Where are all the media center computers with digital cable tuners? Digital cable tuners (DCTs) were supposed to have ushered in a new era for media center PCs, allowing HD cable television to be watched on your computer. Unfortunately, reality has been less than exciting. VelocityMicro PC is the only viable vendor for purchasing such a computer system (with requisite two DCTs). HP is no longer selling Digital Cable Tuners and Dell, although offering the XPS 410 for reviewing, has not delivered a commercial product.
Digital cable tuners right now only support CableCard 1.0. Since early July, cable companies have started to roll out CableCard 2.0 with their set-top boxes. CableCard 2.0 is bi-directional, which is crucial as more cable companies start to implement switched digital video to free up bandwidth for more HD channels. CableCard 1.0 is made useless by switched digital video. In essence, as cable companies roll-out more HD channels, Digital Cable Tuners will become pointless since they are only certified for CableCard 1.0 (an upgrade path has not been made clear).
EngadgetHD recently had a great overview of the CableCard 2.0 issue:
Currently 3rd party CableCARD hosts can’t get certified by CableLabs for bi-directional uses, but it isn’t the hardware that is holding up the works, but the standard. The CEA and NCTA just can’t come to an agreement about what should be required for bi-directional certification. According to Mark, the reason is complicated, and his understanding is that it has a lot to do with OCAP… Until this happens, it means no VOD or SDV for CableCARD host devices — like the TiVo Series3.
Until digital cable tuners can handle CableCard 2.0, you are definitely living “on the edge” by purchasing a media center with DCTs. I think this is the main reason you have not seen more media centers with digital cable tuners from major OEMs like Dell and Gateway. Why would Dell want to go through the hassle of providing a product that might become obsolete? It seems like DCTs are a short term solution for media center fans.
In order to have Vista Media Center support CableCard 2.0, Microsoft would have to develop an OCAP Virtual Machine in Vista Media Center and then work with each cable company to get them to deploy their user interface. This is assuming that the OCAP platform can provide the same UI. Hopefully, the next version of Vista Media Center will begin to address some of these issues.