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Windows Vista, CableCard, and you

Newly uncovered limitations to Windows Vista-based CableCard recordings.


Blog noise earlier this week documented news from the recent Electronic Home Expo that Windows Vista-based CableCard recordings will come with some heavy restrictions on what you can do with those files. As CE Pro reported, the only way you'll be able to send CableCard-recorded content to another display is if that display is connected to a Windows Media Center Extender. You can't send it to another PC on your home network, for example. Blogger Chris Lanier followed up that report with his own, declaring that you also won't be able to put CableCard recordings on a portable video device, such as an iPod or a Zune. Ars Technica summed up the situation nicely in a post of its own, but we wanted a little more info directly from Microsoft. We just connected with Arvind Mishra, Microsoft's Senior Product Manager for Windows Media Center and he gave us the gist.

Mr. Mishra basically confirmed everything for us. Yes, you will be able to send CableCard recordings to only Media Center Extender devices, even if, as CE Pro asked, one of those devices should happen to come with a DVD burner. Further, old Media Center Extenders won't do the job because, according to Mr. Mishra, "they are not physically capable of handling Windows Vista's Media Center graphics layer, let alone rendering HD or digital cable recorded content." Your Xbox 360 can do all of those things. You can also wait and purchase a new, Vista-capable Extender when they're released (hopefully close to the time of Vista's consumer availability on January 30). Mr. Mishra also pointed out that both the newer Extenders and the Xbox 360 will be able to accept future updates, which might stave off obsolescence. "You can feel comfortable when you buy an Xbox 360 or a third-party extender device that its software can be updated with future versions of our product."

Mr. Mishra also backed up Chris Lanier's suggestion that you won't be able to transfer CableCard recordings to a Zune or any other portable video player. "The transfer to a portable device is not necessarily a technological limitation but more part of our agreement with CableLabs. Working with them, we hope to provide that support sometime in the future."

It's not like content providers' concerns about piracy are any secret, so none of the CableCard limitations should come as a surprise. We do have to wonder about the portable-device restrictions, though. As Ars Technica observed, most if not all of those portable video players have "no way to transfer video back off the device."