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Microsoft inks cable deal for HDTV support

Pact with cable industry means PCs with Media Center features could display high-definition cable the 2006 holiday season.

Microsoft has finalized a deal with the cable industry that should pave the way for PCs to display high-definition cable TV by next year's holiday season, the company said Wednesday.

The pact, with the industry's technical arm, CableLabs, means that PCs with Microsoft's Media Center features will be able to display digital cable--both standard and high-definition flavors--without a set-top box. Microsoft has offered support for over-the-air HDTV since last fall, but the cable deal has taken some time.

"We have been working in earnest over the course of the past year with the cable industry to enable this scenario," said Ron Pessner, a senior director in Windows Client unit. "There are a number of pieces that needed to come together."

In addition to approving the technical workings of Microsoft's OS, CableLabs had to sign off on Microsoft digital rights management technology.

With the deal, PC makers will be able to include a slot for a small PC card, known as a CableCard, that eliminates the need for a separate set-top box. However, communication is only one way, so some features like pay-per-view and on-demand programming still require a set-top box.

With the approval, Microsoft plans to build support for CableCards into Windows Vista, the new version of Windows that is due out next year. The company has said that Media Center features will be part of some flavors of Vista, but it has not announced whether it will be a separate "Media Center Edition" as was the case with Windows XP.

Microsoft has already added support for high-definition content to the Xbox 360, which can act as a receiver, playing back content that is stored on a Media Center PC in another room.