A few weeks ago, I attended the launch of Microsoft's Vista, which is the latest version of the Windows operating system. Amid much hoopla and excessively loud music and extreme drumming, Bill Gates formally introduced Vista to an audience of Microsoft believers. Well, almost all of the audience was part of the Microsoft flock. Thankfully, there were a few skeptical journalists in the crowd, and the editor of Digital TV DesignLine was one of them. While Gates and his minions extolled the virtues of Vista and the goal of making our Digital Lifestyle easier, it was announced that Vista would be HD-compatible.
This is almost like an oxymoron as Microsoft was never a believer in high-definition. Microsoft's version of HD was images at 480p, which isn't even a resolution for high def. We now learn that Vista and new Windows Media Centers will support HD with the inclusion of ATSC or over-the-air HD tuners. Unfortunately, less than 10-percent of the U.S. receives their TV signals via antenna. Close to 70-percent of TV viewers receiver their signals via Cable. Well, we now learn that Vista and Windows Media Centers will now support CableCARD. Sadly, Microsoft seems to be behind the times as CableCARD in its current incarnation is not really supported by cable companies. The cable industry doesn't like CableCARD because it's only one-way. Cable wants to provide users with set-top boxes with integrated DVRs, and Video-on Demand. This doesn't leave much room in the rack for a Windows Media Center either as a PC or as an entertainment device.
Now, Microsoft claims that it went around the country and met with the heads of the leading cable operators such as Time-Warner, CableVision, Cox, etc., but, I guess, Microsoft didn't hear and didn't want to hear that CableCARD was not a favorite of the cable industry. While some companies like CableVision do make CableCARDs available to subscribers, it takes some prodding on the part of the end-user. The major TV manufacturers have seen this, and many of the 2007 models of HDTVs do not include CableCARDs any more. Yes, they do include QAM (Cable HD) tuners, which will allow the end user to simply attach the incoming cable signal to the television to view "in-the-clear" local network HD signals that are offered by the local cable company.
So, it makes me wonder why is Microsoft two steps behind. Its almost like that they had to get onto the HD bandwagon, and looked at HDTVs, which were offered two years ago, and saw that they included CableCARDs, and figured that they better include them. Did they even talk to TV manufacturers in particular and the CE industry in general? I don't know.
Microsoft also supports HD DVD, which is sold as an accessory to its Xbox360 game console. This is also a high definition product. Although, it's clearer as to why Microsoft is supporting HD DVD. Microsoft does not play well with Sony. Since Sony offers consumers their PlayStation products that compete directly with Xbox, Microsoft has to bet a competing horse or format. Does it matter that the HD DVD format has an uphill batter against Blu-ray? Not in the eyes of Microsoft.
This brings me back to the question of why CableCARD, and why now? Why can't they simply put QAM HD tuners within Windows Media Centers? And, why can't they put HDMI (and more 1394) inputs on Windows Media Centers, which would allow for the easy integration with Cable HD and satellite HD set-top boxes? If anyone has a good answer, please let me know as I'm still scratching my head.