Engadget Interview With Media Center Chief Joe Belfiore

The Clicker: A sitdown with Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore (Part I) – Engadget Stephen Speicher, who writes the excellent Thursday column “The Clicker” over at Engadget, is out this week with Part 1 of an interview with Microsoft’s Media Center Chief Joe Belfiore.

In the interview Belfiore clarifies much about how the CableLabs approval process takes place and what CableLabs approval will mean espcially for small OEMs looking to get their Media Center PCs certified. While confirming that only new PCs will be eligible for CableCARD, Belfiore paints a scenario where mid sized OEMs might not have to go through the entire formal CableLabs approval process… sort of.

“SS: So what exactly does that mean? Is it a minimum specification level?

JB: The problem that we and cable faced was that this was the first device that cable had encountered that had a really wide range of capabilities and wide range of components in it. Up until the PC, cable’s test suite could certify an entire device solution as it would go to market, but that didn’t make sense for the PC because we didn’t want it to be the case that every single PC model that Dell or HP or Sony wanted to ship with CableCARD had to go through this certification. So the process here is that the OCUR component must be certified, and it has to be built into a system that the OEM can essentially self-certify. By self-certification what that means is that it must meet a set of requirements that includes the way that things get displayed like Emergency Broadcast System and closed captioning, that the minimum content protection requirements are met, and that the system functions together as advertised as you would expect from a “Digital Cable Ready” device. The OEM then basically sends a letter to CableLabs indicating that a particular system is one that they have self-certified and can be shipped as a “Digital Cable Ready” PC.

SS: I assume this will allow the smaller OEMs to produce theirs and it will be a fluid process?

JB: The smallest of OEMs that license Windows through the System Builder Kit (which you can essentially buy today as an enthusiast user) – those folks are not eligible to do self-certification with CableLabs. So the small PC vendors, as yet, can’t do this. We hope to get that process fixed in time, but as we’re at version one for the time-being it’ll be the OEMs which are a step up in size from that. That includes lots of small OEMs but generally not the mom and pop shops that do PC repair and occasionally build PCs.”

Click through for the rest of the interview. Joe’s the most senior guy on the Media Center team and his thoughts are worth checking out. I’m looking forward to Stephen’s part 2. One thing the interview did not answer that I’d still like to see is greater clarification on how the DirecTV aftermarket HDTV support will work with Vista.