Microsoft is on the cusp of delivering a new update for its Media Center Edition (MCE) platform to tackle the idiosyncrasies of Australia's digital television environment.
But several channel players have flagged potential compatibility issues with the new drivers and modified digital TV tuner cards currently available for the local market.
Altech national sales manager, Kevin Hartin, said the major update, codenamed Emerald, was aimed at rectifying compatibility issues with the platform and local digital TV signals. The distributor has spent the last 2-3 months beta testing the various release candidates with its own range of Maestro machines.
Although MCE catered to the European DVB-T digital environment, Australia's use of the same standard involves different types of frequency bands and tuning spaces.
In addition, while Australia had support for high-definition TV and AC3 surround sound audio, these were not in use in the European market at the time of the MCE launch last year and were not addressed in MCE, Hartin said.
As a result, MCE has only been available locally with analogue support, he said. The new patch had been grafted to bring the platform into the Australian digital realm.
Toshiba pre-sales technical support specialist, Keith Rothsay, said the upgrade was scheduled for an October release.
The Beta2 currently being trialled was about 29MB, he said.
"It is currently in a similar fashion to a Service Pack but has an MCE interface," Rothsay said. "In the most part it provides additional region support, in our case providing formal support for the New Zealand region and the addition of DVB-T digital TV tuners."
He had not experienced any issues with the existing settings of its test Qosimo F20 system and the new patch.
Globally, Toshiba is working on an internal DVB-T device and expects to have a Microsoft Windows Quality Labs approval for its device driver when released, Rothsay said.
But there might be some potential problems with existing digital TV tuner cards that had been modified to work with MCE in Australia, Hartin said. Those who had tweaked the hardware could find these no longer worked with the updated MCE platform.
"Now manufacturers don't have to engineer special Australian drivers," he said. "They can just build on MCE and away it goes."
Lako Pacific service manager, Hasan Coskun, said it had some concerns about whether the patch would work with its range of Dvico Fusion HDTV tuner cards.
The manufacturer had put a lot of work into ensuring the product was compatible with MCE, he said.
"It is an unknown factor - we may have to go back to square one to work with the new update," Coskun said.
But as MCE users were only a small percentage of its overall digital tuner card market, he said he didn't expect it would be significantly affected by the potential changes.
Likewise, Pioneer Computers managing director, Jeff Li, said it would need to load new drivers onto its existing digital TV tuner cards. The vendor's engineers had spent several months beta testing the update, he said.
"We will let customers know of the changes to HDTV with the new patch," Li said.
Altech's Hartin said the patch shouldn't present any serious overall compatibility issues with third-party hardware drivers or current MCE systems.
"The early releases had lots of problems, but the last candidate has been put on our demo machines and running without fault for two weeks," he said. "We can't fault it."
While both Hartin and Li welcomed the long-awaited update, Hartin said there were still some ongoing technical issues that were yet to be addressed by Microsoft. A key one was the ability to have two separated digital tuning spaces.
This would allow users to tune into digital free-to-air and pay TV, he said.
"There was a promise that you could have two tuning spaces but this never made it [into the upcoming patch]," Hartin said. "It's disappointing, but compared to what we've had over the last 10 months it's good we are getting some updates."
He predicted Microsoft would launch the dual tuning space functionality in MCE in the next iteration of Windows Vista next year. MCE extensions were expected to be built into the standard version of the operating system, he said.
There was also still no formal electronic programming guide, Hartin said.
Microsoft refused to comment for this story.