DirecTV's HD tuner set to debut with Windows 7?

DirecTV's HD tuner set to debut with Windows 7?

Summary: DirecTV's HD tuner for Media Center PCs, first announced at CES three years ago, has achieved the same notoriety as Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster. The occasional sighting is always enshrouded in fog and mystery, and no one has ever reported spotting one of these mythical creatures in the wild. But while poking around in the pre-beta build of Windows 7, I found a signed driver for this device. Does this discovery mean this mythical creature will make its debut with Windows 7 next year?

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Way back at CES 2006, DirecTV announced that it was working with Microsoft to produce a tuner that would connect directly to a Media Center PC. The result would be the ability, in theory, to capture all of DirecTV’s satellite programming, including HD, and then view and manage it with the Media Center interface.

In nearly three full years since then, the DirecTV tuner has achieved the same notoriety as Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster. The occasional sighting is always enshrouded in fog and mystery. In January 2008, a product brochure appeared, and some people got invitations to test the new HDPC-20. But no one ever reported spotting one of these mythical creatures in the wild. In fact, as recently as September I had pretty much written the whole project off:

DirecTV "announced" its plans to support Media Center at CES in January 2006. It was pure vaporware. And DirecTV never announced the HDPC-20. A third party leaked scans of a product brochure, and some folks on the Fiji beta got paperwork that mentioned that name.

All on paper, no actual tests.

So imagine my surprise when I found a signed driver for this device in the pre-beta build of Windows 7 distributed at PDC. Here, see for yourself:

Drivers for DirecTV HDPC-20 tuner are in beta builds of Windows 7 

It’s the latest piece of evidence that suggests maybe this long-delayed device will actually appear sometime next year.

DirecTV support was supposed to have been included in the Windows Media Center TV Pack (previously codenamed “Fiji”). But when Microsoft shipped the TV Pack, Product Marketing Manager Ben Reed formally acknowledged that the update “does not include native support for subscription-based satellite tuners or the H.264 video standard.” Indeed, when I just looked at the driver store for a Vista machine with the TV Pack installed, I found no trace of this driver. Someone at Microsoft decided that this code deserves to be included in Windows 7.

When Microsoft announced that neither of these features would be included with the TV Pack, cynics figured that both were dead. One commenter, in fact, was adamant that this was Evil Microsoft up to its old tricks:

H.264 has been a codified standard for years. MS didn't put in support for it because it isn't WMV. Period.

But those missing features were apparently just delayed, not abandoned. As Microsoft’s Charlie Owen noted last week in his excellent guided tour of the new Windows 7 Media Center:

H.264 playback is now supported out of the box with Windows 7 -- including on Media Center Extenders – both standalone hardware implementations AND on the XBox 360 when in Extender mode.

H.264 support is a prerequisite for full satellite support, both here in the U.S. and overseas. The presence of a signed driver in this beta build suggests that DirecTV'shardware is ready to go – or at least ready to test. That’s excellent news for digital media enthusiasts looking for an alternative to CableCARD tuners, which have a well-deserved reputation for being flaky and expensive.

Satellite subscribers outside the United States have even more to look forward to, I suspect. Most of the work that went into the TV Pack was specifically designed to improve support for technologies that were neglected in previous Media Center releases: ISDB-T and BML in Japan; DVB-S, DVB-T, and MHEG-5 in Europe.

Microsoft has announced plans to release an official beta of Windows 7 "early next year." I expect Microsoft to make a big splash with Windows 7 at next year's Consumer Electronics Show. Will DirecTV finally make up for its embarrassingly premature announcement by unveiling its HDPC-20 tuner there? Stay tuned...

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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38 comments
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  • DTV HD DVRs suck on their own ....

    ... using a Windows based box will only make it WORST.

    They need to return to TiVo and give users a generic way to legal get copy of the recordings to any PC/Mac/*nix regardless of the OS.
    wackoae
    • Uh, why?

      The Media Center interface is many times better than the TiVo interface, in my opinion. What this hardware would do is provide a decrypted signal to Media Center, which would then use its own guide, management tools, and playback infrastructure. You would not have to deal with a single trace of the miserable DTV DVR.

      Have you ever used Media Center?
      Ed Bott
      • Yes I have ....

        ... Have you used a TiVo??

        I doubt since you actually think that MC has a better interface.

        TiVo is not perfect, but I had more problems getting MC to do what I actually want/need it to do that I ever had with the TiVo. In fact, even getting it to play a DVD was a pain .... and it still doesn't work. And let's not talk about it not being able to play BluRays .... (not that the TiVo can either).
        wackoae
        • Hilarious!

          You had problems setting up a Media Center. Fine. That has nothing to do with the interface. FWIW, when I want to play a DVD, I put it in the drive and it starts playing. Not sure what your problem is.

          And this part is pure comedy gold:

          "And let's not talk about it not being able to play BluRays .... (not that the TiVo can either). "

          Yes, you can install any of at least three third-party programs that allow a Media Center PC to play Blu-Ray disks. And how many Blupray plugins are there for TiVo?
          Ed Bott
          • Why should I have to pay for a plugin ...

            ... when I paid a premium for the stupid MC??

            If you like to pay $100 for PowerDVD (which sucks at playing at 1080i/p or even 720p) or WinDVD 9+, it's your money.

            About the interface, it is ascetically better looking (ie: nicer to the eye), but not functionally better. I prefer functionality to slow beauty any time of the day.
            wackoae
          • Opinions are like ...

            Well, you know.

            Meanwhile, any Blu-ray drive you buy for a PC includes playback software. So no, you don;t have to pay $100.

            And tell me that TiVo is functionally better at music or pictures. Please speak loud, because I'll have trouble hearing you over the laughter.
            Ed Bott
          • Ever actually purchased one???

            They include software that won't play @ HD resolutions.

            PowerDVD was included with my LG-BR player (PC) and the video/audio quality SUCKS. Hook it up to my 46" Samsung w/ HDMI and it won't play at even 720p. It plays OK @ lower monitor resolutions, but it flickers at 720p and won't stay full screen. And the sound is horrible via HDMI (worst) or the 8-chan sound card (a little better, but volume is low). And yes ... it is up-to-date on updates.

            So if you want to play BR in real HD resolutions you have to pay for the full version of the software. The OEM version is not worth the installation time.
            wackoae
          • Amazing...

            How you can conclude that based on a single purchase.

            Have you read the reviews of different Blu-ray drives at Amazon? I have. Lots of people have made bundled software work.

            I've had plenty of experience with Blu-ray. In most cases any problems I experienced were related to a combination of drivers and hardware and playback software.

            Many of those problems have been resolved in the past year bjust by the ecosystem growing up.

            Anyway, what does this have to do with DirecTV, or for that matter TiVo?
            Ed Bott
          • Re: wackoae

            First, the software that comes bundled with the Bluray drive does play 1080P content. In the case of PowerDVD they only limit some of the audio options.

            Second, playing a DVD in MCE only requires you to insert it into the drive. If you can't handle that you can't run a Tivo.

            Third, the DirecTV HD DVRs are reasonable enough. They may not do everything a Tivo does but they handle the core DVR functionality well enough.

            Fourth, Those of us that actually have DirecTV and MCE hooked to a HDTV have been waiting for this for years and are ecstatic it is here. We are not going to allow one propeller head to spoil that day.
            ShadeTree
        • My Tivos are all in the closet...

          Like the subject says: Been there, done that, moved on.

          It's precisely this sort of cheerleader mentality that
          keeps Tivo from moving forward. It could be so much more
          than it is now. Instead of suing other companies over
          questionable patents, Tivo should be improving their product.

          They should do some of the things that all of their other
          competitors have been doing.

          Now that GUI may look good when compared to the sort of
          cableco DVR that inspired the creation of MythTV but
          it won't stand up to MythTV, MCE or Sage.

          Once the family got used to MythTV, they didn't care for
          the allegedly superior interface of Tivo anymore.

          Tivo is still stuck in 1998. Time to crawl into the 21st
          century and at least get some network transparency.
          hulse_kevin
  • SDV Tuning Adapter Support?

    Ed,

    For CableCard based systems, is there any sign of support for the tuning adapter for SDV (switched digital video)?
    rickhuizinga
    • No

      But SDV is pure hardware, as far as I can tell. So there would be no sign of it in the Windows code.
      Ed Bott
  • More DRM

    More daconian DRM. Or will this be DRM squared.
    gertruded
    • Yawn...

      And this is different from a traditional DirecTV decoder box in what way?
      Ed Bott
  • RE: DirecTV???s HD tuner set to debut with Windows 7?

    I am hoping this will finally see the light of day. Then I have one share DVR for the whole house with the entire list of programs. Also it will lower my DirecTV bill by 10-20 by removing additional boxes. I just hope I have the option of 4 DirecTV tuners, although I suppose 2 OTA and 2 DirecTV will work most of the time. Thanks for the find.
    hoyty
    • The problem is ....

      ... the cards will only be available from DirecTV and they will probably cahrge the same rent for them as the set top box.
      ShadeTree
  • I talk about the lack of BluRay support ... you went on a rant.

    Ask and you are told.
    wackoae
    • BTW. my experience is not unique

      Check the web. My experience is pretty much the same as others. The only people who give good reviews don't own HDTVs and watch BR on a monitor @ monitor resolutions.
      wackoae
    • I went on a rant?

      Funny, coming from someone with the handle "WackoAE."

      Anyway, I repeat, Blu-ray has nothing to do with the subject of this post.
      Ed Bott
      • Figure that would at least get a laugh

        NT
        wackoae