FCC rule change could put the clamps on HTPCs


— 4:59 PM on August 28, 2009

Do you have a home-theater PC with a ClearQAM tuner hooked to unencrypted digital cable? If so, enjoy it while you can. According to a new story by AnandTech, the FCC has given cable providers the nod to use light encryption for expanded basic channels, which might make HTPCs all but obsolete.

AnandTech says cable providers have been nagging the FCC to let them use Privacy Mode, a light, 56-bit encryption scheme supported by low-cost cable boxes (a.k.a. Digital Transport Adapters). And the FCC has finally buckled.

By encrypting expanded basic channels, cable firms will reportedly save the money they'd normally spend on "expensive signal traps" to wall off lower-tier subscribers. However, the cable companies will also be cutting off anyone with "any kind of commonly available digital tuner." If the firms proceed, odds are the tuner card in your HTPC will only be able to catch a handful of basic channels.

Now, there might be a silver lining. As the article points out, Microsoft has put quite a bit of effort into its Windows Media Center software, and the FCC's acquiescence will seriously limit its usefulness. The people in Redmond—and, who knows, maybe major tuner card vendors—might just act as a counterweight against cable companies.

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