A CableCARD Update for the HTPC

A few months back I acquired an update for our HTPC. In order to watch digital channels (anything that isn’t available as an over-the-air network), I needed either a cable box, which I didn’t want to rent, or a device capable of taking a CableCARD. When I first started looking, there were two on the market. The first one out was the Ceton InfiniTV, which is a PCI card device that wouldn’t likely fit into my smaller HTPC case. So, that lead me to a device sold by the company who made the other HD tuner I’m using. The tuner I purchased is the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime. There are two models of the HDHomeRun Prime, one with three tuners and another with six. I opted for the one with just three tuners since I currently only have two tuners and didn’t figured I needed the extra three, or the extra expense of the larger box.

I preordered the tuner, and it arrived a bit later than the company had claimed, but I was happy to finally have it in my hands. My first task was to acquire a CableCARD from my cable company (Medicacom). For those not familiar with CableCARD, it basically provides the decryption for digital cable in your own box without having to use (pay for) one provided by the cable company. The FCC requires cable companies to provide them to their customers. I went down to the Mediacom office and picked up my card. The FCC recently required cable companies to provide a self-install option for CableCARDS instead of requiring a (paid) house call. Once I got the CableCARD home, plugged it into the HDHomeRun and plugged in the coax. I actually have the box in a different room of the house away from the TV. It isn’t necessary, but the way that the HDHomeRun works is it delivers the TV signal via a network connection, and I’ve got an empty network port in the bedroom. That way it also delivers signal through the entire house. If I wanted, I could fire up VLC and watch cable TV on a laptop anywhere. The device powered up and seemed to do what it was supposed to do. Now, on to Mediacom to try and get the CableCARD activated.

Currently, there are very few pieces of software that can legally be used with CableCARDs. The software has to be able to decrypt the digital signal from the cable companies. I use Windows 7 Media Center, and it’s capable of working with a CableCARD tuner via a special plugin provided by Microsoft. I installed the HDHomeRun software and then installed the plugin for Media Center. It quickly recognized the new tuner and gave me a message to with the unique ID for the CableCARD to provide to Mediacom. I called and had them activate my card. It can take as long as 24 hours for the CableCARD to be activated, so I let it sit overnight and got excited to watch more channels in HD the next day.

I’d read horror stories of cable providers not activating CableCARDs correctly. Fortunately that wasn’t the case for me. The next day, the CableCARD reported it was activated by the HDHomeRun control panel (accessed by a web interface), but I was having issues viewing my brand-spankin’ new HD channels. There were some funny things going on. I could get the new channels to play in the HDHomeRun software intermittently, but only in windowed mode (not full screen). I could also get the new channels to play intermittently in Media Center but with the same widows mode issue as well as there not being audio in some cases. I would also see odd messages about PlayReady, which is Microsoft’s DRM to make the CableCARD work. I kept getting messages that PlayReady wasn’t working, or that it needed to be updated. No matter what I did, I could not get PlayReady to reinstall or remove correctly. After banging my head against the HTPC for a few days, I decided to take the nuclear option and reinstall Windows.

Low and behold, the headache of a reinstall worked. The CableCARD activated successfully, and Windows Media Center detected it and configured all of the new channels. The programming guide picked up everything, and everything came in nice and clear. I’ve beem able to watch and record all HD programming without any problems. There have been very few issues, and what issues I did encounter were fixed quickly with a firmware update. So far I am very happy with the HDHomeRun Prime.


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