ATI Digital CableCard Tuners End of Life?


If you have been following the CableCard tuner for Windows Media Center PC’s news recently, you have seen announcements from two vendors–SiliconDust and Ceton–who are developing their own M-cards (multi-stream) CableCard tuners which will enable access to premium content on multiple tuners with only a single CableCard.

What has been missing from news for quite some time, is where ATI is in all this buzz. For history, ATI produced the first (and still only) Digital CableCard Tuner (DCT) back in early 2007. For quite some time, those tuners were only able to be used via a few select OEMs which went through the process of being authorized to do so, as ordered by Cable Labs. That first generation product suffered from a plethora of bugs and instabilities which eventually led the larger OEMs like Dell to stop selling them altogether.

After many requests–and even a hack to bypass the OEM restriction–Microsoft was finally able to remove the OEM restriction and open up the CableCard tuners to all users with the release of Windows 7 (Vista users are still SOL). Great news, but then it became clear that ATI’s DCT were becoming increasingly harder to find. News of the Ceton and SiliconDust tuners is great, but still those are not expected until late May at the EARLIEST. So this would seem like the perfect opportunity for ATI to capitalize on, right?

Well, the reason they haven’t is probably one you have suspected (I sure have) by now–ATI is getting out of the game, and maybe tuners in general. A source inside AMD/ATI has revealed to me that the CableCard tuner (and possibly all other tuners) is EOL, meaning End of Life. When a product hits EOL status, that means no more are being produced, and they will be available only until current inventory sells through.

I was unable to discover just how long the tuners have been EOL. Are the available tuners ones that have been floating around the distribution channels for years now? It also isn’t even clear when the most recent shipment was. Either way, once they’re gone–which they are already hard to find–they will be gone for good. And along with this, don’t expect another firmware update (although in fairness the recent one fixed a ton).

I think what saddens me about this is the way ATI was treated. They suffered through all the early growing pains and were rewarded with ridiculously low sales for their tuners, which I’m sure cost a fortune to develop since they were the first. The restrictions to who could use their products, combined with the awful reputation they garnered I’m sure made the EOL decision that much easier. While everyone involved should shoulder some blame, no doubt it was ATI who took the biggest hit with inventory which probably took them years to run through. Given the news, you have to wonder if they even sold through their original stock.