Currently in TiVo boxes from DirecTV, DirecTV's internal DVR and many cable DVRs provide dual tuners for a single fee. This means that you can usually record two things simultaneously as well as being able to watch a third pre-recorded program or movie. Under current systems you can only watch one thing at a time from a given set top box and as result the providers only charge a single fee. In the near future this may change however and I have yet to see anyone talk about it. I want to pose some scenarios and theories in hopes of getting discussion going.
With the upcoming Windows Vista Media Center Edition there will finally be an ability to use CableCard enabled tuners to receive digital and premium cable. It has also been announced that there should be a DirecTV add-on to allow that content to get onto a Vista MCE. TiVo also soon will have their TiVo Series 3 out that can use dual CableCard 1.0 cards or a single CableCard 2.0 card to receive cable content directly rather than through a separate cable set top box. I would hope that the MCE computers will have the ability to have two or potentially more tuners in them just as they do today with NTSC and ATSC tuner cards.
A common use of MCE machines is to enable people to watch content on other TV's in a house via Media Center Extenders, Xbox and Xbox 360's or potentially other devices more remotely. With a TiVo you could also have multiple TiVo's pulling shows of a single TiVo, traditionally you would have each TiVo with an input signal to record but it isn't required. Both MCE and TiVo also have the ability to transfer content to computers and portable devices. This brings up interesting scenarios where you could have a single recording device with an input signal and multiple viewing devices. Traditionally the satellite and cable providers have charged based on number of viewing devices, now that model will most likely have to change it would seem.
Will the providers take a step backwards and start charging on a per tuner basis or could it be even worse and they will limit the number of tuners a recording device has or the number of viewing devices that can be attached? There is all sorts of talk about HDCP and what it means to directly attached viewing devices, but what about all the potential viewing devices that are attached remotely via a network or USB in the case of portable devices. I would imagine someone is thinking about these pricing and usage policies but I haven't seen anyone talking about it yet?
For me at my house I could in theory lower my DirecTV bill. If I built or bought a Vista MCE machine and then installed 2 or more DirecTV tuners I could then use Extenders all over the rest of the house and save the montly fees for all my DirecTV STBs. For me it doesn't mean much, but for someone who has 4-5 STBs it could save them $5-30 a month. I don't know if the cable or satellite providers really would like that. It even goes farther with tools like Orb or portable media centers. Another more frightening scenario for the providers is an apartment building or dorm where one device with 4 or even 6 tuners tunes and records content and then 10, 20 or even 30 viewing devices share that recording device to watch content. Most likely a given MCE device couldn't handle that many inputs and outputs today but with RAID and Gigabit Ethernet it isn't that much of a stretch of the imagination.