Introducing ATI's OCUR

Although their GPU teams have gone through their ups and downs, the one group at ATI that has consistently done well is their multimedia team. While they have always been quite competitive in the PC multimedia space, nothing is even remotely close to what they are showing off at this year's CES.

At the show ATI is demonstrating the world's first and only CableCard HDTV tuner for PCs, and we were fortunate enough to get a hands-on demo of it.

Currently called ATI's OCUR (Open Cable Uni-directional Receiver), the CableCard tuner is presently only a technology demo, with the final product shipping alongside Windows Vista sometime in 2006 (Microsoft is officially saying "Holiday Season 2006"). Despite the early nature of the product, the reference design is done and simply waiting for Microsoft to ship their OS.

The first versions of the OCUR will be provided exclusively to OEMs and not for retail sale, but ATI will eventually release a product directly to consumers. ATI is currently the only manufacturer to have a ready and certified reference design, and they do say that it is possible that they will be the only one at launch.

Windows Vista with CableCard support - running on a laptop

Currently there are two versions of the OCUR design, one external and one internal, but both offer the same functionality. The external box is obviously no where near polished, but the internals of the design are complete.

The way it works is simple: you connect a coaxial cable to the front of the OCUR, plug in your CableCard and run a USB cable from the back of the unit to your Windows Vista PC. To your PC, it appears to be nothing more than a regular tuner, except that it can now tune all channels - analog channels as well as premium HD content. Note that the tuner only supports CableCard 1.0, but with Vista you'll have your own EPG (Electronic Programming Guide) so you really only lose out on on-demand and pay-per-view functionality. The pros definitely outweigh the cons though, as you'll be able to finally have a PC based HD-DVR.

The internal version of ATI's OCUR

It's worth noting that both the internal and external versions use USB 2.0 to interface to your PC. The internal version will either have an external USB port you can connect (externally) to your PC, or it will have an internal connection that you can run to your motherboard's 4-pin USB header. The output of the tuner is at maximum a 19.2Mbps signal, so USB 2.0 is more than enough to carry it.

You'll also notice an Ethernet port at the back of the box we were shown, however that won't be in the final design. ATI will eventually bring a design to market that will work over Ethernet and not just USB. An Ethernet design could potentially mean that the tuner wouldn't be tied to a single PC but accessible by any PC on the same network (obviously only one machine could access it at a time).

Inside the tuner are two pieces of ATI silicon - a Theater 550 and a NXT 2003, the combination of which handle all of the tuning and demodulation on the device. There is a FPGA in the device that along with some other custom silicon handles all decryption from the original broadcasted signal as well as encryption before handing the content off to the USB controller for transmission to the PC.

Index OCUR in Action
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  • Furen - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    Hah, seriously. The only problem I have with Vista's DRM is that (its rumored) that it will need a special monitor to output HD quality stuff and that I can just see a time limit being imposed on content recorded by the media center PC (then again, archiving stuff recorded from TV IS illegal...).
  • mino - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    maybe in the US of A, for instance in DE it is explicitly allowed since anything freely broadcasted on the air is since then considered public, you cannot record and sell it, however you could archive it as long as you like.

    I too kinda don't why undestand archiving TV shows is illegal? It's the same nonsense as making illegal archiving newspapers you bought. Maybe the US media machine just doesn't like people to remember what some peple told in the past.
    That way proving someone is a liar is illegal. Funnny if it was in was not for real ;(
  • mino - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    that typing, that typing ;)
  • BPB - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    How do you do this? I've never been able to get my Motorola dual HD tuner to work properly via firewire. I get output, but it's never usuable. If I could get it to work properly I would definitely agree with you. Otherwise, this ATI setup is of real interest to me. I do connect and use a driver that makes it look like a digital vcr, but I can never play the output.
  • GoatMonkey - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    If you've got an extra computer anyway it doesn't cost anywhere near $2000 to build a PVR out of it. You don't need a fast computer to do it. My PVR uses my old AMD 2100. I added a Hauppauge dual tuner card and Snapstream Beyond TV. Now it isn't a HD recorder the way I have it set up, but it could be with the addition of a HD tuner. My total cost was less than $200. Saving money is not really the point anyway, it's just fun to do.

  • Calin - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    For 10$ a month, you would need two years to cover that $200 investment. I think any way is just as good (but one has the advantage of less clutter and the other the advantage of keeping the PC usable for anything else (including heavy loads)
  • GoatMonkey - Friday, January 6, 2006 - link

    Yeah, but DIY is always cooler.

  • imaheadcase - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    Hear hear! DRM has to change drastically before i even consider Vista. Right now most people i know with TV tuners are just not getting vista because of the terrible DRM.
  • AndyKH - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    I'm hoping ati will release a dual-tuner version (being able to tune 2 analog or digital channels at once). I will most likely buy an external version as it would be nice to stow away the (dual tuner) box by the tv-outlet and then just route the two video channels in one usb cable. Just to bad I would need to use repeaters if the distance is more than 5 metres - a gigabit ethernet version would certainly be better.
  • tuteja1986 - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    yeah i been wanting a cheap decent dual tv tunner : ) i will just have to wifi bridge it if a ethernet is provide in the final cheap product

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