Microsoft fumbles the digital TV transition

With all its Media Center experience, you’d think that Microsoft would have sailed through the long-awaited transition to all-digital over-the-air TV broadcasts in the United States this past weekend. Instead, the company failed, in dramatic fashion. I've got details on what went wrong.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft’s Media Center program is nearly seven years old, and the version included with Windows 7 will be its fifth major revision. It’s one of the most polished features in the entire Windows family, especially in its support for multiple TV tuners: analog, basic cable, over-the-air digital (ATSC), satellite (in Europe and Japan), and CableCARD (in the United States).

With all that experience, you’d think that Microsoft would have sailed through the long-awaited transition to all-digital over-the-air TV broadcasts in the United States this past Friday. Instead, the company failed, in dramatic fashion.

It’s not like it caught the company by surprise. A Service Alert has been visible on the home menu page for Windows Vista Media Center users for the past two weeks or so:


Clicking through the multiple explanation screens produced a series of clear-sounding messages about what to expect in Media Center, depending on the type of tuners you were using. According to this screen, for anyone using an ATSC tuner there was “no additional action needed.”


That advice was wrong. Microsoft apparently forgot to plan for one of the side effects of the transition, in which some broadcasters changed broadcast channel numbers along with the switch.

I first noticed that something had gone wrong on Sunday, when I saw that a couple of shows on CBS and ABC had failed to record on Friday and Saturday, complaining that no signal was available. When I tried to tune in the channels manually, I got an error message instead of the programming I expected.

In postings over the weekend at The Green Button, the Microsoft-owned (but independently operated) community forums, I found other users complaining of the same issues. Media Center MVP Chris Lanier also noted the problem this morning.

There are workarounds for Windows Vista and Windows 7 that involve editing an XML file (in Windows Vista) and adding DTV channels manually (in Windows 7). Neither of the workarounds have worked for me.

If you’re a Media Center user, has this issue affected you? Leave a comment in the Talkback section below. I’ll be following up with Microsoft to see if I can understand what happened and when to expect a fix. If I hear from enough users, I'll put together a more detailed follow-up post.

Update: A vigorous discussion at The Green Button here along with some possible workarounds.

A pair (so far) of cryptic updates from Microsoft here. The most recent was posted by chrisboedy around 21 hours ago [typos and punctuation errors in original]:

All, our services are all running as expected, however there was an issue which is causing the new data feed with some of the updated frequencies not to process through. We are currently working to resolve this and I'll provide additional updates as I have them. I don't expect this will be difficult for us to resolve, however the at that point, it's just time waiting for the data to propagate to the front end servers for you all.

Expectation should be however that this will take ~24 hours to complete processing.

Additional input from GeekTonic and Ben Drawbaugh at EngadgetHD.

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