Dell’s CableCARD Move Is Out of Tune

Although the adoption of CableCARD tuners has been relatively slow, Dell hopes it can jump-start sales by including CableCARD-enabled digital cable tuners across its high-end PC lineup. So far, the company has yet to announce all of the computers on which the tuners will be installed, but it did say that its XPS 420 will use ATI’s Digital Wonder.

CableCARDs, which plug into your computer and allow you to view programming offered by your cable company on your monitor, have always been on the minds of the people at Dell, according to the company, but they feel that now is the best time to get in on the CableCARD game and start offering computers with CableCARDs included, starting next year.

And while Dell may believe these tuners will help sell computers, I’m not so quick to agree. In an environment in which people are becoming increasingly portable, CableCARDs are not. According to Dell, CableCARDs are locked down and only work in a specific city. Once you venture outside of a cable company’s sphere of influence, they become practically useless.

To make matters worse, Dell’s plan would only allow users to access digital cable on a Dell machine; portability is all but lost. In other word, replace your clunky set-top box with a clunkier Dell machine. Who comes up with these harebrained ideas?

Which brings us to another point: Wouldn’t it make far more sense if a CableCARD was nothing more than a USB dongle that could be carried around in your pocket and attached to any device in any area? It would solve the two main issues that CableCARDs have yet to overcome — the aforementioned portability, and overall usability.

Dell PCs that are equipped with CableCARD tuners may work for college kids who want access to cable and would rather watch shows on their computers, but what about everyone else? As Robert Scoble pointed out in a recent blog post, the Mac Mini is a great way to get a set-top box in the house without spending too much time and money trying to get everything to work. But what if you could make every device in your home a set-top box just by attaching a USB-version of a CableCARD?

A portable CableCARD USB dongle would effectively eliminate a host of issues that we’re currently experiencing with technology, while making practically any device into a multi-faceted set-top box. Consider this: If you want to capture over-the-air HD signals and watch HD shows on your computer, you will not only need an antenna, you’ll need a separate card to capture the signal from the antenna and a software solution just to watch it on your screen. But with the help of a USB CableCARD, you can drive to your friend’s house, take the dongle out of your pocket, insert it into a computer (like a Mac Mini connected to a TV) and watch those same shows.

It would be as simple as that.

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who covers everything from Google to HDTVs. He currently writes for over 15 popular technology publications, including CNET’s Digital Home, InformationWeek and Future Publishing in the UK.