: TV Pack 2008 for Vista, ATSC, and Canada
2008-09-05, 10:22 AM
Now that TV Pack 2008 for Vista Media Center has been announced at CEDIA, I'm free to discuss. I've written a fair amount on the subject on my blog, and am somewhat torn as to how to best share that information with the active Canadian HTPC community here on DHC.
I think I'll post the content in the following messages, and provide a link back to the original blog so that you can get access to links in the message if you so choose. Mods, let me know if this was the wrong decision.
2008-09-05, 10:23 AM
For those of you who obtained "early access" to TV Pack 2008 for Windows Vista aka Fiji, you may have noticed that my previously published hack to enable ATSC in Canada no longer works. I've spent a significant amount of time working on this problem, both from the technical angle and via my contacts at Microsoft to see what could be done about it.
Here's the bottom line: ATSC will not work in Canada with TV Pack 2008 for Windows Vista.
In the past, Media Center would check at setup time for the capabilities of your region and write out these values to the registry accordingly. I leveraged this mechanism to "fool" Media Center into thinking that it was capable of tuning in ATSC in Canada. Of course it doesn't take much fooling since ATSC in Canada and the US work exactly the same and there is no technical reason why it shouldn't "just work". But I digress...
With TV Pack 2008, the capabilities for your region are re-checked every time you download a guide update. Not only are the capabilities updated every day, but they're no longer stored in the registry and are instead stored in the common MCE database along with the guide and other key data. As you can probably guess, the capabilities for Canada are set to ATSC = false. The good news about this new method is that theoretically Microsoft could choose to enable ATSC capabilities at any time (although I have no reason to believe that this will be the case). The bad news is that it makes hacking the capability in before they choose to officially support it becomes very difficult, or at least beyond my technical capabilities.
So what would I recommend?
•For anyone using MCE in Vista right now with the ATSC hack, steer clear of TV Pack 2008.
•For anyone with a few programming skills, I suggest the following as the next areas of investigation:
◦Figure out the database format that is being used and write a service to overwrite the capabilities on a daily basis
◦Figure out a way to proxy the guide updates and flip the ATSC capability bit from "false" to "true"
As for how this makes you feel about Microsoft's commitment to Canada, I'll post a separate blog entry on that. What I can say is that I am 100% sure that nobody at Microsoft went out of their way to actively break ATSC in Canada. Breaking the hack was very much an unintentional consequence of what appears to be an otherwise sound design change to the way that Media Center handles setup. However there is clearly a business decision that was made to not support ATSC in Canada despite the relative technical ease of making that happen. Given that like the US, Canada is shutting down analog broadcast toute suite in favour of ATSC one has to wonder why this feature request has languished for so long.
Original blog entry at http://thegreenbutton.com/blogs/pnear/archive/2008/09/04/290816.aspx
2008-09-05, 10:24 AM
When it comes to Media Center in Canada, Microsoft just doesn't seem to get it.
While I can't seem to locate much in the way of statistics on the subject, I would suggest based on community participation that Canadians have adopted Media Center in comparatively significant numbers despite being practically ignored as a customer group since the product's initial launch. Let's look at the track record:
February 2002 - Media Center launches in the US, Canada, and Korea supporting standard-definition antenna and cable.
October 2005 - Media Center 2005 UR2 launches and introduces high-definition ATSC for the USA and Korea (but not Canada).
July 2005 - Users in Canada hack MCE 2005 to allow ATSC reception in Canada
January 2007 - Vista Media Center launches, with most of the Online Spotlight content disabled in Canada. I publish a new hack to get ATSC working in Canada.
March 2007 - Media Center users in Canada report en masse that misapplied copy protection flags render the MCE PVR useless in many Canadian markets. This remains unfixed.
September 2008 - TV Pack for Media Center launches with significant new TV features and international TV format coverage, except Canada. TV Pack breaks previous hacks that allow HDTV to work in Canada, and plugs the hole that made them possible.
Now I don't believe that anyone has malicious intent here, it's just that Media Center is lacking in focus with respect to Canada. Rather than compare the attention that the US has gotten in Media Center to Canada, I think a more appropriate case study would be Korea. Why, one might ask, is Microsoft doing so much for South Korea and not for Canada?
Let's set the stage with some comparative stats:
Population 33 Million 49 Million
Population Growth 5% 0.4%
GDP per capita $38,200 $26,277
GDP Growth 2.7% 5.1%
Average Net Income $22,512 $24,888
TV Signals NTSC, ATSC, QAM NTSC, ATSC, T-DMB
Distance from Redmond 150km 8,430km
Official Languages English, French Korean
The message here is that they're pretty similar as far as markets go. Both medium-sized countries with medium-sized economies and medium-sized incomes after deductions. They both use transmission standards that are shared with the US, most notably ATSC. Where Canada is a closer match, one might assume, is that we're practically right next door to the Microsoft campus and we speak the same language.
I'll pause before continuing this post to state that I don't know the answer to my earlier question - I do not know why Microsoft seems to ignore the Canadian Media Center market. But I can take a few guesses based on my experience as director of product management for a large software company and a little bit of knowledge of how Microsoft operates.
1.There is no Media Center champion within the Microsoft Canada subsidiary. MS Canada has alot of great people in it, and from personal interactions I know that many of them are really excited about Media Center. However when it comes to big issues where someone really needs to have ownership, I have come up empty in my attempts to engage the local subsidiary. I have always assumed that Korea has someone who is pushing for their market, putting together business cases for features to get done, and acting as a focal point for the MCE team back in Redmond
2.Canadian projects fall into that product management "dead zone" that exists between things that are really easy to get done and things that are really complex and get a team of dedicated resources. I know, I've been there and every software company has a massive list of things that you really should get to but never do because they live in this dead zone. For example, with ATSC support you can't just "make it work" but you also can't put together the same level of business plan and excitement that something like "integrate with DirecTV" would allow. It just goes on the pile until someone (see point #1) makes it a priority.
3.Partners drive much of the priority, and most of the partners that operate in Canada are actually managed as North American partners. So if you're sitting down with HP to figure out what the North American market needs, you spend most of your time talking about the United States and simply drop anything that doesn't fit with Canada. That is a very different discussion from the one you would have with a partner who is targeting Europe or targeting Asia, where diversity is assumed to be part of the plan.
4.I'd bet that nobody has ever, or at least in a long while, put together a plan that demonstrates value created by MCE and its ability to sell more seats of Windows in this market.
Of the points above, I believe that local subsidiary ownership is the most likely culprit and one of the first things that would need to get fixed if MCE is to have any hope of turning around in Canada. However that point is moot unless you truly believe that Media Center adds value and helps to drive Canadian revenue. I submit the following uniquely Canadian traits that I believe do make this a legitimate market for Media Center.
1.The competition US-style competition amongst cable and satellite providers to continuously deliver better devices into the living room simply doesn't happen here. We have a few massive companies with a virtual monopoly, and none of them are spending time on creating a truly decent end user experience. They ship garbage, and the Canadian market eats it up. There is no DirecTivo up here, there is no amazing end to end set top box experience, and there is very little investment into doing much beyond the bare minimum. This is the reason I bought into Media Center six years ago, and it is a hook that Microsoft could use to really gain market share.
2.The regulatory environment is ripe for innovation. The CRTC (Canadian equivalent of the FCC) has a new chairman who has been spending the last year changing the culture of that organization to be "less regulation is best for the country". Now is the time to do something grand, to push forward new distribution models, and to challenge the existing order.
3.Following up on that point, there is very little happening up here in the way of digital distribution. There is a huge opportunity to do well with something like Xbox Live Marketplace for movie rentals because there is a gaping hole there in the market. Anyone who is spending effort on this area is languishing in a North American strategy where they launch what is a pretty decent service in the USA but don't bother to go after distribution rights in Canada leaving them with nothing but public domain content when accessed from the Great White North. If you can get MCE and XBox into Canadian homes truly working as the center of the universe, you could own this market.
It wouldn't be a rant from me without some honest suggestions of how to fix the problem. It would appear that I am big on bullet lists in this post, so let's continue the trend with my five-point plan to revive Media Center in Canada.
1.Decide if MCE is important to the Canadian market. I assume that the answer is yes, but the degree of that yes as measured by local investment is what is really needed here.
2.Announce that ATSC will be supported in Canada with Windows 7, and announce it now. Given recent history, the assumption of most Canadian enthusiasts would be (or already is) that Microsoft has abandoned this market and if you want them to stick around they need to be given hope. Without an affirmation that Microsoft loves Canada, they will find alternatives.
3.Invest in technology that allows the local Windows team to develop a revenue plan worthy of investment. My top priority would be to invest in Media Center machines that are aware of each other. They can share content over the network, share tuners over the network, and share the guide over the network. Partner with a company that can crank out small almost extender-like PCs that will form a matrix of digital media in the home. Immediately your market opportunity moves from "up-sell the existing home PC to the latest version of Windows" to "sell multiple copies of Windows into a single home".
4.Tag someone with ownership of Media Center penetration in Canada, divide their time between internal advocacy and external evangelism, and put a revenue number on their head.
5.Target at least one online project that will be delivered with Canada in mind to show partners how to leverage the gaps in this market using Media Center and XBox as the base.
Do that, and I'll stick around to see where this all leads.
I love Media Center as an application, I admire Microsoft as a company, and I respect everyone on the MCE team and the energetic people I've met at Microsoft Canada. I want to see Media Center succeed in my home market, but my faith is very much being tested. It may be too late.
How about the rest of you Canadians, will you stick with MCE for just a bit longer if Microsoft shows you some commitment?
Original blog post at http://thegreenbutton.com/blogs/pnear/archive/2008/09/04/290827.aspx
2008-09-05, 10:36 PM
Peter you forgot one very important point - while it is very annoying that OTA ATSC is now broken remember that this is, at best, a half assed solution for most people. In the long run Media Center needs to record all HD channels that one can get including channels only available on cable and sat - and the CableCard option may never be an option in Canada. In addition, there was hope that Fiji would bring support for H.264 and the HD-PVR but it didn't - for Canadians it went backward as it killed OTA.
You mention your recommendations, here is mine - Switch to other software that supports OTA, the HD.PVR, etc. I have been using an HTPC with XP MCE for 2 years and I am now in the process of switching to SageTV since it supports the HD-PVR and OTA-HD. The UI is not as nice as XP MCE or VMC but at least it works and I can now record HD content from every channel that I have acess to - much better than only having the major networks via OTA.
I am in the process of leaving MC for the following reasons:
No support for the HD-PVR
Breaking OTA ATSC
Lack of movement by MS on the CGMS-A copy protection issue.
Screwing all existing users of VMC by not offering an upgrade path.
MS lethargic upgrades to MC (Fiji is the first update since Vista was released 18 months ago and isn't even available as an update)
I have never been a MS basher - I am currently licensed for about 7 copies of Windows across various PCs for home and work and I generally really like MS products. But I am really annoyed with the way they are going with MC, particularly for Canadians.
I encourage others to do the same - try out BeyondTV or Sage or GB-PVR or Myth.
2008-09-05, 10:46 PM
I just left my region as USA during the setup and said "no" to using
the guide. Add the ATSC channels manually later on and Media Center
2008-09-08, 08:56 PM
This may be a dumb question...but this will only effect those that actually do the upgrade, right? I'm happpy with how my Vista MC works right now (OTAHD and shawcable analog).
Will my guide all of a sudden stop working whether I download this or not??
2008-09-08, 09:32 PM
Not a dumb question at all. Your existing Media Center implementation will be fine. The update is only available on new PCs although it has been leaked onto the web and plenty of people have upgraded.
It will not be offered by Windows Update, so no risk of accidentally installing the update and breaking your guide.
2008-09-09, 05:38 PM
Great. Vista certaintly does require lots of tinkering to get it to work the way you want. I'll love it, but this would have put me over the edge :)
2008-09-18, 10:50 AM
Hi Pete! Long time no talk.
I agree 100% with your points.
I left the entire MS/MCE ecosystem just after Vista went RTM as I had a feeling what was ahead and was severly disappointed that none of the suggestions and requests I had literally begged for, were not included.
As you may remember, I was involved in a small business that supplied MCE machines to the Home Theatre custom install market. While being personally involved in the Vista beta testing program over about 16-18 (?) months, I knew directly from the MCE group that no help was coming to Canada, even though they admitted that it was very simple to implement the ATSC features. Despite my banging on the wall as loudly as I could for a year, nothing came of it. I tried because heck, my business investment counted on it.
(Come to think of it - if I recall correctly - in late builds of Vista (prior to RTM) the guide download was already breaking the ATSC hack. I think they removed it either because of our yelling, or because it was not ready yet.)
This was all very disappointing to me, but I got out at the right time. I knew MS was not going to help our business grow and I felt vindicated i that decision because of the Plays For Sure/Zune fiasco. Talk about not being a dependabe partner!
I thought XP MCE was perhaps MS's best GUI front end EVER and I certainly was an evangelist for it. I missed it for a long time, but since making the decision to drop it, couldn't be happier. Heck, I have more time on my hands now since there is no tweaking to do every day!
This is because we ditched our 4 HTPC's here at home and bought some other similar boxes from a competitor to replace them. I couldn't be happier. In fact, we now are 100% OTA (24 channels - most in HD!!) and use these other boxes to supplement content.
If I were you, I would follow my trail and at the very least, use another PC based front end for your HTPC. I know it wil be hard for you to do -given your years of investment in the platform - but in the end, I would be willing to bet you will be much happier. I can't imagine waiting for Windows 7 (whenever that eventually appears) and being disappointed again. There is only so much a guy can take!
2008-09-18, 11:05 AM
What software would you recommend Stu? I am shifting from XP MCE to SageTV as it has the best support for HD since it supports the HD-PVR. The problem is having to replace the 5 V1 extenders that I have bought.
2008-09-18, 11:18 AM
Wayne, I think you are on the right track with SageTV - especially for recording in HD. This is a must in my opinion! BeyondTV might be worth a look as well - at least for a comparison.
2008-09-18, 11:55 AM
I am curently giving the new Easy HDTV DVR ago as it has all the guide info for the staions I recieve.
2008-10-07, 02:23 PM
Hi all..I also posted this response to Peter's blog post. Am I missing something here, or is this really not an issue if you are pure OTA? Being pure OTA on XP MCE, I just give MCE an american postal code near my location (I use Niagara since I am in Toronto), and I am golden as far as guide and recording all my HD content.
Not sure if this is also an option on Vista MC..is this a non-issue if you are pure OTA and use a US zip that gets the same OTA stations?
2008-10-07, 03:34 PM
This should work. I would use grand island as your zip 14072 as the OTA guide info from zap2it (for example) includes CN Tower OTA as well.
2008-10-07, 03:57 PM
So in that case, does that mean OTA ATSC is in fact NOT broken under this TV Pack, if you use pure OTA?
2008-10-07, 08:10 PM
Sorry htguy1 - I am not sure. I gave up on MCE (and MS) when Vista went RTM (see post 9 above). MCE was a great product with amazing potential - but sadly little support in Canada.
If I were guessing - I would change my location settings to US and input the Grand Island Zip. I *think* you'll be fine.