DIRECTV and Microsoft: What Went Wrong
Now that DIRECTV has suspended development on their HDPC-20
Tuner where does that leave us? There
are a lot of differing opinions going around about why DIRECTV canned the
tuner, whose fault it is, and where do we go from here. Most people are pointing the finger at
Microsoft, and with their history of releases how could you not? This doesn’t mean however that Microsoft is
totally at fault, but let’s look at the whole situation to see how we got
2006 – Microsoft and DIRECTV announce partnership to “develop new ways to expand the reach of
digital music, television and movies throughout the home and to portable
devices.” Nothing is said
specifically by either party about a Media Center tuner.
2006 – Microsoft employee Sean Alexander says “In the future (timing wasn't discussed), you'll be able to have an
installer come out and install a DirecTV tuner into your Media Center PC and
get your local channels complete with DVR.”
This however, was not an official Microsoft statement.
2007 – We really start asking for information about the assumed DIRECTV
Tuner. DBSTalk.com does Q&A with
DIRECTV at CES, DIRECTV says “Still in
progress, internal beta testing” when asked about HTPC Tuner cards. Confirmation that a tuner card is in the
2007 – Microsoft states in an online job posting that they are “working with newly developed dual satellite
tuners” for the next Media Center release.
2008 – CES comes around again and DBSTalk.com gets a flyer from the CES
floor for the HDPC-20. This is the first
official confirmation that the tuner exists.
CES attendees hear information about the public unveiling of the tuner
to be scheduled later at CES. This
didn’t happen however, leaving several people confused. No one from Microsoft or DIRECTV is talking
now. DIRECTV had the flyers to give out
at the show, so something happened that caused either Microsoft or DIRECTV to
back out of the public announcement.
2008 – Top Media Center OEM Niveus Media now lists “HD Satellite” tuner option on their website with “TBD (To be determined)” availability.
2008 – Microsoft started sending out e-mails for the Fiji (codename for
TV Pack) beta program. Several leaks
happened around this time including an e-mail asking select beta participates
for information about their DIRECTV account.
2008 – Fiji beta testers leak more information including DIRECTV and
H.264 support being pulled from the release.
It is suggested
by some in the beta that they never received tuners from DIRECTV.
2008 – It is reported that Microsoft will be releasing a second Media
Center update in 2008 with nothing to backup the statement. The proposed purpose of the second update was
to add H.264 and DIERCTV support. This
2008 – Subscription news service Consumer Electronics Daily (CED)
reports that Microsoft "continues to
look at ways" to make the tuner happen and that news will be announced
at "the appropriate time.”
DIRECTV made no comment in the article.
November 2008 – Ed Bott finds
a driver for the HDPC-20 in the PDC build of Windows 7.
2008 – Microsoft invites several bloggers and journalists to tour the
eHome Labs (no, I wasn’t invited). Ben
Drawbaugh scores pictures of the DIRECTV HDPC-20 working in Microsoft’s Labs.
2008 – DIRECTV e-mails several in the community to tell us that DIRECTV
has “suspended the development of the
HDPC-20 tuner…after assessing the impact of missing the August 2008 release of
Windows Media Center update [Fiji, TV Pack] and considering timing of the next
Talking a Step Back
The big question now is what does all of this mean and who
is at fault. Let’s explore a few things
Microsoft is a software company; they don’t make hardware
(generally speaking). Microsoft’s main
goal is to produce various software frameworks so that other companies can come
in and produce hardware to work with their platform. I’d actually say that this is the reason
Microsoft has been successful as a company, but it is also their largest fault.
Anyway, Microsoft makes software and third parties make
hardware (and most of the time drivers to go with this hardware). Seeing as Microsoft is going to produce the
software aspect of this DIRECTV Tuner, it means they want to produce a common
framework to allow third parties to integrate a number of different things into
their Media Center platform. I’ve gone
over this time and time again, but to refresh I’m talking about things like
H.264, Pay-per-view order, content protection, etc. DIRECTV on the hand has to make the hardware
(or contract it out) to pair with Microsoft’s software framework.
DIRECTV has suggested that they are suspending develop of
their hardware because of the impact of H.264/DIRECTV support not shipping in
the TV Pack and the wait until the next release. (Windows 7, highly publicized to
have a 2009 ship date)
DIRECTV-less TV Pack,
This is a bit hard to answer because outside of DIRECTV and
Microsoft no one really knows. What we
do know (or rather, think we know) is that Microsoft had plans of shipping
DIRECTV support in the TV Pack as evidenced by the beta e-mails. We also know (or think we know), that neither
Microsoft nor DIRECTV shipped tuner to beta testers. Microsoft then cut H.264 and “subscription-based
satellite TV support” before the TV Pack ship date. Notice they never said they cut DIRECTV
The main thing we don’t know here is why beta testers
reportedly didn’t get tuners. Hundreds
of options here, but here are three main ones.
- Possibility that DIRECTV
didn’t have stable hardware/drivers
- Possibility that Microsoft
had issues with H.264 support in the TV Pack
- Possibility that Microsoft
had issues with other software aspects in the TV Pack
- Possibility that Microsoft
and DIRECTV are fighting like kids about something
There are various possibilities about why beta testers might
not have been shipped tuners and why support was cut from the release. I don’t think you can make a clear judgment
about who was at fault knowing what we do.
On the Road to
Given on how Microsoft operates, we knew that the next
chance for DIRECTV support was in Windows 7.
Microsoft doesn’t push out Media Center updates to add functionality
months after a major release. Things were
now looking good for Windows 7 DIRECTV support, at least from the outside. CED published reports saying DIRECTV and
Microsoft are still working together, and Windows 7’s projected release date
keep moving up.
Ed Bott finds the drivers in the Windows 7 build, and then
Ben gets pictures of the tuners in the lab.
We are all thinking that Windows 7 with DIRECTV is a-go. DIRECTV then says they are “suspended development” of the tuner and
points to the conflicts with the TV Pack as a prime reason along with the “timing of the next [Media Center] release.”
Lets say Microsoft and
DIRECTV missed the TV Pack ship date, again we really don’t know why. In the e-mail statement DIRECTV is basically
implying that they are done with their part and just waiting on Microsoft. Is this really the case? I fully believe that Microsoft had 90% of the
software framework in-place to ship with the TV Pack. In fact, if you look in your RTM TV Pack
registry you can find some DIRECTV bits hiding pretty well.
If DIRECTV was ready and willing to release their tuners,
why cut the project after all your initial expensive and development? The tuners seem to be real, and if it was
Microsoft who screwed up the TV Pack you would think that DIRECTV is sitting on
a near finished product waiting for Microsoft.
DIRECTVs enginners can jump back on a new project and leave their
efforts intack for Microsoft to start Windows 7 beta testing (which is
basically 6 months after the TV Pack release).
I’m thinking that DIRECTV might not be a clean in this whole
ordeal as some might think.
DRM, Doubtful to
Whenever there is a hold-up on a product like this the first
thing in peoeple’s mind is that Microsoft is DRMing it up and thus causing
massive delays. Considering CableLabs
approved Windows Vista with their very strict content protection guidelines I
think it would be a huge stretch to think that Microsoft was holding up the
project in this way. Their system
already works, and has been for two years (mostly, DRM might actually be too
protective given the bugs).
It has been suggested to me that DRM might be to blame
because DIRECTV offers service outside of the US. I was personally expecting to see the DIRECTV
Tuner be US-only, but if it was international this would be a contract issue
between DIRECTV and their content providers.
Who needs who?
Media Center is hardly the platform it should be, and
DIRECTV might have misevaluated the commercial need of such a tuner. It is also possible that their DIRECT2PC,
TiVo partnership, and their own Multi-room Viewing features could be playing
into things (along with the economy).
Microsoft has no leverage here. They have a platform that hasn’t lived up to
expectations of any market and they have to be pleading with broadcaster
providers to help them save their platform.
Maybe DIRECTV has come to the conclusion that there focus
should be elsewhere. Of course, if it
turns out that DIRECTV was not prepared to ship with the TV Pack this is a
godsend for us users. I want a stable
platform, and with DIRECTV in charge of hardware/drivers for this they need to
have their heart in the game before I want to play.
argues that DIRECTV only released a statement because they want to downplay
expectations about the tuner. I don’t
follow the concept because DIRECTV has no visible reason to do any sort of
damage control. This is where Microsoft
should have stepped in, but alas has failed to do. When/if Microsoft makes a statement (which
they need to), it will likely be very simple and there is a good chance it will
not mention DIRECTV by name.
As far as I know, Microsoft’s framework is done for third
parties to integrate DVB-S tuners into Media Center. What third parties (eg. DIRECTV) do at that
point is largely up to them. The only
thing I’ve been told by Microsoft is that when two companies are involved they
can’t say anything. NDAs are play there
just as they would be in any business partnership.
I firmly believe both companies at a fault, but Microsoft
will always take the most abuse because they can’t seem to conjure up a good
Media Center release. This is not
DIRECTVs platform falling apart before our eyes, it is Microsoft’s.
Given that I think the framework is there, we might see
other providers step up to the plate and offer solutions. I strongly suspect others have like projects
in development, but then again so does did DIRECTV, so I guess we have to wait
for an official word at this point.