Build Your Own Windows Vista MCE CableCARD Certified PC


origenae s210I think I figured out a way to build your own CableCARD Certified Windows Vista MCE PC. It’s actually a fairly straightforward concept. The only part of the equation that will take getting used to is accepting the fact that you’ll have to buy a barebones, certified by CableLabs, CableCARD ready Viiv/Vista MCE PC from an OEM (i.e. Dell, Gateway, HP), which no doubt will become a commodity not to long after these types of PCs start hitting the market.

So, here’s how I envision it:
Shop for a barebones PC with the hardware specs you know will provide the best foundation for your new rig, bring it home and transplant the components (assuming that the PC is built with standard sized components – stay away from custom form factor PCs) to your enclosure of choice, and then add any additional hardware to customize it to your liking (memory, extra hard drives, RAID controller, TV tuner cards, etc.). Just make sure you use Supports Intel Viiv labeled PC components and you shouldn’t have any problems, other than invalidating your warranty with the OEM and possibly breaking the Intel Viiv/Windows Vista/CableLabs license. But hey, if you’ve gone this far, it’s really not that big of a concern to you is it?

Let’s just hope the CableLabs doesn’t get wise to this workaround and implement an even uglier hardware protection scheme to prohibit people from doing this.

Note: CableLabs requires that an OEM submit the whole PC for review before it can become certified as a “CableCARD Ready PC.” On top of that, licensing CableCARD technology for PCs is extremely expensive for most companies wanting to get certified.

UPDATE (3/3): More concrete details on Vista MCE and “Digital Cable Ready” PCs from a Microsoft VP – MUST READ.





Filed in: Entertainment PCs


  • http://www.msmvps.com/chrisl/ ChrisL01

    This isn’t a workaround as your trying to put it. CableLabs wouldn’t have to wise up to it, they would have to know that’s whats being done before certifying it (if the whole PC has to be certified). Trust me, there are not to many “loopholes” in the contract one will sign with CableLabs. If someone tries to “sneak” it by CableLabs, I would bet that there is a rather large fine. ;)

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    ChrisL01 said: CableLabs wouldn’t have to wise up to it, they would have to know that’s whats being done before certifying it (if the whole PC has to be certified). Trust me, there are not to many “loopholes” in the contract one will sign with CableLabs. If someone tries to “sneak” it by CableLabs, I would bet that’s a rather large fine. ;)

    Huh? The PC is already built and certified as a CableCARD ready PC for sale on the market. CableLabs can’t do squat once the PC reaches the customer’s hands. What side are you on?

  • http://www.msmvps.com/chrisl/ ChrisL01

    Hang on there, what I’m saying is this… (and only applies if CableLabs must certify the OEM PCs)

    CableLabs set the terms that the OEM must agree to before there PC’s would even be tested. Once they agree, they would pay all of the needed fees (Verification, Practice Run, Lab Use, Etc) If that OEM doesn’t agree to them, they don’t get tested at all and the PC can’t come to the market. If the OEM breaks the contract, legal actions would be taken by CableLabs and the selling of the PCs would be stopped. You can bet if it costs near $150,000 to certifiy a CableCARD device (part of that is $20,000 annually for Device Certificates Hosts) then there would be a rather large fine for breaking the legal agreement.

    I’m all for CableCARD on any PC, but the way your trying to say this could “workaround” CableLabs knowledge is incorrect. They are not going to need to “get wise” about, it’s already going to be defined. Just a single one of the license agreements from CableLabs is 43 pages long. It says things like “CableLabs may terminate the licenses granted hereunder for any specific model of Unidirectional Digital Cable Product that, at the time of manufacture, is in material breach of the Robustness Rules, the Compliance Rules…” and “…the limitation of liability amount set forth above shall be replaced with a limitation of $1,000,000 if the liability giving rise to the claim for damages arises out of Licensee’s willful and bad faith material breach of the Compliance Rules, the Robustness Rules…”

    Now, tell me that someone is going to try and go behind the back of CableLabs with a (possible) $1,000,000 liability claim over their head? My guess is no, would you if you were an OEM? I didn’t think so.

    Chris

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    ChrisL01 said: I’m all for CableCARD on any PC, but the way your trying to say this could “workaround” CableLabs knowledge is incorrect. They are not going to need to “get wise” about, it’s already going to be defined. Just a single one of the license agreements from CableLabs is 43 pages long. It says things like “CableLabs may terminate the licenses granted hereunder for any specific model of Unidirectional Digital Cable Product that, at the time of manufacture, is in material breach of the Robustness Rules, the Compliance Rules…” and “…the limitation of liability amount set forth above shall be replaced with a limitation of $1,000,000 if the liability giving rise to the claim for damages arises out of Licensee’s willful and bad faith material breach of the Compliance Rules, the Robustness Rules…”

    Now, tell me that someone is going to try and go behind the back of CableLabs with a (possible) $1,000,000 liability claim over their head? My guess is no, would you if you were an OEM? I didn’t think so.

    Chris

    Your argument is absurd and misdirected. What’s being suggested is taking place after the product has left the hands of the PC maker. Unless you are suggesting the OEM be held responsible for what happens to their computers after the fact. If you are, that’s never going to happen.

    Quick question so we can understand where you are coming from: How do you feel about PC owners buying Viiv/Vista PCs and modding them for their own purposes?

  • http://www.msmvps.com/chrisl/ ChrisL01

    Alexander, I think we are getting confused here. Let me run this down. You alluded to the fact that a OEM could get CableLabs to certify a barebones PC, and then said that you hope CableLabs didn’t catch on and change the scheme of their program, correct? I’m saying that there would be nothing for CableLabs to (as you put it) “wise” up to. CableLabs is going to have to know if the PC is going to be sold that like (barebones). If the CableLabs agreements says that’s okay, everything fine. However, the way you put it, alluding to the fact that it might not be okay with CableLabs and the OEM does it anyway (selling barebones against the agreement), then there would be a problem for the barebones seller.

    I don’t think you’re reading what I’m writing correctly, or you don’t understand the process/power in which CableLabs has in a certified PC.

    I could care less what people do with the PCs, that’s not the point I’m making. I’m making the point that the way you’re trying to put it in your post, is not how it will work. If defined by CableLabs, that’s the way it’s going to be. If CableLabs doesn’t define anything about “barebones” systems, there is nothing for them to “wise” up too! :)

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    ChrisL01 said:  However, the way you put it, alluding to the fact that it might not be okay with CableLabs and the OEM does it anyway (selling barebones against the agreement), then there would be a problem for the barebones seller.

    I don’t think you’re reading what I’m writing correctly, or you don’t understand the process/power in which CableLabs has in a certified PC.

    You just admitted to misunderstanding what I was saying. That’s a step forward. Honestly, the PC could be barebones CableCARD ready PC or it could be a no-frills, off-the-shelf CableCARD ready PC. Either way, I’m suggesting you can take the components from that CableLabs certified PC you bought, and use those pieces as the foundation to your dream system as described in the original post.

  • http://www.msmvps.com/chrisl/ ChrisL01

    Okay, I was under the impression from this statement “Let’s just hope the CableLabs doesn’t get wise to this workaround and implement an even uglier hardware protection scheme to prohibit people from doing this” that you didn’t understand the process in which a PC would be certified. If that’s not exactly what you mean, I would be wrong. However, from reading it, that’s the way it sounds. :)

    There would be nothing wrong with buying a PC and switch cases (and maybe hardware, depending on the hardware). However thinking CableLabs would need to wise up to barebones being purchasing wouldn’t be an issue since they would alreay know they were being sold. A case isn’t going to be defined by CableLabs. :D

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    I’m blinded by your constant smiley faces.

    I have no clue how CableLabs would respond to learning that a large portion of DIY builders are stripping components from certified PCs and creating modded PCs that they never sanctioned. Hopefully they won’t do anything drastic like only allowing OEMs to purchase CableCARD PC cards and take CableCARD replacement/upgrade products off the shelf.

  • Visuaguy

    Am I missing the point here?
    I thought cablelabs was to certify the cablecard tuner only, and after that I can use it to my linking on my new media center enabled laptop or whatever!
    you mean cablelabs is going to certify the whole thing before it becomes usable?
    sad one for ms than because the whole digital tv in vista thing will not come off the ground then. (we need cablecards and All DVB certificates in europe to even whatch digital tv. no free to air here)

  • Zonkers

    I’m not sure if this will help…

    I read recently on HTPCNews.com, ECS will be the first to release a VIIV compliant motherboard that will support all the additional features OEM’s will be utilizing for VIIV & Vista:

    http://htpcnews.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=20676

    This might be the start of a better alternative, instead of putting down money for a barebones machine.

    Just my 2 cents. :)

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    Zonkers said: I’m not sure if this will help…

    I read recently on HTPCNews.com, ECS will be the first to release a VIIV compliant motherboard that will support all the additional features OEM’s will be utilizing for VIIV & Vista:

    http://htpcnews.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=20676

    This might be the start of a better alternative, instead of putting down money for a barebones machine.

    Just my 2 cents. :)

    I wish it was as easy as that, or in other words, as easy as it has been in the past. The problem is that CableLabs requires that the whole PC be reviewed and certified by the group before it can sold as a “CableCARD Ready PC.”

    See:

  • Zonkers

    Certification will only be required by Vista MCE correct? Is there any chance (on the grapevine) that we will have some other software like MythTV, etc be able to step up and circumvent this validation for certification for a non MCE version of Vista?

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    It’s a packed deal. If you want CableCARD functionality, you have to buy a certified by CableLabs PC. CableLabs is very particular on how the system must be configured by the OEM. However, it looks like third-party PVR developers will be able to leverage the system (including CableCARD) to their benefit. This can be accomplished by hooks that Microsoft has put in place inside Vista that gives developers the proper keys to access the secured audio and video paths of the system. I’m sure Chris Lanier (forum member: ChrisL01) can elaborate more on this. Sit tight, I’m sure he will be happy to respond when he comes back online.

  • Zonkers

    Thanks for the information Alexander. Let’s hope that the PVR developers see the potential for this and don’t get stiffled, creatively, by the likes of Hollywood.

  • http://www.msmvps.com/chrisl/ ChrisL01

    Zonkers said: Certification will only be required by Vista MCE correct? Is there any chance (on the grapevine) that we will have some other software like MythTV, etc be able to step up and circumvent this validation for certification for a non MCE version of Vista?

    You’re not going to be able just setup a Linux box with Myth download some hacked drivers for the ATI CableCARD device and be off. It’s going to require Myth/Linux getting together with CableLabs. Something like Myth on Linux is going to be interesting. CableLabs defines the specs that the hardware/software must meet, if the Myth guys can meet that, they have a good shot at getting CableCARD in Myth. However, at the stage Linux is as an OS I don’t see it happening right now. A protected environment of sorts would be need since the content can’t touch a user accessible bus in non-encrypted or compressed form. HDCP and Constrained Image requirments also apply, both of which Linux doesn’t do at this point. There are several others things that must be done, it’s not an easy process.

    Microsoft hasn’t said if third party Windows programs will be able to interface with CableCARDs, but there is a very good change they will be able just as third parties can make use of WMRM, DirectShow, etc.

    We have also yet to see what the exact process would be for OEMs wanting to get their PC certified by CableCARDs, or if just the CableCARD device will need to. Jim Allchin says one thing, ATI says another. We will see later this year all the exact details.

    Chris

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    I think Zonkers was referring to third-party PVR apps (Sage TV, Meedio, Beyond TV 4, etc.) running on Windows Vista only, not Linux. Yeah… Linux would definitely be shut out from any kind of CableCARD access if you where to install the OS on another hard drive on your system.

  • Zonkers

    Thanks for more info on this Chris. I’ve been playing a waiting game for too long and it looks like i’m going to have to wait a little longer, before making the big investment into an all encompassing HTPC. On the other hand, up here in the great white north, our monopolies tend to be very slow (not to mention the governing body), so i might not even see anything close to CableCARD or the likes. I might just dive in to the VIIV hardware just for the ability of quick power on and off using MCE.

    One last question…my other option is still OTA and a set top box in the future. I’m assuming that the cable companies aren’t just going to go solely with CableCARD’s or the equivelant?
    PS: Well, i was thinking of both linux/myth (which was kindly answered by Chris) and vista/MCE/meedia/beyondTV/etc (which Alexander pointed out).

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    Zonkers said: PS: Well, i was thinking of both linux/myth (which was kindly answered by Chris) and vista/MCE/meedia/beyondTV/etc (which Alexander pointed out).

    Whoops! I’m looking at 10 things at once. Sorry.

  • dbfresh23

    I must say that I’m pretty surprised that people haven’t tried to politicize this, that I’ve heard anyway. We are always hearing about how it’s the little mom and pop shops that make America, be it true or not. We always hear President Bush saying stuff like that in his speeches. Well this is going to hurt a whole lot of those little moms and pops. It’s time that our elected officials step up and do something to help US for a change. I believe that Cable Labs has stepped over the line on this one. I can see certifying individual components such as graphics cards, sound cards and the tuners, but fail to see the need to certify an entire system.

    If the DIY market is truly cut out of the Vista MCE market then I hardly see any reason to bring cablecard to the PC. Does MS really think that most people with an MCE system in their living room already are using Dells or HPs? If so I believe they are sadly mistaken. Sure Dell and HP may have reported a good number of sales of MCE systems, but now ask them how many of them they sold with TV tuners or how many of their customers are even using the MCE application, my guess would be around 10-20%.

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    dbfresh23 said: I must say that I’m pretty surprised that people haven’t tried to politicize this, that I’ve heard anyway. We are always hearing about how it’s the little mom and pop shops that make America, be it true or not. We always hear President Bush saying stuff like that in his speeches. Well this is going to hurt a whole lot of those little moms and pops. It’s time that our elected officials step up and do something to help US for a change. I believe that Cable Labs has stepped over the line on this one. I can see certifying individual components such as graphics cards, sound cards and the tuners, but fail to see the need to certify an entire system.

    If the DIY market is truly cut out of the Vista MCE market then I hardly see any reason to bring cablecard to the PC.

    Preach on, Brother!

    I have heard, however, that Microsoft is negotiating to bring the certification prices down for smaller OEMs to stay competitive. Hopefully that will play out. But for the DIY crowd, I think we’re out of luck on building our own CableCARD ready PC from scratch.

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    More concrete details on Vista MCE and “Digital Cable Ready” PCs from a Microsoft VP – MUST READ.

  • joshbish

    Alexander Grundner said: More concrete details on Vista MCE and “Digital Cable Ready” PCs from a Microsoft VP – MUST READ.

    (sorry, I’m about a month late on my reply)

    So, this is great news, correct? Obviously, not the BEST news, because what would be that the OCCUR devices would be available for retail sale without the need of a PC being “certified”. But at least now we can buy the cheapest possible system that includes an OCCUR device from Dell or whoever and then we can take the OCCUR device and use it with any other Vista machine. Am I reading that correctly?

  • dbfresh23

    joshbish said: (sorry, I’m about a month late on my reply)

    So, this is great news, correct? Obviously, not the BEST news, because what would be that the OCCUR devices would be available for retail sale without the need of a PC being “certified”. But at least now we can buy the cheapest possible system that includes an OCCUR device from Dell or whoever and then we can take the OCCUR device and use it with any other Vista machine. Am I reading that correctly?

    There is very little good news involved in cable card coming to the PC. About the only good news is that it will be available in some form.

    From what I understand your idea is very incorrect. You will not be able to just pull the OCUR device and move it to another Vista PC – that hasn’t been CableLabs certified. From what I have heard there will either be something in place (hardware or software) that indicates to windows that the PC is certified or the cable companies will simply refuse to activate the card for the machine.

    Those cheapo Dells are exactly why the DIY market wants to build their own. For little more then the cost of those cheap Dells, I can build something that would compete with their higher end machines. You can look at being able to buy one of those cheap Dells as a good thing if you don’t already own an HTPC I guess, but for those of us that have already spent a ton of money on an HTPC it’s hardly ideal.

    From what I have heard, ATI does plan on releasing retail packaged cablecard tuners. These would most likely be only for adding additional tuners to certified machines, unless there are some drastic changes that allow us to build our own.

  • joshbish

    dbfresh23 said: There is very little good news involved in cable card coming to the PC. About the only good news is that it will be available in some form.

    agreed.

    dbfresh23 said: From what I understand your idea is very incorrect. You will not be able to just pull the OCUR device and move it to another Vista PC – that hasn’t been CableLabs certified. From what I have heard there will either be something in place (hardware or software) that indicates to windows that the PC is certified or the cable companies will simply refuse to activate the card for the machine.

    From the article it really seems like “self-certify” is just the OEM reassuring CableLabs in writing that their system meets the requirements. Unless CableLabs requires some type of hardware “key” that is given to each OEM — understanding the time and money involved in that, I would guess that is not the case. I could see a type of software “key” that is built into Vista that has to be “enbaled”. But, just from this article it doesn’t appear that there is going to be any hardware or software built into the system that communicates with the OCCUR device to let it know that the system is “okay”. Of course this article is not the Bible on this issue.

    dbfresh23 said: Those cheapo Dells are exactly why the DIY market wants to build their own. For little more then the cost of those cheap Dells, I can build something that would compete with their higher end machines. You can look at being able to buy one of those cheap Dells as a good thing if you don’t already own an HTPC I guess, but for those of us that have already spent a ton of money on an HTPC it’s hardly ideal.

    Of course the best option isn’t to waste $500 on a cheapo Dell just for the OCCUR device, but honestly it’s something I would do if I thought that was the only way I could get cablecard into my home grown kick a$$ HTPC (I wasn’t saying I’d use the Dell as my HTPC). And on top of that, if you could possibly just move the OCCUR device from the “certified” PC to any other PC, then that would open up the door for buying those devices separately.

    dbfresh23 said: From what I have heard, ATI does plan on releasing retail packaged cablecard tuners. These would most likely be only for adding additional tuners to certified machines, unless there are some drastic changes that allow us to build our own.

    I have read the same thing. It seems strange though that they would open these up to the consumer retail market just to satisfy multistreaming when this will eventually be solved with one device. I don’t know, maybe that’s not strange.