Yes Virginia, Media Center already does HDTV

Ed Bott: Media Center already does HDTV! Ed Bott takes PVRblog to task for suggesting that Media Center can’t record HDTV in a write up on new HDTV support that SnapStream has announced for their next major revision.

Yes Virginia, MCE can record HDTV, OTA HDTV only, but this is largely worthless. Let me explain to you why. Some of the best TV being put out today is not being broadcast over the air. My two favorite shows on television at present are Six Feet Under and the Sopranos. These two shows put everything else put out by the crappy networks to shame. The shows are fresh, cutting edge, critically acclaimed and make for some of the hottest TV around. So if you are going to want to watch these two shows (as well as many other things) in HDTV you are either going to go with a DirecTV HDTV box (presently a TiVo box, but this may change soon) or you are going to go with a cable HDTV box.

Now both of these solutions will already today record your network TV for you in HDTV. In fact, not only does my HDTV DirecTV TiVo record all the network stuff in HDTV for me as it is, but I get two feeds (an East Coast and West Coast feed) which allows me even more flexibility for viewing and recording. With a four tuner box which can receive every network show twice a day (once at East Coast broadcast time, once at West Coast broadcast time) as you can imagine, any recording conflicts quickly disappear.

So why in the world would I bother screwing around with upgrading my MCE box to record HDTV that I already get? The TiVo interface is every bit as good as the MCE interface for recorded television (some might even suggest better).

Now I’m not arguing that the new SnapStream HDTV support that PVRBlog writes about is necessarily any big thing. Good to see I guess, but Ed is right, it’s OTA HDTV and as far as I’m concerned this is as much a non-event there as it is up in Redmond. As I posted in my comment over at their story this morning, “where’s the beef?”

Ed takes issue with PVRBlog’s report that Microsoft is holding off on HDTV (which was linked to me) and also posts that “Microsoft and all the other companies aren’t “holding off” on anything.” Per Ed, “the hardware to decode HDTV over cable needs to exist first, and it needs to be approved by CableLabs.” Sorry Ed, I don’t buy it. Premium HDTV content should have been in Media Center a long, long, time ago. It hasn’t been a priority for Microsoft. It’s easy to play the blame game and say it’s Hollywood, or it’s the hardware, or it’s technical limitations, but the truth is that if Microsoft had made premium HDTV content a priority they could have had this done a long time ago.

Microsoft mistakenly views the current HDTV market as not mainstream enough. Instead of making premium HDTV a priority Microsoft would rather roll out half assed concessions like OTA HDTV — while out of view from the rest of us they negotiate with Hollywood to try to carve out the largest piece of moolah they can from the digital TV pie. Look, DirecTV/TiVo has had premium HDTV for over a year. If Microsoft wanted to there are many different ways that they could pipe HDTV into a Media Center box, they are already recording HDTV with their Foundation software for Comcast today. Even if they just built a Foundation box into a Media Center PC for the sole use of HDTV capabilities this could be done. I’m tired of hearing excuses for Microsoft on this one.

8 Replies to “Yes Virginia, Media Center already does HDTV”

  1. You really, really, really need to read my follow-up post, Thomas. You’re being very naive by overlooking the hardware requirements. Are you arguning that Microsoft should reverse-engineer cable company encryption (virtually impossible to do anyway, since cable systems use individually addressable boxes)? Even if they could do that, it would a DMCA violation, subjecting Microsoft to criminal and civil penalties.

    If it were as simple as you make it sound, it would already be done.

  2. Thomas,

    You really need to come to grips with this one. It is NOT Microsoft’s fault.

    I suppose you’re willing to say that TiVo doesn’t care about HD either, right?

    Repeat after me: The ONLY reason that TiVo does ANY premium HD is because DirecTV was looking for a TEMPORARY solution to their needs. As such, they licensed TiVo’s software for use it THEIR boxes. This will change in the future.

    CableLabs is holding it up. I would not be surprised if both companies had been working with them for upwards of two years.

  3. I agree with Thomas on this. Tivo worked with DirecTV (whatever the underlying reasons) and have a solution for recording HD. That is the bottom line. If Microsoft wanted to do something they could. For that matter, they could afford to buy DirecTV, Comcast, or any other provide of HD to ‘force’ the integration – they just haven’t deemed it a priority yet.

  4. Great post, Thomas. This is why I subscribe to your blog, though every week I get so annoyed by all of your pictures that I almost hit delete. I really wish you would seperate your pictures into a seperate blog feed.

  5. The problem with that argument is that Microsoft has also worked with cable providers to provide premium HD content. My Comcast DVR runs a Microsoft OS.

    Will DirecTivoHD people be singing the same tune when, in 12-18 months, their 1k investment no longer works.

    My point is simply that we’re talking apples and oranges. When TiVo (or anyone*) introduces a third-party HD box, then it’s time to say that Microsoft has missed the boat.

    *Yes, there is a rather anemic Sony box. However, it meets no one’s standards in this conversation.

  6. The focus seems to constantly be premium content HDTV via media center. Well how about the fact that I can’t watch any premium content via MCE without renting and setting up via IR blaster, a set-top box from the cable or satellite provider.

    The need for set-top boxes increases the cost to use an MCE, degrades picture quality, and make channel changing noticably slower. I’d be happy at this point with the ability to record SD premium content without the need for set-top boxes.

    All those new sleek HDTV cases are pretty worthless if you have to attached two set-top boxes to it in order to record two channels at once.

  7. Again, that’s the same with any third-party box. It’s also the same issue: CableLabs is dragging their feet.

  8. Thomas- I respect you but you’re incorrect. Ed is right- this is about hardware. I strongly recommend you get a representative from the CableCard consortium to clarify their position on any PC doing HDTV over CableCard- what it would take etc.

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