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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  • Jynx980 - Sunday, January 8, 2006 - link

    Thumbsup for watching Bill and Teds Bogus Journey!
  • Tujan - Friday, January 6, 2006 - link

    imatation miniture cable box that you put on your pc. Dhh ha.

    (all it good jest).

  • ElJefe - Friday, January 6, 2006 - link

    I cant wait till someone smart hacks it.

    DRM is retarded. I have heard that computers must port it out to a crap tv. all tv's are crap compared to a 800 dollar crt monitor, however, rumour is that the content once decoded on the computer wont be put there. I have no idea why this would besides for copy protection. Even though you already bought the movie or whatever.

    gay = drm
  • Tujan - Friday, January 6, 2006 - link

    Dont understand a bunch about DRM myself. Know that as it is downloadable(software)music files have only been in dayview for a few years wich use the DRM. First the DRM itself has problems between propriety x,and propriety y - you purchased from 2 different places etc. To you they are the same WMV file,or what have ya,but they get moved around on the drive - then comes calling the 'authentication,and 'legally the two proprieties are not obligated to talk to anybody about what they have for DRM between them.
    Second within all of this is the ideal of the 'liscence',wich you can see in plain site describing what you can do,yet you change out the modem,ethernet card,or cpu,and the description of that detail is out the window,with DRM.Then making it 'your problem,that you must then communicate back to the propriety (wich has a list BTW of everything you've ever purchased)in order to run under the DRM.

    But I didn't post here to say something about the DRM. Everybody on the 'in'side of DRM,knows it is simply programable on the software side.And must run on the client side. And still the 'user does not know what the features of the DRM is to the items they purchase'. You simply crash,and burn them..literally.

    What I really wanted to say,is that Cable,has a legal obligation to its sponsors.They dont necesarily 'distribute',they merely 'show what its obligations have been the result of.Even though the technology side,can offer so much more (now give me a 19.5 Mbs internet connection etc),the usability model of copyrighted works haven't edged all that far from the intillment of the agenda its present manufacturing,production,and distribution structure has from due cause.

    If everybody continues to deal with 'liscence'then the technology will be used as it is today.To create that the featureset of the technology is that of the copyright holder.I think that there could be a 'first sale'right in software downloads,even though the copyright is as they are. Cause I know I would,and do intention to collect what archives pass for time in this life of mortality.Even though the copyrighted agenda seems waining to believe they are immortal,and require class above reasonable intelegence.

    The FCC cant do it all.Since programability comes with the infinite possibilities of the digital realm. But there are not any 'standards'in copyright.So that that 'first sale,can compete with all the lawyers - and those copyright notices BTW,wich are certainly flawed in their person.The truth about it is,that we cannot simply be whooed by a light bulb of one-way broadcast anymore.We have better,we know it.The instillment of copyrights,or no copyrights does not change the relationship we have with the technology. It changes only the relationship of the copyrighted works and the technology.

    With cable,I'll just put in an early request for a hot-button 'buy" into the programming of the cable.Buy 'movie". The same ubiquity as that of the different media,and pertaining to the same copyright law.Then BTW give me a receipt on the screen,next to that copyright notice.

    Copyrighted works have the same friends they have had in the past.It is not too much to have them sit on microscopic shelf for the retention of their immortal souls.As an asset to my own managerie.Knowing them by their name.Of course.

  • nullpointerus - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    The HD support itself shouldn't be news to you, but the hardware that enables the support is what we're here to talk about today and the only company that's currently demonstrating it is ATI.

    How disappointing!

    Although protected by Vista's DRM, once on your machine you should be able to share the content throughout your network, however it has yet to be seen exactly how that's going to work. We would assume that you should at least be able to stream the content to any Xbox 360s on your network.

    Gee, how nice of them. Look, I have fair use rights which I expect journalists to stand up for. You guys should ask these questions up front instead of just letting people get excited about the technology.

    I am not paying money to upgrade all my home computers to Vista just for HD support - especially not if it doesn't produce unencrypted, non-proprietary, HD-quality files. Sorry, ATI.

    While Vista itself has a lot going for it, quite possibly the most exciting feature of all will be support for CableCard made possible by ATI's tuner - it's what we're looking forward to this year.

    You look forward to paying people just to take away your fair use rights?
  • The Boston Dangler - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    Hardware and cable companies aren't to blame for this DRM nightmare. It's entirely driven by content creators. Hardware and communications would like you to buy and use their products to your heart's content, and this is hampered by DRM.

    2 Examples:
    ATI's AIW x800 and higher were held up as much as a year because the design did not comply with the proposed Broadcast Flag, which was delayed but not yet beaten. This legal uncertainty prevented ATI from committing to and developing the new AIW cards.

    Any decent cable company offers high speed internet service. Many times, any slowdown you may observe is a problem with the open internet, not your connection to the cable company. The question now is, what to do with all that internet? Any law-abiding citizen would refrain from downloading absolutely tons of illegal material. I get tons of legit music freely from (GD, Phish, DMB, PJ, many, many more) Other than that, what? There's no high-quality network streams. I'd like to go to (my local CBS) and watch WBZ live and in HD. Where the Hell is it?

    Yes, I work for the cable company, and yes, I've owned an AIW.
  • Cygni - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    A) Your "fair use" rights died around 1995. Sorry. I too morn their loss, but thats the way it is.
    B) Getting angry at ATI for something forced on them by the TV industry isnt exactly productive.
    C) Anandtech is a TECHNOLOGY website... and getting people EXCITED ABOUT TECHNOLOGY is what its FOR.
    D) It doesnt make alot of sense to drill ATI's engineers for information on a product 1 year away from first launch... and to drill them on legal issues and questiosn that the engineers at a trade show likely have NOTHING to do with.

  • Chadder007 - Friday, January 6, 2006 - link

    I blame Bill Clinton for this BS.
  • nullpointerus - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    A) Your "fair use" rights died around 1995. Sorry. I too morn their loss, but thats the way it is.

    I'm glad to hear that you care, but maybe the energy you spend mourning their loss could be better spent exercising a little free political speech.

    B) Getting angry at ATI for something forced on them by the TV industry isnt exactly productive.

    "The devil made me do it" is a bad argument. If they're producing a product which can only be used with DRM, they're partly to blame for DRM adoption.

    C) Anandtech is a TECHNOLOGY website... and getting people EXCITED ABOUT TECHNOLOGY is what its FOR.

    I don't recall asking them to avoid getting people excited about the technology. (Note the word "just" in my original post.) The problem is that the article only mentions the legal issues in passing whereas they should be a much higher priority. I would have been happy had they included something like the following:

    "While the OCUR uses Vista's DRM technology, it's not clear whether the hardware will be tied to this technology, and we are concerned with how this will play out with third party software such as SageTV and BeyondTV. Traditionally, SDTV tuners have supported the MPEG-2 format as a de facto standard, allowing PVR software and hardware, video editing software, and DVD-burning software from many different companies to work together. If this approach is abandoned in favor of a proprietary format, all this compatibility gets thrown out the window."

    After all, you'd think a technology site would care whether the technology was going to be arbitrarily crippled by tying it to a new OS license and proprietary formats. Like, maybe, those of us who may be interested in buying the product.

    D) It doesnt make alot of sense to drill ATI's engineers for information on a product 1 year away from first launch...

    As per the article, they have the hardware reference design working, and software is being demoed. If at this point they don't have information about what formats and technologies they can legally support, they appear to have some problems. Don't they usually sort out the legal issues FIRST, so that they avoid designing and producing things they can't sell?

    and to drill them on legal issues and questiosn that the engineers at a trade show likely have NOTHING to do with.

    Point taken, but is it not possible for Anandtech to contact ATI directly on this?
  • OddTSi - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    Why does the internal card use a USB connection? Why not PCI or PCI-e?

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