Microsoft looks to support premium channels with PC television tuners

Microsoft's introduction of a new platform will allow media center PC manufacturers to support premium channels, which the television industry mandates must be covered by copy protection.

Known as Protected Broadcast Driver Architecture (PBDA), the technology builds on the company's work on Broadcast Driver Architecture (BDA). BDA is the standard for digital video capture on Windows systems that Microsoft has used since Windows 98.

While BDA was good enough back in the late 1990's and early part of this decade when digital cable was in its infancy, it is now outdated. Cable and content providers now require DRM to protect some of their channels, which has shut out PC TV tuner card users.

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To appease the industry, Microsoft began work on PBDA. In 2005, it first detailed its progress in a whitepaper, saying it hoped to limit "the impact on cost to the tuner as much as possible, while still allowing the tuner to address a wide range of industry requirements for protected content."

Friday's announcements seemed to make those goals a reality. The company has also assembled some heavyweights in the PC TV tuner industry behind it to drive adoption of the new platform.

PBDA was part of the Windows Media Center TV Pack, which Microsoft delivered in July. That update also included enhancements to natively support digital terrestrial television in Japan and DVB-Satellite TV services in Europe.

At least two companies -- Happauge and AverMedia -- have already released products overseas that include PBDA support. Microsoft says it will continue to advance the platform, aiming to make pay TV reception over-the-air possible by next year.

Microsoft hopes that the platform will help manufacturers build cards that are compatible with just about any digital standard for any location, which is crucial since there is no single standard for digital TV.

"The tremendous response we're already seeing for the platform means PC OEMs, broadcast service providers and tuner-makers can now collaborate and embrace the PC as a first-class citizen for delivering more high-quality free or pay content to consumers in their local markets," Media Center chief Geoff Robertson said in a statement.

Microsoft's platform announcement came as part of a wider IPTV services rollout at IBC2008 in Amsterdam this week. The company also announced details of an advertising platform for its IPTV software known as Mediaroom, and migration services for television providers who may want to switch to Mediaroom from other IPTV solutions. Mediaroom has seen only very limited adoption in the United States, making slightly more headway in Europe.

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