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An HTPC Perspective: Get Excited About CableCARDs and Tuners

Manufacturer: SiliconDust

An HTPC Perspective on home theater PC technology

We conducted a reader survey a few weeks ago, and one of the tech topics that received a surprising amount of interest in was HTPC coverage. You, our awesome readers, wanted to know more about the hardware and software behind them. I’ll admit that I was ardent about the prospects of talking HTPCs with you. As a relatively new entrant to that area of tech myself, I was excited to cover it, and give you more coverage on a topic you wanted to see more of!

Today we won't be talking about home theater PCs in the sense of a computer in the living room AV rack (Ryan covered that earlier this week), but rather a related technology that makes the HTPC possible: the CableCARD-equipped TV tuner.

I will forewarn you that this article is quite a bit more informal than my usual writings, especially if you only follow my PC Perspective postings. In the future, it may not be that way, but I wanted to give some backstory and some personal thoughts on the matter to illustrate how I got into rolling my own DVR and why I’m excited about it (mainly: it saves money and is very flexible).


Despite my previous attempts to “cut the cord” and use only Internet-based services for television, me and my girlfriend slowly but surely made our way back to cable TV. For about a year we survived on Netflix, Hulu, and the various networks’ streaming videos on their respective websites but as the delays between a shows airing and web streaming availability increased and Netflix instant Streaming started losing content the price of cable started to look increasingly acceptable.

She was probably the first one to feel the effects of a lack of new content – especially with a newfound love for a rather odd show called True Blood. It was at some point thereafter, once she had caught up with as many seasons offered on Netflix of various shows as possible that she broke down and ordered U-Verse. U-Verse is an interesting setup of television delivery using internet protocol (IPTV). While we did have some issues at first with the Residential Gateway and signal levels, it was eventually sorted out and it was an okay setup. It offered a lot of channels – with many in HD. In the end though, after the promotional period was up, it got very expensive to stay subscribed to. Also, because it was IPTV, it was not as flexible as traditional cable as far as adding extra televisions and the DVR functionality. Further, the image quality for the HD streams, while much better than SD, was not up to par with the cable and satellite feeds I’ve seen.

Being with Comcast for Internet for about three years now, I’ve been fairly happy with it. One day I saw a promotion for currently subscribed customers for TV + Blast internet for $80, which was only about $20 more than I was paying each month for its Performance tier. After a week of hell Therefore, I decided to sign up for it. Only, I did not want to rent a Comcast box, so I went searching for alternatives.

Enter the elusive and never advertised CableCARD

It was during this search that I learned a great deal about CableCARDs and the really cool things that they enabled. Thanks to the FCC, cable television providers in the United States have to give their customers an option other than renting a cable box for a monthly fee – customers have to be able to bring their own equipment if they wish (they can still charge you for the CableCARD but at a reduced rate, and not all cable companies charge a fee for them). But what is a CableCARD? In short, it is a small card that resembles a PCMIA expansion card – a connector that can commonly be found in older laptops (think Windows XP-era). It is to be paired with a CableCARD tuner and acts as the key to decrypt the encrypted television stations in your particular subscriber package. They are added much like a customer-owned modem is, by giving the cable company some numbers on the bottom of the card that act as a unique identifier. The cable company then connects that particular card to your account and sends it a profile of what channels you are allowed to tune into.

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There are some drawbacks, however. Mainly that On Demand does not work with most CableCARDS. Do note that this is actually not a CableCARD hardware issue, but a support issue on the cable company side. You could, at least in theory, get a CableCARD and tuner that could tune in On Demand content, but right now that functionality seems to be limited to some Tivos and the rental cable boxes (paradoxically some of those are actually CableCARD-equipped). It’s an unfortunate situation, but here’s hoping that it is supported in the future. Also, if you do jump into the world of CableCARDs, it is likely that you will find yourself in a situation where you know more about them than the cable installer as cable companies do not advertise them, and only a small number of employees are trained on them. Don’t be too hard on the cable tech though, it's primarily because cable companies would rather rent you a (expensive) box, and a very small number of people actually know about and need a tech to support the technology. I was lucky enough to get one of the “CableCARD guys,” on my first install, but I’ve also gotten techs that have never seen one before and it made for an interesting conversation piece as they diagnosed signal levels for the cable modem (heh). Basically, patience is key when activating your CableCARD, and I highly recommend asking around forums like DSLReports for the specific number(s) to call to get to the tier 2 techs that are familiar with CableCARDs for your specific provider when calling to activate it if you opt to do a self-install. Even then, you may run into issues. For example, something went wrong with activation on the server side at Comcast so it took a couple of hours for them to essentially unlock all of my HD channels during my install.

Continue reading to find out why I'm so excited about CableCARDs and home theater PCs!

With that said, and I’ll quote the tech here, “once they are up and running, they’ll stay that way.” In the two or so months that I’ve had it, I’ve found that to be the case. Beyond the quirks, I am still excited about CableCARDs. They offer up a lot of possibilities, and enable some really cool stuff beyond the regular cable box, which I aim to get into over the course of HTPC Perspective articles. The fun really starts when you get into the tuners and the computer hardware and software behind them. There are a couple of companies producing CableCARD tuners, and you can find both internal, external, and even networked TV tuners (ex. PCI-E, USB, and Ethernet respectively). In terms of CableCARD tuners, the two largest names are SiliconDust and Ceton. Ceton is popular in the enthusiast community for its internal PCI-E quad tuner card – the InfiniTV 4 PCIe tuner – whereas SiliconDust is known for its network-attached HDHomeRun Prime boxes. Both have their own strengths, and can generally be found for around the same $200 price point, which can make choosing between the two difficult (you could technically use both, if you have the cash). In my case, where I have quite a few devices that I want to be able to use the tuners without leaving my desktop on, I chose the SiliconDust HDHR3-CC HDHomeRun Prime which attaches to the coax line, a power jack, and my home network (LAN).

It does have one less tuner than the Ceton card, but for me the convenience and power savings won out. Since it is network attached, any computer in the house can reach out and access any (or all) of the three tuners without depending on a home server or desktop being on (WoL may be an option there but that’s just asking for issues of availability when you’re hoping the latest episode of Breaking Bad will record). For the software side of things, I decided to use Windows Media Center as it seems to have the best support for CableCARDs and encrypted cable streams. The various Linux-based software solutions are able to tune into any copy-freely encrypted channels easily enough but there are issues with channels that cable companies flag as copy-once or copy-never (I’ll get into copy-protection in the future). Also – and this is a personal preference thing – Windows Media Center just looks nice. It has a pretty good interface that is many times faster/snappier than any cable or satellite box I’ve ever used. That’s another benefit of rolling your own DVR, is that you can say goodbye to the cable companies slow guide and terrible search!

And that is what this all amounts to, CableCARDs enable you to bring your own hardware to the cable TV party and roll your own DVR. That means that you are no longer stuck with the amount of storage space that your cable company believes is plenty, which may only be 500GB if you are lucky and have one of the newer HD boxes. By pairing your CC tuner to your computer(s), you can easily add all the storage you want. As an example, I have 1 TB allocated to recordings on my desktop and Katy has a 2TB external hard drive to backup all her shows (that’s a lot of True Blood and Teen mom! heh). My desktop, where I do most of my TV watching – it serves as great background noise while writing – is admittedly extreme-overkill for watching TV, but there is something to be said for having more than enough hardware to do the job rather than being stuck with whatever hardware the cable company has on the truck to give you.

You might be wondering about the big screen though, and how I get the TV to the living room. This is the area where a dedicated HTPC like the one Ryan recently put together and a good remote or wireless keyboard/mouse can really shine, and is an area that I’m interested in diving into in the future. For now, I’m actually using my Xbox 360 of all things. Using the Windows Media Extender functionality, I’m able to bring the WMC interface, the tuners for live TV, any TV recordings, and any music, photos, or videos I have saved over to the living room TV. It is not ideal because it is not as snappy as running WMC natively on a laptop or desktop, but it works well and was essentially free since I already had the Xbox 360.

If you are going the WMC Extender route, I would recommend picking up a used Xbox 360 if you do not have one and do not bother with the other extender devices as they are rather old at this point and the ebay sellers where you can find them charge a pretty penny for them. The 360 is also the best and newest extender that you will be able to find, which is unfortunate but true. Obviously, being just an extender, it does require having one of the networked computers turned on to work though – hence the desire to go full HTPC.

Another feature enabled by WMC and the networked nature of the computers is that you can easily get the multi-room DVR functionality that the television providers love to charge extra for – for free! All of the WMC computers are able to share (or not, it can be restricted if you wish) most recordings and either stream it to other computers or copy the recording over to another computer so that it can be played locally. The exception is in the case of the above-mentioned copy-protection flags. These can be a pain because they can restrict you from copying shows around the network to other computers if the TV network or cable provider has flagged the show as copy-once or copy-never. With the cable company equipment, it can sometimes get around that depending on how they have it set up, say if it pulls from the same DVR recording, but that doesn’t always work. At least then though, you can gripe to the provider about not being able to do it on its own equipment (which you are paying them extra to do whole-home DVR for)!

As you can likely gather from this (admittedly lengthy, I apologize) post, there are a lot of nuances, exceptions, and quirks when it comes to rolling your own DVR and TV tuning equipment. It also has a lot of cool benefits as well, if you have the patience and desire to work past the issues.

So, yes I’m really positive about CableCARDs and HTPCs in general. I’m not saying that it is always easy to set-up and there are some real quirks that I wish did not exist, but once it is up and running it’s a rather satisfying feeling.  There is a lot of research required if you are wanting to jump into the DIY HTPC route, especially in regards to your specific cable provider and how it works with the specific company in regards to hardware support (SDV, for example), and pricing. Unfortunately, I can only speak for my experience with Comcast in Midwest Illinois, and even within the same cable company, local regulations and offices can effect pricing so you will need to do due diligence when figuring out what it will cost (it will almost always be cheaper than renting boxes, but it’s impossible to say by how much as it will depend on your area and the provider).

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It's nice to be free of Xfinity logos as much as possible

In my opinion, it is totally worth rolling your own hardware and software solution to tune in and record cable TV (and we haven’t even touched features like transcoding on the fly for mobile devices or – ahem – commercial skipping). While I am still getting hit with Comcast’s “HD Technology Fee” for $10 (even though I have no Comcast-owned equipment… sigh), I get a $2.50 credit for using a CableCARD tuner (they classify it as “customer owned equipment) and do not have to pay the approximate $16 a month for an HD DVR box – a box that would have vastly slower hardware and non-expandable storage space!

Are you excited about CableCARDs and related hardware yet? I know I am. If you cannot yet bear to cut the cord completely, I think this is the next best option!

Now that we’ve talked (a lot) about the hardware and the interesting things it can do, let’s take a visual look at some hardware! On the next page, we’ll take a quick visual tour of a CableCARD and the HDHomeRun Prime TV tuner. SiliconDust isn't the only game in town though, there are plenty of other good tuners out there. The HDHR Prime was just the one that worked the best for my specific setup. Which ones do you use in your HTPCs?

You can follow our other HTPC articles by using the HTPC Perspective tag!

Video News

July 27, 2012 | 09:46 PM - Posted by mAxius

i love this and i wouldn't mind seeing an HTPC build on the leader board. Also have you tried reaching out to different cable providers and their stances on cable cards and will the setup work on their cable systems. id really like to know what companies are all in on the cable card and its forthcoming successor AllVid


July 27, 2012 | 10:32 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

Hehe so a cableCARD Decoder like we have for adds... but for cablecards? :) If there's enough interest, I wouldn't be opposed to the idea.. it could be a good resource. The difficult part would be pricing info as that can vary so widely. But as far as what is supported, seven yes/no, and stuff like thatcould probably be done. We'd prolly need user input on how friendly the various companies actually are regarding cable cards as we don't have access to every us provider to test for ourselves :).

Re: Allvid. I'm not too familiar with the it but I've come across a few mentions of it. Will definitely read more about it though asap.

July 28, 2012 | 12:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

AllVid isn't forthcoming... It's already dead.

July 28, 2012 | 12:15 AM - Posted by dreamer77dd

This was a great article but ended to short.
i want to learn so much more.
i wish their was benchmarks and reviews, etc.
I love to go more in depth with this topic.
i am very happy that your wrote about this topic and hope it continues.

July 28, 2012 | 12:20 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

heh, definitely :) I'd like to keep doing HTPC stuff as I find it really interesting!

July 28, 2012 | 12:18 PM - Posted by Jingles (not verified)

I would love to see more coverage of HTPCs and HTPC gear.

Over here in Aus our cable (HFC) network is atrocious, there are only a few providers (who mostly just resell Foxtel) and it only covers about 2 - 2.5 million homes, i.e. only a small percentage of our population in a few major cities. Most people watch TV broadcast OTA using a set top box or built in TV tuner in their TVs.

I use HDTV tuner cards in my HTPCs for recording TV. My favorite HDTV tuner cards are from DigitalNow, I have used a few of their DNTV Dual Hybrid (7164) PCIe tuners in a couple of HTPCs I have built and they are awesome. They just work unlike some other HDTV tuner cards I have tried.

I'm getting ready to build my third HTPC in an uber swanky A-Tech fabrication 2800HP case. A-Tech used to build suspension systems and shock absorbers for high performance off-road racing vehicles.

There are plenty of other awesome HTPC case makers (that aren't main stream names like Lian Li, Silverstone, BitFenix etc...) like A-Tech Fabrication, HFX, Streacom, Some Japanese company called ASK-TECH, Moneual, Origen AE (I have used their S16V case for my current HTPC), Wesena and probably others.

July 28, 2012 | 12:53 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Hi there, thanks for the comment.

That's cool that OTA is widespread, though do they offer many channels? It seems like the US is a bit better as far as availability but people here are generally stuck with a single cable provider to "choose" from for TV. There is always satelite or something like U-Verse/FIOS if you are lucky but for the most part it is expensive cable vs expensive satelite unless you live in a very large urban area. Satelite/IPV is much less fun because there is no cablecard equivalent :(. At least with cable you can avoid using their modems and tuners, and the rental fees that go along with them hehe. OTA is another good option for getting really good HD of the major networks if you can get it though, and its free! :D

Nice, four tuners per card, and those do look like some nice HTPC cases :).

July 28, 2012 | 10:52 PM - Posted by Jingles (not verified)

Until just recently we only had 6 OTA channels, now we have 19 channels here in Melbourne some states/cities have a few more or less channels. The government is turning off the old analogue TV signal and switching to digital, as part of the switch Freeview was setup (a free digital television service) to deliver more TV channels.
Because digital broadcasting is more efficient broadcasters can broadcast more channels in the same space which means we get more channels for free, YAAY!

I'm going to use that quad tuner card in my new HTPC build because it has DAB+ A.K.A Digital radio which is a fairly new thing here, oh yeah and because it has four tuners :)

You could probably still record Satelite/IPV TV if you used a capture card, something like Avermedia's DarkCrystal HD Capture SDK II or similar. Although it might not be as elegant or easy to get up and running. I dare say there would be some compromises and trade offs that would need to be made.

July 31, 2012 | 01:10 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Ah nice, more free channels are always good! :)

Yeah, I bet that you're right. As the poster below mentioned, it is possible to use a capture card and a IR blaster along with some software, but it's not the most elegant solution. Also, you're limited to one tuner and are dependent on being able to get a rented box with component outputs, which are going to get increasingly hard to find–at least in the US.

July 28, 2012 | 12:24 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

I was hoping to see an article more geared towards the growing number of people like me, that is those that have ditched cable/satellite tv completely. I really do need to check into making an htpc rather than pay Tivo their high $14 a month fee. Actually, I think it would be a GREAT idea for an article for PCPer. A complete step by step guide including all the hardware and software needed to build a nice HTPC for recording ota tv and running Netflix/Amazon/Hulu on. I think you guys might be amazed the interest there would be in that.

July 28, 2012 | 12:41 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

You have my respect, I wasn't able to stay away from cable :). How is Netflix Instant these days as far as content, have they updated the TV catalog in a while? As far as OTA, according to antennaweb I live in a terrible area as far as getting OTA HD. And because I live in an apartment, i don't think I'd be allowed to install the large antenna necessary to pick up many stations ;) hehe.

Anyway, it can definitely be done as far as running some low power hardware to record and playback OTA and web streams smoothly. The HTPC that Ryan built earlier this week would be overkill but in that size of a case you could definitely pack a bunch of storage for DVR'ing :D.

It is an interesting idea for an article, maybe if there is enough interest :).

July 28, 2012 | 01:50 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

I got rid of Netflix a while back and I use Amazon Prime now for my movies and tv shows. The selection is better than Netflix on some shows and worse than Netflix on others. They both have their pluses and minuses, but overall I still think Amazon Prime is the better deal.

As far as no cable/sat goes, I really haven't missed it much. I don't watch any sports though so that helps a lot! Any tv shows I used to watch I buy off of Amazon.

July 28, 2012 | 09:07 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Ah okay, I totally blanked on buying TV episodes on Amazon. I was thinking more of the free Prime selection :p. Do you find that buying just the shows you want to watch is much cheaper than paying a monthly cable fee? Just curious as we looked into that but with all the shows Katy watched, it would have cost a lot for all her seasons :P haha.

July 28, 2012 | 12:47 PM - Posted by Allen (not verified)

Excellent article. I have an HTPC with Ceton internal card and I'm very happy with it. We use 3 XBox 360s as extenders and it works great. Since I travel for a living, it's also easy to grab shows to watch on flights.

Since I'm on the road Monday through Friday most weeks, I was a little concerned about reliability (wife and 2 kids who aren't as tech savy) but once set up, the system for me has been bullet proof. My wife is pleased with 2 TB of storage so she can record to her heart's content and the kids now complain if they have to watch commercials. Between adding as much storage as you want and the ability to skip commercials, I'd strongly recommend this approach to anyone that has any technical inclination at all.

Occassionally we need more than 4 tuners so I'm going to be adding a second Ceton card in the near future.

I'm looking forward to more HTPC articles in the future.

July 28, 2012 | 03:11 PM - Posted by JimT (not verified)

Good article.

I jumped on the cablecard bandwagon about a year ago, and bought a Ceton internal 4-tuner card. to use with Windows 7 Media Center. Comcast supplies digital cable input to the cablecard. My experience has been generally posative, but there still remain a few problems. Sometimes a recording will be skipped with an error message "No signal on channel". Also sometimes I get a "subscription required" message on channels that that require no special subscription beyond paying for expanded digital cable. Sometimes the message appears in the middle of a recorded show, or while watching live TV. Letting it run for a few minutes will normally clear up the error condition, and the show will resume.

The bad news seems to be that Microsoft is largely abandoning Media Center. Rumor have appeared on several forums I read, that Media center on Windows 8 is essentially unchanged from that on Windows 7, no improvements or major bug fixes. Another frequent rumor is that Microsoft has dissolved the Media Center Development team, and reassigned employees to other projects.

With this in mind, I would be cautious about sinking much money into a HTPC project until more is known about Microsoft's future intentions.

July 28, 2012 | 07:33 PM - Posted by MrKing (not verified)

It's possible they are switching gears on Media Center. The only thing that makes me think otherwise is that they're charging a premium fee for it on Windows 8. If they were just going to close up shop, I see little reason to make it a premium offering. It would make more sense for them to just trot it out as a freebie.

Either way if Microsoft bows out a 3rd likely open option will step up to the plate for HTCP supporters to rally around.

July 28, 2012 | 08:01 PM - Posted by JimT (not verified)

I hope they are just regrouping, but I fear that Microsoft has decided the HTPC market is too small too offer much profit potential.

I have read that the additional cost for Media Center under Windows 8 is mostly for licensing of various codecs necessary to run media center. I believe That Microsoft is just passing those costs through to users, rather than continuing to absorb them as part of Windows. This may enable Microsoft to reduce the cost of Windows 8.

July 28, 2012 | 08:09 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I wouldn't be so sure about that. Microsoft is about the only player right now that is able to negotiate the deals to allow encrypted channels to be picked up by a cablecard. Several of the big names in the HTPC space don't have cablecard support and a few of them aren't going to get it because they are no longer in production. Even if you're using WMC you can only stream your recordings to another box, but cannot copy them as they are DRM protected. On top of that, if a provider doesn't want you to be able to record a show, they can use a copy never flag. (Making your tuner card esentially useless)

Everytime I see an article like this I'm hoping that someone has actually found an alternative to WMC that actually works well. The only way to get a real solution working is to record the output from a set top box to your media center.

July 28, 2012 | 08:37 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

I've looked but thus far have had little success in finding a viable alternative to WMC :(.

I'm kind of surprised that certain clever people have not found a way to get around the copy protection flags.. especially the stupid copy-never one on a expanded cable channel... not even a premium one like HBO or On Demand... I think it was a movie on FX iirc -.-

I do hope that Microsoft at least keeps WMC around in its current state with bug/security fixes even if they don't continue feature-development. It's the best/pretty much only game in town.

July 28, 2012 | 08:44 PM - Posted by Tim Verry


"The only way to get a real solution working is to record the output from a set top box to your media center."

Yeah, it does seem like that while people using utorrent+RSS feeds can do whatever they want with the files :(. Considering -- at least in the US -- it's illegal (afaik) to break the HDCP protection to record the HDMI output and they have closed the "analog loophole" to record HD from component... you may as well just use utorrent and RSS feeds for the TV shows you want to actually watch. Both illegal, so you may as well go for convenience. Yeah, I'm a bit jaded at DRM ;). Note that I'm not actually advising you to break the law here, just being a bit sarcastic / realizing that DRM really sucks for paying customers while people pirating for free have it made. Also, IANAL :)

Last I read as far as recording video under fair use was that people are supposed to set up a camera in front of the television and record it that way. You might be able to make a case for yourself there, and I doubt that MAFIAA would actually take you to court as they woudl be too scared of losing and setting precedent, but that's an awfully cludgy setup to be able to DVR shows your essentially paying for with your monthly cable subscription. Time-shifting should be allowed (not directly covered by fair use doctrine :-( ) You'd also have to not record the entire show for it to be fair use, though there is no set guideline on how much exactly you /could/ record ;).

July 29, 2012 | 12:55 PM - Posted by JackNF (not verified)

Options do exist for grabbing analog HD video from component sources, my Hauppauge Colossus capture board works fine with WMC nabbing the analog HD feed from my cable box. The analog hole will only be closed when they stop shipping cable boxes with analog outputs, which I admit may happen eventually but hasn't happened yet.

July 29, 2012 | 01:38 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Ah nice :) you still need a cable box though which does suck. How do you handle channel changing, an IR emitter? Have you found a way to automate recordings? That would be cool to hear about :)

July 30, 2012 | 12:42 PM - Posted by JackNF (not verified)

Yes, it comes with an IR blaster that you attach to the front of your box. It works fine, although if you switch boxes a couple of times the adhesive wears off and I'm currently stuck using a bit of tape to hold it on. Clunky for sure, but it gets the job done.

The plugin software Hauppauge provides allows you to mimic a "Digital Cable" connection in WMC which means it works just the same as if you had a Ceton card set up but with only one tuner, and everything it records just happens to be completely unencrypted (it's just stuck in MS's proprietary WTV container, but with the right software you can remux to TS/MP4/MKV/whatever easily enough for editing and archiving).

Unfortunately the WMC plugin software is limited to one such device per computer, so no dumping several into one machine and having a stack of cable boxes to all use in WMC.

July 31, 2012 | 01:12 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

That's an interesting workaround :). Yeah, the new WMC format seems to be easily transcoded into more friendly formats with some software. I haven't done that myself yet but it's good to know it's available.

That sucks that you're limited to one tuner but at least you can do whatever you want with the recordings :).

July 29, 2012 | 02:15 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

As an HTPC owner the entire purpose of my machine is to eliminate any and all connections to cable subscription providers. While everyone is looking for different things, I personally have no use for cable cards. I do end up losing the ability to watch some sports but the benefit of not exposing myself to the 95% of trash that is 'TV' is well worth the price. The best part of my HTPC for me was cutting the cord.

Now if google would roll out internet in my area I could cut off all ties to the terrible telecoms in my area altogether :P

July 29, 2012 | 02:26 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

What services do you use with your HTPC to get media? Good on you for cutting the cord, btw.

July 29, 2012 | 03:22 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I kinda think MS would rather you have an xbox attached to your TV instead of a WMC.

im not sure why media center PCs never took off... media center is slick, i use it everyday.

July 29, 2012 | 06:03 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Probably :P They should improve the performance of WMC on the Xbox then :). Disabling transistions helps but it's still not nearly as fast as a PC running WMC is, not sure if it's because of the Xbox's hardware or the software though.. I'm guessing the former.

July 30, 2012 | 09:03 AM - Posted by Reade B (not verified)

From some of the extender forums:

1. Reduce the number of channels in the guide to improve performance... and putting the guide on an SSD (on the WMC pc) helps too..

2. Channel tuning performance is tied to the HD Homerun.. can't do much about that.. that I've heard.

July 30, 2012 | 09:04 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Hmm it's mostly moving around the guide and say, moving around the interface from movies tv, music, that is sluggish. It is running on an SSD, but I may have to try limiting the number of channels to see if that helps.

July 30, 2012 | 09:01 AM - Posted by Reade B (not verified)

I have this exact setup at home for recording the Olympics...

Working very well.. Some tips.

1. Harmony remotes can be setup to emulate xbox 360 remotes.. and work very well to control both TV and Xbox.

2. I was getting bit-rate problems from my WMC pc to the Xbox's until I got hard-wired GB ports directly to them. I Tried for the dual-nic setup with streams coming from the HD-Home run on one and outputs to the xbox's on the other, but that didn't seem to be necessary. 10/100 switch with a shared uplink was not good enough though.

3. You don't need an xbox live gold account for using the wmc extender functionality, but you do need it for Netflix.

I'm going to try to move the WMC setup to a dedicated Zotac box to reduce my power requirements and get it off my main pc. Not sure it's going to be powerful enough though as it appears the extenders use a glorified RDP session to display the video.


July 30, 2012 | 10:18 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

ewww.. just move the box to your TV and save yourself the pain.

July 30, 2012 | 01:13 PM - Posted by FnordMan (not verified)

Ah, a fellow CableCard/HDHomerun Prime user.
I mostly ended up choosing the HDHomerun due to cost. At the time I set up mine there was two choices: the $250 HDHomerun and the $400 InfiniTV card.
Sort of a no-brainer there but I still spent almost as much for the tuner as I did for the computer. Computer == Inexpensive AMD Socket FM1 setup. Works great, use a cheap rosewill branded media center remote as the interface.

Anyway, yeah.. using a 320Gig laptop HDD (price: "Free" as it was a leftover from a laptop that died) as the recording drive.
But yeah.. the thing I love the most is that I can throw most recording into VideoRedo to strip the commercials out before re-compressing it as h.264 for the shows I want to save. a ~4-6Gig 1 hour 1080i show becomes a 1.2Gig 720p h.264 mkv. I keep the original 5.1 track rater than re-encode it as stereo.

July 31, 2012 | 12:19 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Does it strip out the commercials automatically? That does sound like a good option for storing as many recordings as possible, the HD WMC recordings can get pretty large :).

July 31, 2012 | 03:32 PM - Posted by FnordMan (not verified)

It's kinda half automatic under ideal conditions. It does a commercial scan that does a decent job but on some channels (like Syfy) it'll miss some commercial content so you've got to go in and do a bit of manual correcting.
It can operate in automatic mode though if you so choose.
If you don't mind the AC3 (5.1 audio) track being squashed down to stereo it'll even do the h.264 encoding itself. (pure CPU, it'll take a bit)
I use either DVDFab ($$, GPU accelerated, randomly fails) or Handbrake (free, pure CPU based) to do the encodes myself.

July 30, 2012 | 05:26 PM - Posted by Activate: AMD (not verified)

does the HDHomrun Prime act as a dynamic tuner pool for networked PC's? I am an early owner of the Ceton InfiniTV4 (yes I waited on line and paid $400+!). One nice feature is the ability to allocate tuners to multiple PC's over the network, but its not dynamic. I have to set a certain number of tuners to certain PC's and if i'd like to use more than the allocated number I can't do it dynamically.

July 30, 2012 | 06:58 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Yes. The way it works is that you hook it up to the network, and then install a small bit of software onto any computers on that same network that you want to have access to the tuners. Then, in WMC you can either assign specific tuners to each machiner or select all tuners (the default), and each computer will attemp to use the first available tuner when tuning into a channel. When one computer is watching or recording a channel, it will lock one of the tuners, making only two available for the other computer(s) to choose from, and so on.

EDIT: and when a channel is no longer being tuned by a computer, that tuner goes back to being available to any of the other computers to use.

July 31, 2012 | 02:38 PM - Posted by Activate: AMD (not verified)

Ah thats much more convenient than the Ceton. I currently have 3 out of 4 tuners allocated to my HTPC, but it only has a small SSD. For long-term recording storage it offloads the recordings to my WHSv2 box. I'm worried about running into a storage wall trying to record multiple channels of Olympic Games and it would probably be easier to have my main PC do the recording on to one of my many large drives. I really wish Ceton would add a dynamic tuner allocation feature since it would make the extra tuner (vs the HDHomerun) a lot more useful than it currently is.

ah well, thats what you get for being an "early" adopter.. its still better than my old single tuner ATI CableCard tuner!

July 30, 2012 | 08:29 PM - Posted by thatsmychin (not verified)

I'm in the middle of kicking my Comcast DVR out the door, I have two ATI tuners that I was going to use.....but I was inspired with your article, so I bought the Ceton tuner last night. I can't wait! I jumped on it because the Ceton was about $100 more expensive 6-8 months ago, so with the drop in price, I was able to justify it. Thanks for the great article.

July 30, 2012 | 09:16 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Very cool :).

If you do opt for a self install, the number to call should be: 1-877-405-2298. Best of luck dealing with Comcast :).

Let me know if you like that Ceton card, I've heard good things and have been considering adding it so that I could have more tuners in addition to the three dynamic ones in the HDHR :).

July 31, 2012 | 02:22 PM - Posted by ButtonPuncher (not verified)

I've found that a ton of RAM and a SSD helps greatly on my HTPC. I'm just building a new one with a 120GB Intel 320 SSD and 16GB of RAM. It runs sooo smooth. I'm also running two Ceton InfiniTV4's and two Hauppauge 2250's for 12 tuners total. The video card makes a big difference too on guide performance because it uses an overlay. Make sure that your drivers are up to date.

One person mentioned having errors saying subscription needed or SDV errors. I've found that those are all due to low signal. Put in a 12dB bidirectional 1GHz amplifier (that amplifies the feed and the return), and your error will most likely go away.

One thing that I like about Ceton is that they let you make a certain number of tuners in to network tuners. Kind of like how Silicon Dust does things.

The other thing that I'm trying on my build is using a 32GB flash drive for the live TV buffer. I'm interested to see how much more responsive that it is and how long that it takes to burn out the thumbdrive. hack7MC has a bunch of good info on redirecting your live buffer directory and increasing the buffer size.

BTW, TunerSalad lets you run up to 12 tuners for each type of tuner. You could run 12 cable card and 12 QAM.

July 31, 2012 | 05:21 PM - Posted by krankycheese

Nice article. About a year ago, I built a HTPC to handle my TV DVR and viewing. I have the 2 tuner HD Homerun to handle OTA broadcast and the 3 tuner CableCard HD Homerun Prime for my cable tv. The only roadblocks that I ran into with the CableCard device was that the HD Homerun Prime is a one direction device so SDV channels would not work with it out of the box and their support/technicians are not as trained on the technology. Time Warner Cable provided me a tuning adapter/resolver for free to help with the SDV channels. As for the tech support, it is a little better but still lacking.

I have not experienced many issues with WMC performance. The OS is on a SSD drive so it is very fluid. The recordings go onto a 2 TB drive. Will you be trying add-ins?

July 31, 2012 | 10:59 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

WMC performance on my desktop isn't a problem. But on the Xbox 360 using WMC Extender the interface is very sluggish.

What plug-ins did you have in mind?

My OS (and WMC) is on an Intel X-25M gen 2 SSD and my recordings go on a 2TB Samsung Spinpoint so it seems like we have similar setups, though Comcast doesn't use SDV in my area yet.

August 3, 2012 | 03:36 AM - Posted by thatsmychin (not verified)

Got my Ceton infintv4 today, Comcast slipped me a single stream cableCard. Had to go back for the M-card when WMC told me to (happy they let me install it though). Digital Cable Advisor balked on my fanless AMD 5450. Ran Windows Experience Index (3.7 from 3.1)and DCA passed it after that.

I'm running a cheap Foxconn board, AMD 4200+, 2GB of DDR2-800 because it was laying around. Not very responsive, but not much worse than my 8yr old Comcast DVR. At least I have control over it, and can have DVD, Netflix, home video, recorded TV on one device. Of course they warned me that they were changing format in January and my cableCard might not support my cable package. May need a cablebox, which would screw up my intentions in the first place!

Any thoughts on using Blu-Ray for a WMC HTPC?

August 3, 2012 | 06:57 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Hmm strange.. I have not heard anything regarding Comcast changing formats. What cable package do you have right now? Maybe they are moving to SDV in your area... hmm..


Hmm, I think I remember reading that there is software that will plugin to WMC to allow you to play back blu-rays in WMC, but I'm not sure how good it is as I have not tried it myself. You might ask Robert Heron of HD Nation (@robertheron) as I believe he's tested it before. I just can't for the life of me rememeber the program he recommended :P


That AMD card should be plenty of horsepower for the HTPC, congrats on the Ceton card, yay for four tuners! :)

August 4, 2012 | 03:46 AM - Posted by thatsmychin (not verified)

I can't say that the rep was exactly in the know, she had a hard time understanding that I was putting my card in a PC. She did say that come January it would not be possible to "plug the cable directly into any TV" I asked about QAM tuners, and she said, "you will not be able to use anything unless a Comcast box is attached...we're going all digital.....I don't even know if you're cablecard will work." Of course Comcast went 'all digital' a couple of years ago, so I don't know.

Right now I have the digital starter package, I used to pay $120 a month for TV and Internet for the last 6 years. I added the phone 9 months ago, after the 6 month bundle discount ran out, I went up to $190 a month due to rate hikes. I downgraded to the digital economy package and ditched the phone, HD, and the DVR. Once I turn in the DVR I'll be down to $85...of course we'll have to see if I can live without HD. The rep even said she wasn't sure my economy package would work with cablecard once I turn in my DVR and my service is downgraded.

The bummer is Comcast lets me pay $10/month for the cablecard, vs the $17 they charge for the DVR (email campaign anyone?).

(not being verbose to engage in conversation, but when I was searching for hiccups in my setup, I was pointed to this article. So I thought I'd document a few things completely in case someone runs across it in the furtur.)

Thanks for the tips!

August 4, 2012 | 04:16 AM - Posted by thatsmychin (not verified)

The rep's warning makes me wonder if Comcast is going to lock down HD for those getting HD channels with their QAM tuners, and only paying for an economy package.....wouldn't surprise me.

August 4, 2012 | 05:06 AM - Posted by thatsmychin (not verified)

EDIT: Just finished a chat session with a Comcast rep. She assured me the first cableCARD is free, not the $10/month the rep in my local office told me I would be paying. I almost felt the wrath of my wife BEFORE the bill even came.

August 4, 2012 | 09:38 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Yes, the first CableCARD should be free. You may even get a $2.50/mo customer owned equipment credit if you are lucky :)

From what I can tell from what you reported of your conversation with Comcast, you should not have to worry about your CableCARD not working. In my area (and I want to say all over in the US but not sure ont hat), Comcast went all digital for every channel earlier this summer. CableCARDs and accompanying tuners are compatible with digital delivery, so you should be okay there. Going digital just means that its no longer an analog TV signal going through the coax cables, it's a digital signal and allows Comcast to pack more channels into the same cable and/or free up more bandwidth for other uses. Unfortunately, it also allows them to lock stuff down even more and it's not compatible with older TVs. If you ever had a TV just hooked up the coax and not to a Set Top Box, it was likely being fed an analog cable TV signal. Once Comcast goes digital in your area, you will need a DTA (digital-to-analog) converter box from Comcast for the TV to continue tuning channels without a STB or CableCARD. There are a few TVs that have digital tuners in them, but for the most part you are looking at getting a DTA. 

At least in my area, the first two DTAs are free, after that there is a fee for additional TVs. I think the economy package confusion relates to... if I'm remembering this correctly.... Comcast is locking down the DTA boxes to only be able to tune up to a certain package of channels. Basically, they are pushing you to upgrade to a more expensive STB ;). If you are just running an all CableCARD home, then you shouldn't have anything to worry about with the digital transition. On the other hand, if you have older TVs in the house currently without boxes, you'll need to get converter boxes for them to unscramble the digital TV singals.


Hope this helps clarify things :). It's nice to know that my article is getting recommended :)

September 11, 2013 | 04:59 PM - Posted by Ron (not verified)

Hmmm...Comcast gave me my first cablecard for free. Second cablecard costs $2.99 a month. Comcast offers a customer owned equipment credit $2.50 a month. I get a monthly credit of $5.00 off my bill. They won't tell you about this credit if you don't ask and a lot of the reps will try to tell you there is no such credit. Don't believe them.

August 4, 2012 | 09:40 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

PS Oh, also the reps in general seem pretty confused when you mention that you're using the CableCARD in a PC ;) Just tell them it's a Tivo lol.

August 3, 2012 | 02:30 PM - Posted by genomad (not verified)

Awesome article.

Im too cheap to get a full cable package and so I only get the major networks over clear QAM with my htpc.

There is an awesome remote that goes for about $15 on amazon. I think everyone who does windows media center should try it out. I love mine.

August 3, 2012 | 04:22 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Thanks :)

I can't blame you man, cable is expensive! 

Once I get an actual pc built for the living room--instead of the xbox 360 in extender mode, I'll def. be checking out remotes, and I'll keep that one in mind :).

August 18, 2012 | 03:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The programs that you record will be DRM-protected. You will be able to play them back only on the computer that recorded them, and if you have to reinstall Windows, you will not be able to play them back even on the computer that recorded them.

August 19, 2012 | 02:42 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Well, not everything is flagged as copy-once :)

August 19, 2012 | 01:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Time Warner Cable flags everything on their cable service except for their Clear QAM stuff as Copy Once.

September 21, 2012 | 04:57 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Ouch, I'm sorry to hear that, that really sucks :(.

November 8, 2012 | 10:07 AM - Posted by JFo (not verified)

I have a question about the Ceton/Hauppauge/HomeRun systems. Do they only tune the signals for watching TV on a computer through the WMC system?

What brought me to this article was just looking for a simple way around using the DTA boxes to watch basic cable on secondary TV's around the house. I have a brand new flat TV for the bedroom that I just simply want to watch basic TV on without paying the $2 a month for DTA box and mount the TV straight to the wall. I want to use the TV remote only to flip through unscrambled channels coming directly from a coax line I have mounted in-wall in a box. Going for clean and simple look here. I would add whatever cableCard tuner ect in the basement where the source comes in.

Can one of these CableCard systems be put in place further down the line (where the cable comes in at my basement for example), unscramble the signal, and sent to the TV for regular use. Like the "good old days" when you had a analog signal with all the channels being broadcast into your house.

I know this article seems to be for a lot of DVR discussion, but I can't imagine I'm the only person in the world who wants to simply have all their TV's in the house have 1 cable line in and no DTA box (especially now that all are $2 a month per TV through Comcast).

Thanks in advance for any input.

January 21, 2013 | 08:53 AM - Posted by Roger F (not verified)

Nice Topic, I have been running 2 home built HTPC's runing xp MCE for over 5 years, I am still in the analog era due to the digital cable encryption not having any packages in the clear, so far the analog is still on in my rural area of Ontario Canada but the time will come when the will shut it down as they did with analog radio stations this last fall.

I stick with XP MCE because my good Aver Media A169 dual analog tuner is not supported under Vista, 7 of 8

as well a couple of deal breakers were introduced in vista & have remained thru 7

they are dual audio @ the same time under xp you can output analog audio to your TV speakers & digital to a HTR, with vista & up you can only have one or the other not both, the other deal breaker is the shut down options, with xp in the advanced screen saver options you can set the PC to prompt you with a options menu when you push the power button on the remote, with vista & up it just goes into standby, you can not choose to close media center, shut down the PC or reboot the pc from the remote power button as you can with XP MCE

as for copying & archiving files I am using the older ms dvr format & I have no problems playing recorded programs back on other PC'S running XP MCE but if I copy to a PC running vista, 7 or 8 files which were flagged as "non protected" in xp have now become "protected" and will not play.

so I simply convert any recorded content with "video Redo" to mpg 2 for SD files this also removes any protection flags that I have encountered, I do this anyway for editing & archiving any content I wish to keep.

the TV decryption card either with a tuner or to work with digital tuners installed in a media center is what is needed to give us access to cable HD TV as I refuse to buy or rent PVR's & cable boxes for each TV & have them control the content I pay for.

whats is needed is information on any cable card tuners that are compatible with windows media center & linux as well as which brands or scrambling systems these cable card slots support this will help those of us looking to make the jump from analog to digital with their HTPC as well those looking for options to the cable company set top box.

November 1, 2014 | 06:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

> There are some drawbacks, however. Mainly that On Demand does not work ...

A big advantage for the people I know. They make the "On-Demand Button" extra big, and with a softer spring, on the Cable Company Remote Controls provided in my area.

When On-Demand is activated it takes you to Channel 1. In order to exit you must wait for it to startup, to register you and load the Channel selections, finally you must navigate through the Menu to the "Exit" choice. Then when you choose to exit it confirms that you really want to ... all the while you are missing your show.

We really would like to see a few newer Articles on obtaining a reasonable substitution for Cable TV at a better price. Fancy Antennas or Internet Hardware we don't care, as long as it's not over $40 / month.

I cut a few of my Cable Channels since I found I could watch the Station online and avoid a paying an extra $10 / month for just one Channel.

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