This Friday Microsoft opened up a whole new world of media by enabling the Digital Cable Advisor in Windows Media Center. Running this tool will allow your system to be tested to accept and work with CableCard™ Digital Cable Tuners. No more hacks or copied PIDs. No more searching for OCUR compliant computers. Thank you Microsoft.
Background – Extended Remix
My first article about HDTV recording talked about options for over-the-air (OTA) signal and how I can get great HDTV programs from a regular digital antenna. This article can be found at:
Since the 2009 television season started in September I have been obsessed with recording TV to my PC. This obsession started with the need to record three channels at once. My Moxi DVR records two shows at once but there are three shows on at the same time on Thursday night TV. I needed another recording device that could be played from the living room. Another DVR would be costly per month and be a pain to deal with. Could I get something going with Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server? We know that Windows Media Center (WMC) can be a DVR and that Windows Home Server will manage the programs.
The WMC DVR research process has transformed into finding the best signal options for HDTV. WMC can handle the HD signal but how do you get that HD signal to your PC? I live near the mountains and do not get some of the HD channels OTA so what do I do? What about the pure digital cable signal Charter already feeds to my home? I already pay for HD cable signal so why not use those signals for HD recording on the PC?
Up until Friday the technology was not there for existing PC users. Up until Friday you would either need to find a specially OEM built used “digital cable ready” PC or try a multitude of hacks and tweaks to get your system compatible with the CableCARD technology.
Let me explain.
Now I am not a cable expert by any means but let me give you an idea of how things currently work. I am just a “dude” speaking in layman terms so please cut me some slack on the terminology. If you want to see HD signal on your HDTV you need to either connect to a HD digital antenna or connect to a HD service provider. You can go to Best Buy and get a digital antenna and watch local HD stations OTA or you can call you cable company and get a HD set top box. If you do not have either of these chances are you watching standard definition on that 50” LCD of yours.
The rare exception to these two choices is called a CableCARD. A CableCARD is small PCMCIA card that inserts into your CableCARD ready TV or your TIVO type device. The cable company can use this technology to decrypt the video instead of the set top box (STB) that most of have that already does the decrypting for us. The STB allows us to see the HD programs and the scrambled channels. Without either of these you are probably stuck with channels 02-99. The CableCARD basically just tells your TV or TIVO that you have a subscription to your cable company and which channels to allow.
More information about CableCARD can be found at:
CableCARD? Where do I put it? How do I get encrypted HD cable signal to my PC? Ugh.
Well let me tell you my friends, this has not been an easy road. I almost feel like a pioneer in my cable service area because no one has done this. Really you say? Am I really the first in this service area to try this? This is Los Angeles. Well the suburbs anyway. The cable service tech, the installer and their supervisor say I am the first. How can this be?
Surely you can’t be serious. I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.
Lets set this pig on fire.
- Windows 7 PC with Windows Media Center
- CableCard compatible Digital Cable Tuner
- Cable provider with CableCard support (verify with your service provider first)
- 3 Beers (optional as always)
Digital Cable Tuner Purchase
I have been looking around since September for a Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) that offered CableCARD support. ATI had one on their web site but I could not find it in retail. I looked around and Amazon had it listed but their customer service said they no longer carried it. Dell and HP both had it listed in certain PC manuals but did not sell one. Crap.
Apparently this ATI product has been out for years but not really supported. It seems like a few PC manufacturers started to mess around and ship units in PCs but then just let it go away. I cannot even find a NEW PC with this product. I am not going to EBay an old PC just to try to get this to work. WTF, this is such a great concept. I am disappointed.
What’s a boy to do?
I finally found a company that carried this DCT product. CannonPC carries both the internal and external unit I was looking for. Since my Dell Studio is the primary PC I thought of going with an internal card but the internal DCT card requires an internal USB connection and separate power source that my board does not have free. In addition, since I was not sure about which PC in my home this would end up working on the safer route was to order the external unit.
Thank you Gregg for carrying this product!
Mental note: Want to see what a serious Media Center PC is made of? Check out Gregg’s LX series. Six SATA connections, 12 USB connections, 2 PATA and 2 1394 ports. Crazee.
Friday Night DCT Installation
Installation is very easy. Turn off your PC. Connect the cables. Power up the DCT. Wait till you have a light and then power up your PC. I just followed the printed directions and I was ready!
The directions tell you to stop once you have powered up and wait for the cable tech. I have read that you can configure the DCT for regular signal before inserting a CableCARD but I would not take any chances. You have waited this long so what is a few more hours?
OCUR Check (No longer needed)
I have the DCT connected so now what? My PC is not a “Digital Cable Ready” PC so what do I do? I ran the OCUR check and it showed I was not compliant. I ran the BIOS hack and it failed. Every article I could find said that I was bound to have issues with a system not made for digital cable. There were two articles that I relied on heavily for this product and I want to thank both engadetHD and The Digital Lifestyle for their great articles.
Since the release of the Digital Cable Advisor (mentioned later in this article) the OCUR check and BIOS hack is no longer required. This section and links were included to thank the authors and to let you know how much time and frustration Microsoft has saved you with the new release.
Lets move on.
Saturday Morning Cable Appointment
It is now Saturday morning at 8:30 am and the Charter van pulls up out front. The Cable Tech comes into the house and says he has never seen a unit like this before. He said he has installed the CableCARD in TIVO units and TVs but never a PC. He calls his next level Charter people and they do not know about this type of DCT either. The woman on his speaker phone puts him on hold and gets her Supervisor but still no one has heard of this type of unit. He keeps saying the “customers unit” over the phone. They don’t support customers units. Stop talking about my unit dude. Seriously. This is an ATI unit by the way. It is not like I made it from scratch. Crap.
I ask him if he can at least insert the card and see how it goes. I open WMC and he agrees.
He puts the CableCARD in the DCT unit and WMC immediately recognizes it. Sweet.
Looking good. After a few seconds I get a different screen. My heart sinks. Crap².
Now, being in sort of a messed up situation, I start looking for more screen options (as if that will fix it) and confirm that without the PC being recognized as a “digital cable ready” PC I am screwed. I am in a panic with the tech there searching for solutions I know are not there. WMC shows I inserted but not recognized. Prom all over again.
Now I know that I can get the software working and the BIOS changed if I just have a few more days. I just know it, I think. I ask the cable tech if he can leave the CableCARD in the unit and I will fix the software. He says he can leave it in and come back next weekend to see if I can get the software to work. Sweet. Thank you Charter.
Digital Cable Advisor – Microsoft Saves My Day
So here I am on Saturday morning all bummed out. I just spent $35 for a cable appointment and $279.13 on this tuner and it is a brick. What’s a boy to do?
After I had realized that the OCUR thing was going to be an issue I got into a panic looking other ways to modify the software. Still in a panic I had posted to The Green Button http://thegreenbutton.com/default.aspx earlier in the morning hoping someone could help me with the OCUR check issue. I ran the CMD as an Administrator but it would just not run. Create a new drive path? Did not work. This is getting too difficult. I decided to go watch my working DVR recorded program Stargate Universe and see people with real problems.
43 minutes later, after Lou Diamond Phillips creeped me out, I came back and checked my email. I had a message on the board from a member saying that just yesterday (Friday Nov 6th) a new software Extras release was put into WMC that could solve all my PC not ready for digital cable issues. Thank you Phoenix Dragon Master for the link!
The article states that a new release is in WMC now allows WMC to check your system and upgrade it to Digital Cable Ready status without any OCUR checks or BIOS hacks. I love you Microsoft.
Wait. Are you kidding me? After two months of stressing out and trying to figure out how I am going to pull this pseudo hack article off there is now a legitimate solution right in front of me? Really? This software was released the same day as I am writing the article which would be a short failed article because I cannot trick the PC into thinking it is Digital Cable Ready? Seriously?
Digital Cable Advisor? Please be there. Please be there. Please be there. Open Windows Media Center and go to the Extra Gallery. You might want to try it while you are reading this article. It is really cool.
Holy Ravioli. This must be a dream.
Download anything you want.
Trying not to get my hopes up.
Of course I accept the EULA.
I agree. Lets start the darn thing.
Now I am scared. What if it fails?
It is doing the analysis. Take your time honey.
The test is running. I am really nervous. This all seems too easy.
Sweet. My system has passed. Click on Update System Settings. This takes a few minutes.
No, congratulations to YOU Microsoft. You made a great interface and will make a lot of users extremely happy with Windows Media Center. I think I am Done.
HOLD ON. BACKING UP to WHS. I do not want to lose this PC image!
Activating the CableCARD™
Now that my system has passed the test I will set up the TV signal for the CableCARD. I go to Settings and then to TV Signal. Please work. Please work. Please work.
Oh crap. Product key? My stomach is starting to hurt again. Next.
Sweet. Microsoft and WMC has already entered the product key for me. I have deleted it from this screen shot but the KEY was already there!
I am cool. Yes I want to Activate the CableCARD now.
Please Activate my CableCARD. Please, oh please.
I am done. Since my installer was already here I just need to ensure that Charter has the data they need. Make sure you print or save a copy of this screenshot for future use. My Charter cable tech was already here this morning and enabled my card so I should be good to go. He is doing a follow up appointment next Saturday to see the system and verify that everything is working.
Lets try an HD channel. The Breeders Cup is on this morning on Channel Four. The picture looks great and the guide matches my Charter channel line up! I am up and running and good to go.
After all of the research and work with this project I feel real confident about the results. Microsoft has made it easy to add a CableCARD tuner to WMC and I hope that more people start to use this interface for their HD programming.
Three things to remember before attempting to try this:
- You must run the Digital Cable Advisor FIRST to verify your PC can accept the DCT
- You need a CableCARD tuner (DCT) which costs a lot right and is hard to find right now
- Your cable company must offer CableCARD service and support the installation
Mental note: I ran the Digital Cable Advisor on my garage HTPC just to see if it qualified and it worked. I have a ATI TV 650 USB on that Inspiron 537 machine and it did not change the line up or affect performance. I am still just “basic” on that machine but I know if the prices come down on DCTs that I will buy one and get another CableCARD.
My PC is now a HD DVR so I will recover the cost of the DCT in about a year.
I will now be able to record HD shows directly from my cable provider and continue to have my WHS store and maintain the recorded programs. I can then view these HD shows on any WMC PC in the house. I love Windows Media Center. I love Microsoft. I love Windows 7. I love WHS. Seriously.
See you next Friday night,