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ATI digital CableCard Tuners

AMD launched the ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner at CES yesterday. CableCARD …

AMD used the Consumer Electronics Show to announce the new ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner yesterday, which will officially be launched on January 30, the same day Vista ships. The ATI TV Wonder DCT is an external box with a single unidirectional CableCARD slot, a USB 2.0 port to connect it with a Media Center PC, and a coaxial cable input. Most importantly, it is the first PC device to support high-definition video from cable providers (it does not work with satellite or IPTV providers), meaning that Media Center PCs with the Digital Cable Tuner will be able to do away with their set-top boxes.

According to Matthew Kreiner of ATI TV Wonder product group, The ATI TV Wonder DCT has been under development for nearly five years, with Microsoft heavily involved in the development process. AMD's box is the first PC device to be certified by CableLabs to offer a CableCARD solution.

The new TV Wonder needs Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate to operate. In addition, it requires an OCUR (OpenCable Unidirectional Receiver) certified PC. Kreiner said that OCUR-enabled PCs must have an OCUR flag in the motherboard BIOS indicating that the system meets OCUR requirements.

AMD's Digital Cable Tuner will only be available from PC manufacturers, and then only with a new Vista PC. There are no plans for support on Windows XP, nor are there any plans to sell the Digital Cable Tuner as a standalone product. "CableLabs has to know about every single system manufactured, " Kreiner told me during a demo of the Digital Cable Tuner. "They require full encryption and content protection, which means it's bound to Windows Media Center."

The ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner plays beautifully with Vista

Users will also be able to stream video to the Xbox 360, which can act as a Media Center extender, but only if it's permitted by the content provider.

Almost a year ago, we predicted that once Windows finally supported CableCARD, DIY systems would be left out of the high-definition fun. It's bad news for media center enthusiasts and do-it-yourselfers who have spent a lot of time customizing their own systems. If you want "native" high-definition support via CableCARD, your only option will be a new PC from the likes of Dell, Toshiba, HP, and other OEMs. It also means that for the near future, AMD is the only game in town for high-definition cable television media center functionality.

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