Media Center to Support 4 CableCards; New Extenders in the Works

Posted by sumeethevans on September 6 2007, 12:07 AM. Posted in Windows XP Media Center, Windows Vista.

Microsoft is taking Media Center to the next level, adding support for four CableCards and finally announcing partners for Media Center Extender (aka Pika).

Previously, Media Center could support only two CableCards, or omni-directional OpenCable Unidirectional Receivers (OCUR), which allow the PCs to play hi-def, protected content from the cable companies. Niveus Media and Exceptional Innovation are the first companies to offer support for four CableCard tuners. Niveus supports external tuners, while EI will build CableCard slots into its new LifeMedia servers.

“Before, it was a combination of technological and licensing issues,” that limited Media Centers to two CableCards, says Scott Evans, Microsoft program manager for eHome devices. Media Centers can distribute content to as many as five Media Center Extenders (currently Xbox 360s), so now four of those streams can be live HD cable.

New Extenders:

More big news: One of the Extenders in the EI demo is not an Xbox 360. That’s right, Microsoft is finally announcing partners who will deliver Extender alternatives to the Xbox 360. Known as Pika, the Media Center Extender technology will be embedded in products from two partners, although Microsoft is not naming the partners until Thursday.

In fact, the Pika partner in the EI demo is not being revealed, but Evans assures us it is not an Xbox in disguise. What has taken so long for third-party Extenders to come to market? The speculation has been that the Extender technology in the Xbox requires too much processing power to bring Pika to lower-cost devices.

The newer version operates at about 200 MHz and is “a really economical platform,” Evans says. Although the Xbox version of Extender is “ridiculously powerful,” he explains, “you can barely tell the difference” in performance between Xbox and the Pika products when used as Extenders.  One difference you can tell is that the new Extenders are a heck of a lot quieter than the Xbox.

Evans says that the rollout of Pika will be gradual. “At first, we’ll have a limited number of partners,” he says. “In the future there will be more choice.” Ditto for the quad-OCUR solution. Right now, EI and Niveus are the only partners to be announced.

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