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November 16, 2005

Microsoft, Cable Industry Agree On Cable-Ready PCs

Courtesy of TechWeb News

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Microsoft Corp. and Cable Television Laboratories Inc., a cable industry consortium, said Wednesday they have reached an agreement that's expected to lead to Windows Media Center-based PCs that are digital-cable ready.

As a result of the deal, cable programming could be fed directly into a PC, eliminating the need for a set-top box. Such consolidation in technology is another step toward Microsoft's vision of the PC as a home entertainment hub.

Expected by next year's holiday shopping season, the new Media Center PCs would ship with the consortium's CableCard, a hardware module that enable a device to decode encrypted, or scrambled, content delivered from the cable operator. As a result, the PC would be capable of playing high-definition and other cable programs, or sending the signal to another network-connected device. Microsoft's new Xbox 360 is an example of such a device.

Cable Television Laboratories, or CableLabs, is a non-profit research and development consortium founded by cable operators in 1988. The group has developed hardware and software specifications under the OpenCable project that enable manufacturers to build retail devices capable of supporting multiple cable networks.

Today, such devices are primarily limited to cable-ready TVs. Digital video recorders and less-advanced set-top boxes are sold by the cable operator.

Consumers, however, are increasingly demanding that cable programming play on more retail devices, such as PCs, so the cable industry is moving in that direction by delivering a standard platform to hardware manufacturers.

"It's a business necessity," Don Dulchinos, senior vice president of advanced platforms for CableLabs, said. "It's what the customer wants, and you have to serve the customer."

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