Zune HD
Zune HD

The Problem

TV Shows recorded via CableCARD on Windows 7 are saved as copy protected WTV files. These recordings can only be played on the computer that recorded them or on a Windows Media Extender such as an Xbox 360 or a Linksys DMA2100.

Microsoft has announced that some content may be marked “copy freely” by the content provider after a forthcoming firmware update for the ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner is released. We’re still waiting for the update, and there’s no way to know how many shows will be free of DRM, but it’s a promising trend.

It’s easy to immediately start cursing DRM and mocking the futility of it all, but I have a different critique.

The Solution

I put it to Microsoft: If the content providers insist on draconian measures to stop users from enjoying their content how they wish, then it’s on you to make those measures as invisible as possible. You don’t want me to post the file on The Pirate Bay? Fair enough. I can’t watch the recording on another computer that I own, even if that computer is running the same version of Windows? That’s ridiculous.

I hate DRM as much as the next guy, and I believe that I should even be able to watch the shows on my gasp Mac, but I’m trying to be realistic. HD DVR is awesome. If DRM is unavoidable for now then Microsoft could at least take a page out of the iTunes Store playbook and allow users to authorize a certain number of computers and unlimited devices to play recorded media.

If even that seems too liberal for Microsoft and the content providers, then at the very least there should be a “Virtual Media Extender” application for Windows 7 that allows a second computer to act as a media extender. This way Microsoft can still control how the content is accessed while allowing the user reasonable portability.


When the record companies wouldn’t let the iTunes Store sell music without copy protection, Apple focused on making a seamless ecosystem in which everything worked. This placated many non-technical users who didn’t notice that they couldn’t use the content on non-Apple devices because they never tried. Microsoft has an opportunity to take advantage of their considerable lead in CableCARD support and make the Zune HD a relevant device.

Apple seems to have forsaken CableCARD support in the same way that they were slow to adopt Blu-ray drives. Apple likes the focus to be digital distribution (preferably that they control) and have sought to replace the cable provider as opposed to working with them. In this way I fear they may once again be perilously ahead of their time. I have no doubt that a day will come in which cable and satellite television will not exist as we know them today, but in the mean time Microsoft offers a superior experience when interfacing with digital television.

The really galling thing is that the support structure for sharing recorded TV shows already seems to be in place. In Windows 7, I can link my media library to an online account using Internet Streaming in Windows Media Player. By linking both my HTPC and my MacBook Pro (running Windows 7) libraries to the the same online account, I can browse either library (included recorded TV shows) from the other from anywhere with an internet connection. Unfortunately, when I try to play remotely stored copy protected files, Windows Media Center simply presents a blue screen with a “Copy Protected” warning.


I frakin’ love my Windows 7 Media Center. The interface is slick, the performance is great and for CableCARD they’re the only shop in town. Despite being feature-rich, extensible and easier to use than people give it credit for, the Windows Media technologies seem to lack the unified vision of Jobs-ian leadership. Apple has the advantage of being a boutique manufacturer that is not restricted by the giant diverse market that Windows must support, but it’s hard to argue with everything simply working together as it should.