Wednesday, April 05, 2006

CableCards and the DIY HTPC

It's been widely discussed, including on this blog, that because of certification requirements, only the big system builders will be able to put together a HTPC (Home Theater PC, like Media Center) that includes CableCard technology.

As a refresher, a CableCard is an addressable device that you would register with your local cable company, and is essentially a whole digital cable converter box on a little card. The point is that with a CableCard, you don't need the converter box in order to tune in the digital-only channels (including premium channels).

I have always said that this would be a PCI form factor. But, I went over to my friend Mokee's house over the weekend, and he showed me his new HDTV. Among other things, it had CableCard support built into the TV (and they, in fact, are renting a CableCard from Adelphia). To my surprise, a CableCard actually uses the PC Card (PCMCIA) form factor. I didn't get to fully examine it, but I'm assuming/guessing that the tuner itself is built into the TV and the CableCard is just a decryption device.

Given the fact that the cable companies will rent you one of these for your TV, I don't see why you wouldn't be able to just move one from the TV into a PC after the cable guy leaves your house. This is assuming that you'll have drivers for it, and can somehow integrate with your existing ATSC tuner card, but I'm sure that the gray market folks and/or Open Source crowd will ensure that those are available.

Bottom line: At this time, I think that the Do It Yourself'ers will be very likely to build a Media Center PC with CableCard support (renting the card from the cable company).