Most consumers are familiar with using their PCs for "Internet video"--short video clips designed for PC viewing. Consumers are less familiar with using PCs for entertainment video of the type typically watched on a TV.
Movie download services like CinemaNow and MovieLink have been around for years, but are not mass-market applications since relatively few consumers have PCs connected to the TV screen and most don't want to watch movies on the PC when they are at home. The video networking applications we've discussed earlier in this series will make it easier to connect a PC to a remote TV screen, opening up the market.
But how will entertainment video get into the PC?
Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) users can get video into the PC from a "TV tuner card" plugged into the PC and connected to an antenna, cable box or satellite box. MCE was originally sold only with PCs that had built-in tuner cards, but in the past year Microsoft removed this requirement and most MCE PCs do not include tuner cards. There's now a lively after-market in add-ons -- several companies provide "TV tuner upgrade kits".
As an example, the Hauppauge Digital "WinTV-PVR-150 MCE Kit" includes a tuner card that plugs into the PC, a remote control and IR receiver, and an IR transmitter for controlling a set-top box. The card can be connected to a TV antenna for off-the-air reception, to a cable service for analog cable channels, or to a cable or satellite set-top box. Another Hauppauge model uses a USB 2.0 connection to the PC, so the consumer doesn't have to open up the PC to get video input.
Receiving Premium Content with OCUR
Using a cable box to receive premium content (such as movie channels like HBO and Showtime) is somewhat clumsy, especially if the PC is remote from the TV screen. Most new TV sets are equipped to use a CableCard instead of a cable box for premium content.
As we discussed in TV Services on the PC ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0604_5.html#link5d ) (BBHR 5/14/06), an OpenCable Unidirectional Receiver (OCUR) ( www.opencable.com/specifications/ocur.html ) will allow Vista Media Center PCs to receive high definition premium digital cable TV on the PC without a separate set-top box. The OCUR card plugs into the PC, and includes a slot for a CableCard provided by the cable operator. PCs equipped with OCUR should be available when Vista ships early in 2007.
Video content providers have long been concerned about protecting premium content from unauthorized distribution. OCUR includes certification that premium content will be protected by digital rights management (such as Microsoft's WMDRM or RealNetworks's Helix DRM), enabling legitimate use in the home but blocking further distribution. This will enable Media Center PCs to act as high-definition DVRs for all cable content, and to act as media servers for high-definition screens.