Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Consumers Must Force Change in the Cable Industry

Starting in February, a sea change is coming to your living room. The major computer manufacturers are preparing an onslaught of new systems running Windows Vista that are meant to take that dusty place on your entertainment center away from your existing DVR. Dell is already offering Media Center options with most new models (with Express upgrades to Vista Home Premium), and will be adding Digital Cable Receivers (aka OpenCable Receivers) to that lineup soon.

But there is one thing that is significantly holding that sea change back is, you guessed it, your cable company. You see, Digital Cable Receivers use CableCARDs to decrypt the cable signal. This process requires a decryption key that is unique to each CableCARD. Windows Vista will store that key, and use it to DRM-enable your recorded content. Among other things, this means that you won't be able to A) edit the commercials out of your shows, and B) you won't be able to view the shows on other computers in your own network.

But the cable companies don't just want to keep your content locked down in Windows Vista. When I went to CES last year, I asked someone from Scientific Atlanta, the major cable box manufacturer that was acquired by Cisco, when they were going to enable network connectivity on their DVRs. There response was "We will never allow people to get content off their DVR through any method other than their television." When I asked why, the representative said "Because that's not what our consumers want."

Now, if anyone has their pulse on the American consumer, I'm sure it's the cable companies. Yeah, I'm sorry, I can't even be sarcastic there. Cable companies don't have a frickin clue what we want. They just want to prolong their business model for as long as possible. That's why they tried to block the FCC's decision to mandate CableCARDs, and lost.

Do you honestly think the cable companies are looking out for your interests as a consumer?

So, when your DVR breaks, do you want to be able to move your content to your new DVR? Do you want to be able to use your existing DVR as a Windows Media Center Extender? Do you want to be able to get on-demand digital programming on your Media Center? Then contact your cable companies and cable-box manufacturers, and let them know. And call your elected representatives, and let them know that they need to hold the cable companies feet to the fire, otherwise they'll keep delaying the mandatory CableCARD rules as long as they can. 

Cable Companies:
Time Warner Cable
Cox Communications

Set-top Box Manufacturers:
Motorola (Comcast)
Scientific Atlanta (Time Warner Cable & Cox)

And if they don't listen, let the power of free markets speak for you, and buy a Media Center computer instead of your cable company's STB. I'll be at CES 2007 this year, and I've made it my mission to get answers to these questions while I'm there.



  • Josh said:

    I totally agree.  My other big annoyance in how things work today is that I can't use the "on demand" system that my cable operator has from my Media center box.  

    November 20, 2006 7:51 AM
  • Dan said:

    My biggest problem with the cable industry is the monopolies they hold across the nation in each state. Here in Wisconsin, we only have Time Warner, and the prices are quite high, even for basic cable. Ive heard when Comcast or another company enters a Time Warner only state, Time Warner's prices immediately drop almost 45%... that would be nice.

    November 20, 2006 10:44 AM
  • cannedsoda said:

    What about DishTV and DirectTV?

    November 20, 2006 1:04 PM
  • Scott said:

    I agree!

    Don't forget Paul Allen's own Charter Communications -

    November 20, 2006 1:14 PM
  • The whole cable industry is annoying. It is too bad that the arrival of HDTV means that the door may be closing for people like us that setup their own Media Center or other devices. I am hanging on to my analog connection as long as I can. The cable company keeps wanting to switch me over to Digital. As it stands if I switch most of my equipment will no longer work properly. (Their switch will filter out the analog coming to my house)

    The cable companies have one goal in mind - lock consumers in so they can maintain their profit model. It is not a free market either. Most cities in the USA have deals with the cable companies so they are the only game in town. Many times you have no choice but to get it from one provider or another. Even worse is in apartment complexes - You are forced into one cable provider with no hope of using satellite.

    Steve Wiseman

    November 20, 2006 7:53 PM
  • Steve said:

    I agree.  I live in the New York and Cablevision holds control of the market.

    November 24, 2006 2:11 PM