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

Exceptional Innovation and Niveus First to Demo quad tuners. Four Media Center Extender (Pika) partners announced.


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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.

Exceptional Innovation is demonstrating the new feature at CEDIA with its Model 754 LifeMedia Server. Four tuners will stream live HD content to remote TVs connected to Media Center Extenders. A fifth stream will deliver pre-recorded HD content.

EI will deliver two servers with quad-CableCard capabilities, Models 654 and 754. The additional two tuners will cost about $1,000.

Mike Seamons, vice president of marketing for Exceptional Innovation says that the company's dealers have been asking for more CableCard slots. "In a custom A/V rack, there are usually more than two cable or satellite boxes feeding the home," he says. "So for this market, a server with more than two CableCard tuners is better than within the game."

He adds that the additional tuners are used not just for streaming live content, but for recording HD streams as well.

For its part, Niveus has opted for external tuners to make way for new capabilities such as quad-card support. Niveus CEO Tim Cutting says, "A lot of people were asking: Why do a modular CableCard receiver? This is why. We always knew we were going to four, and then more after that."

He adds, "It's really easy for dealers to go back to customers and add CableCards."

To support the increased HD capacity, Niveus is moving to Quad Core processors for all of its Media Center PCs.

Finally, 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.

Who Needs It?



Four HD cable streams? Do consumers really need that type of capacity? They do if they're among the high-end clients served by custom integrators attending the CEDIA Expo. "Microsoft is taking this channel more seriously," he says. "This is evidence that Microsoft is evolving Media Center and Extender and making home technology to meet the needs of the custom installer."

In fact, Media Centers with four CableCard tuners will be available only through custom installers. "The setup experience really benefits from professional installation," Evans says.

This is the first time Microsoft has its own booth at the CEDIA Expo, although the company has exhibited at the Electronic House Expo, the other trade event for custom integrators.

"We're really excited that Microsoft is going to have a first-party presence," Evans says. "We are promoting Media Center in the channel in earnest."

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LifeMedia 754 from Exceptional Innovation supports four CableCard tuners.
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Article Topics

News · Media Center · CEDIA · Exclusive · Media Center · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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