DVR he has now is 100x better anyway.

About the only thing he lost in this switch was the ability to save and backup any programs he recorded. For example, a great football game will eventually have to be deleted to save space, and I don't think there is an easy way to get it off.
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Old 09-14-09, 11:09 PM   #8
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

It might just be the beginning of TV tuners and cable on your PC since this was announced the other day:

http://www.engadgethd.com/2009/09/09...em-requirement.

There's also this:

http://www.engadgethd.com/2009/09/11...age_engadgethd

A quad tuner in a single internal PC card? Me want.

This may spur DirecTV as well to finally push out the external and internal PC tuners they have allegedly been working on for a couple of years now.
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Old 09-14-09, 11:11 PM   #9
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

Well that's great news.

It's probably going to be an expensive transition for a lot of people but I guess its better than having to completely rework your current multimedia setup.
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Old 09-15-09, 08:08 AM   #10
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

I am SUPER excited about this news. You were able to use the CableCard tuners before, but it required a bit of haxing. This is great.
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Old 09-15-09, 09:34 AM   #11
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

Kickass.
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Old 09-15-09, 11:01 AM   #12
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Default Re: The end of TV Tuners and Cable TV on your PC?

Ha, the Cable companies inadvertently created a nice little niche market for a lot of smaller businesses. These businesses will undoubtedly prosper now
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