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Call for Questions: 1.19 firmware and tuning adapters

I am in the process of writing a review on the new 1.19 firmware update for the ATI Digital Cable Tuners and tuning adapter support in Windows 7 Media Center.  I currently have the a prerelease copy of the firmware supplied by AMD for review and my tuning adapters arrive tomorrow.

I will be documenting the install and creating video of the install for everyone to see and get an idea of what to expect when it’s time for your installation.  I wanted to put a call out for questions that anyone may have so that I can make sure I address those as part of my write-up.  No questions are out of bounds as I am sure people are wondering what model tuning adapter Time Warner is sending out and how these things hook-up.

I have confirmed that Windows 7 RC will support the relaxed DRM and Tuning Adapters assuming you have the firmware update and tuning adapters.  AMD is currently packaging the firmware update for official release and expects to have it out before the release of Windows 7 on October 22 but there is not an exact release date set yet.

So fire away with the questions.

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Microsoft CEDIA Booth Video

Here is a video of Microsoft’s booth at CEDIA.  Big thanks to Dana for filming this.  It came out a lot better than my flip video.  I added annotations to try and help explain what’s there.

Microsoft CEDIA Booth

Here are some pictures from Microsoft’s CEDIA Booth:

Microsoft One-On-One

Windows Media Center

Image via Wikipedia

I had an appointment today and was able to get some one-on-one time with Microsoft.  Here is what was covered by topic along with my take.  Thanks to my friend Dana for asking some great questions as well.

Digital Cable: Digital cable is coming to everyone!  Everyone that can handle it that is.  Microsoft will be releasing a small application that will asses the ability of your PC to handle digital cable.  If your PC passes the test then it will be enable to use digital cable (aka cable card) tuners.  The application has not been shown publicly yet so we do not know what it will look like.  It could be an application that you download and run or it could just show up as a tile within Media Center and is run with a Media Center UI.  You will not be able to add the digital cable tuners to Windows 7 until that application is released.  The tuners also need to have the update firmware.

SDV Tuning Adapter support is coming and will require Windows 7 (sorry Vista users) and a firmware update to the ATI Digital Cable tuners.  Windows 7 is required because of the some of the under the hood work that had to be done to enable tuning adapter support.  The firmware update will hopefully be out in the next two weeks but we may have to wait longer for tuning adapter support.  I did not get 100% confirmation but it does not look like the Windows 7 bits that enable tuning adapter support are in the Release Candidate.

My Take: This is a great development.  This and the SDV support really turns Media Center into a true DVR alternative to your cable company DVR.  We have no official date as to when everything will be released but October 22nd would not be a bad speculative guess.

Extenders: I asked about the future of extenders and if there was a roadmap for extenders.  There was no official comment on a roadmap for extenders or about any new products. 

My Take: The Media Center booth was setup with Xbox 360 extenders all over the place.  The message being sent at CEDIA was that Media Center works best with a PC at the center and extenders in the different home zones.  I definitely came away with a feeling that extenders will still be a big part of the ecosystem but I have no idea what that will look like.  After the big update to Digital Cable I could see the extenders becoming one of the next big updates, but not for at least another year.  Get use to the Xbox 360.

TV on the PC: The “TV on PC” message was nowhere to be seen which makes sense since the primary audience at CEDIA are custom installers.  The message has not gone away and you will see it going forward.

My Take:  I never saw “TV on PC” as a doom and gloom for Media Center.  I have always seen this push as just another gateway to get people into Media Center.  Once people start using Media Center on their PC they will start asking how they can start watching that content on the big screen.  After talking with Microsoft about this it seems as if this was always the intention.  The question about streaming media services (Hulu, Netflix, etc) is part of a different conversation.

Integration:  I had a lot of you that wanted to know about integration with the Zune HD.  Microsoft did not announce anything, they did not show anything and they had nothing more to add.

My Take:  Even though Microsoft had nothing to say officially on this it was implied that the move of the Zune teams, Media Center teams and Xbox teams under one roof was not done without forethought.  I came away with the impression that Microsoft knows that we want deeper Zune integration and Zune Marketplace integration within Media Center.  I also believe that a lot of work has been put into Windows 7 to lay the ground work and foundation for this integration in the future.  When?  I really do not know, but I would be surprised if this did not happen in the next 12 months.

WebGuide: No word from Microsoft on the official existence of WebGuide or a future release.  I was told that some of the functionality of WebGuide, such as media streaming, had found their way into Windows 7 in different ways.  I was also alerted to the presence of Doug Berrett (the original author of WebGuide).

My Take:  It’s coming.  I am just tired of waiting.  At this point every other DVR can do it so Media Center needs this back ASAP.

Getting the Word Out:  It seems to me that Microsoft feels they have a version of Media Center that really can be pushed beyond the custom installers and enthusiasts to a more mass consumer market.  I naturally asked about an advertising push and Dana asked about the presence of Media Center in the upcoming Microsoft stores.  No comment from Microsoft.

My Take:  The CEDIA booth would be perfect in the Microsoft stores.  It really showcased how Media Center could be integrated into your home and how a single Media Center PC can push HD to multiple extenders.  I would be surprised to not see something similar in the upcoming stores.  I wouldn’t hold my breath for TV advertising.

Well that’s all for now.  Look for pictures and video tomorrow.

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CEDIA Day 1

This place is huge!  There are so many dealers, products and services it is kind of overwhelming.  I am trying to weed through the explosion of lights and information to find things that apply to the everyday person like me.  I do not have a 14,ooo sq ft home and I don’t need miles of cable.  My CAT5 is measured in feet.

That being said I have come away even more convinced of Media Center as a solution.  It really scales well from my 3 room setup to a huge house like the one in the Ultimate Install Contest.  I have seen a lot of trends of centralization of media but have yet to see anything that is comparable to what Media Center offers and at the price they offer.  I do admit that I am looking at it from rose-tinted glasses but I also am thinking about my wallet and ease of use.

I have an appointment with Microsoft at 4:30 pm today.  Shoot me a comment with a question and I will ask your question for you.

Microsoft Press Release

Microsoft Enhances the Digital Cable Experience and Names 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Winner

Customers get new capabilities, more options, and a better digital cable experience in Windows Media Center.

ATLANTA — Sept. 9, 2009 Today at CEDIA EXPO 2009, Microsoft Corp. discussed key Windows Media Center features for Windows 7 and announced a series of initiatives that enhance the digital cable experience in Windows Media Center. With the addition of native support for additional international broadcast TV standards, including QAM and ATSC, there will now be support for switched digital video (SDV), a new tool that will make it possible for end customers to add a digital cable tuner with CableCARD to their PC, and for existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV that is marked as “copy freely” (CF). In addition, Microsoft and the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA) announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest, showcasing the many ways Windows Media Center can be used in a whole-home solution.

“We’re continuing to work on creating opportunities for partners that will enable great entertainment experiences on the PC,” said Craig Eisler, corporate vice president of entertainment client software for the TV, Video & Music Business at Microsoft. “Consumers understand that having access to content via the PC is critical when it comes to entertainment experiences, and with these announcements, we’re underscoring our broader commitment to deliver a rich experience with Windows Media Center.”

Switched Digital Video (SDV) Support Added for Windows Media Center

In response to customer requests and cable providers’ deployment of SDV, Microsoft now supports SDV in Windows Media Center for Windows 7. In conjunction with a device known as a tuning adapter, supplied by a customer’s cable provider, Windows Media Center and a digital cable tuner with CableCARD will be able to tune to SDV channels. Customers can enjoy SDV broadcasts on PCs running Windows Media Center in Windows 7 and a digital cable tuner with CableCARD.

End Customers Can Now Add Digital Cable Tuners With CableCARD to Their PCs

Microsoft and CableLabs announced that customers will now be able to add digital cable tuners with CableCARD to a Windows 7-based PC with Windows Media Center. A new tool will be provided by Microsoft that assesses the PC’s ability to support the solution. This tool will analyze the customer’s PC and enable digital cable support if the PC meets requirements, opening digital cable options to Windows Media Center customers across the country. Microsoft also announced that, with Windows 7, it has increased the number of TV tuners that can be connected to the PC from two to four per tuner type, thereby allowing customers to simultaneously record or watch as many as four digital cable TV channels.

“We are excited that digital cable customers will now be able to take advantage of this new opportunity to bring great cable TV programming to the PC,” said So Vang, vice president of OpenCable at CableLabs. “We are dedicated to helping customers get the most from their cable service, and this will be a great win for both the customer and the cable operators.”

Digital Cable Customers Can Now Enjoy More TV Portability in Windows Media Center

Microsoft and CableLabs also announced that they worked together to enable digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV that is marked as “copy freely” (CF). Customers will be able to play CF-marked digital cable recordings, such as those from local channels, on other PCs, devices and portable media.

Windows Media Center Features in Windows 7 Highlighted

Using new Windows 7 features such as Windows Touch, HomeGroup, Remote Media Streaming and PlayTo, sharing recorded TV, videos, music and pictures throughout the home, while on the road and to remote locations has never been easier. There is also support for the AVCHD format. This allows customers to view HD video from many popular HD video cameras.

In addition, support for the international broadcast TV standards that was released with the Windows Media Center TV Pack 2008 will also be included in Windows Media Center in Windows 7. This includes native support for both ATSC and QAM, the ability to remap channels, and support for subchannels.

New Firmware for ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuners

In conjunction with the Microsoft and CableLabs announcements, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) will be providing a new firmware update that is available to all ATI TV Wonder digital cable tuners being used with Windows 7 and Windows Vista. This firmware update will allow existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV marked as CF. Customers will be able to play CF-marked digital cable recordings, such as those from local channels, on other PCs, devices, and portable media. In addition, the firmware will contain support for SDV. When installed on a Windows 7-based PC with a digital cable tuner with CableCARD and a tuning adapter from a cable provider, it enables access to switched digital channels in locations where SDV has been deployed.

2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest Winner Announced

Microsoft, in collaboration with the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA), announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest. The winning installation was submitted by Dustin Anderson, general manager at Vision Audio in Lubbock, Texas, who built a system with Windows Media Center at the core of the entertainment experience in an extensive whole-home installation for a customer in Odessa, Texas. The installation integrates six Windows Media Center-based servers, one Windows Home Server, five dedicated theater-style rooms, 12 media racks, 98 speakers, and 30 zones of distributed audio. The home includes products from key MCIA member companies such as Autonomic Controls Inc., Crestron Electronics Inc. and Niveus Media Inc.

The Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest, now in its third year, encourages integrators to show off their talents by presenting their most unique and creative installations that leverage Windows Media Center technologies. Vision Audio’s integration of the family’s music, movies, videos and pictures, as well as the integration of Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server with the Crestron home automation system, and the large scope of the installation set it apart as the winner for 2009.

“We’re thrilled to receive this recognition from Microsoft and the MCIA. The Windows Media Center platform has enabled us to be on the cutting edge of technology, which has provided us with critical business advantages during the economic downturn,” Anderson said.

More information on the contest and images from the install can be found online at http://www.microsoft.com/ultimateinstall.

Also on Display at CEDIA EXPO 2009

At the Microsoft booth at CEDIA EXPO 2009, Microsoft will show additional hardware and software installations that enhance the digital cable experience. Demonstrations include these:

· The new Zune HD portable media player using the Zune HD AV dock to display 720p content on an HDTV. The Zune HD and updated Zune PC software will launch on Sept. 15.

· A home server powered by Windows Home Server software. The upcoming Windows Home Server Power Pack 3, currently in beta testing, will add enhancements for Windows Media Center. Power Pack 3 features include the option to move recorded TV content to the home server in a variety of resolutions, and the ability for users to see statistics about the home server through Windows Media Center.

· A technology preview of the new Multi-Channel Cable TV Card from Ceton Corp., which enables PCs with Windows Media Center to play or record multiple live channels of premium HDTV at once, and stream live HD channels or recordings to multiple TV sets throughout the home, all with a single CableCARD.

About CableLabs

Founded in 1988 by members of the cable television industry, Cable Television Laboratories is a non-profit research and development consortium that is dedicated to pursuing new cable telecommunications technologies and to helping its cable operator members integrate those advancements into their business objectives. Cable operators from around the world are members. CableLabs maintains web sites at www.cablelabs.com; www.packetcable.com; www.cablemodem.com; www.cablenet.org; www.opencable.com; and www.tru2way.com.

About the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA)

The MCIA is an open and independent non-profit consortium formed to advance and administer the support, promotion, and enrichment of the media center ecosystem. Charter members of MCIA include AMD, Crestron, HP, Intel, Life|ware, Microsoft Corp., and Niveus Media.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

For more information, press only:

Kristin Oke, Edelman, (206) 268-2265, kristin.oke@edelman.com

Note to editors: If you are interested in viewing additional information on Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass on Microsoft’s corporate information pages. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may since have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/contactpr.mspx.

Windows Media Center Press Event – Live

6:44 pm – Event should start around 7pm.  Look for pictures later tonight if I can’t squeeze them in now.

6:46 pm – Met Ben Drawbaugh and Richard Lawler from Engadget HD and Ben Reed from Microsoft.

7:00 pm – Almost time to start.

7:13 pm – Ok so maybe I was wrong.  Hopefully we will be starting soon.

7:16 pm – Here we go. Ben Reed is welcoming the crowd.

7:18 pm – Ben is recognizing the enthusiast along with the custom installers and end consumer.  Nice the hear that all groups are recognized.  Presentation should be about 25 minutes long.

7:20 pm – Going to talk about Windows 7 updates to Media Center, Digital Cable Evolution (!!!!), Microsoft at CEDIA 2009 and the winner of the Ultimate Install Contest.

7:22 pm – Windows 7 will make Windows Media Center easier.  Talking about HomeGroup and the benefits to Media Center.

7:23 pm – TV Tuner support in Windows 7 will be addressed as well.  All TV Pack updates are in Windows 7 MC.  We knew that.

7:23 pm – Going to talk about the updates to the guide and codec support.

7:23 pm – Remote Media Streaming – Very interesting to see what they have here.  Doesn’t look like this is Mesh.  Could be something new.

7:24 pm – Going over Play-To and how to use it as a remote control to Play-To devices.

7:24 pm – DIGITAL CABLE EVOLUTION – SDV support is official!!!!! 

Integrators and enthusiasts can now add Cable Card to ANY PC!!!!!!!!!!!

Firmware update to ATI Tuners (1.19) that will relax DRM is official.  No release date on the firmware yet.

7:26 pm – Now talking about Microsoft’s presence at the CEDIA Expo.  Focus turning more to custom integrators.

Nice hear that the Microsoft folks are big Media Center users in the homes.  Kevin Collins has 13 tuners and 6 extenders.

7:27 AVCHD is native format in Windows 7.

Microsoft now has CEDIA approved training for integrators.

Talking about Guide enhancements.  Integration of Internet TV into guide and Clear QAM sub-channels.  You can check out my videos to see this in action.

7:34 pm – Talking about the ability to have customized guides.  This is called Favorites.  I use this now in Windows 7.

Talking about HomeGroup and how it can be used in Recorded TV under the “Shared” filter twist.  HomeGroup plus relaxed DRM and Cable Card allows for portability that has been lacking.

7:36 pm – AEP 2.0 is going to be shown on the floor that allows for a high number of tuners and extenders.  One the floor they will have 9 extenders and more than 4 extenders.

7:37 pm – Now going to announce the Ultimate Install Contest winner.

7:42 pm – Looks like we may be done.  No word on extenders yet.

7:43 pm – And it’s over.