CableCARD is required by the FCC to be offered by your cable provider to allow users more freedom in how they view their media. You won’t hear it advertised because the cable companies have no reason to make information about them known. In fact, most techs and customer service representatives may not have heard of them or know ho to install one. The most common uses for these are in a TiVO, but you can also use them when making your own DVR such as with Windows Media Center. This last example is exactly what we planned to do.
Before you get your card, make sure that you’re very clear in what you want and what the company offers. There are major differences between providers as well, so shop around. The main things you want to find out include the type of card you’re getting, number of streams supported, and what kind of copy protection is in place.
The most important thing to ask is regarding the type of card. You want to ensure you’re getting an “M-Type” or multi-stream card. Different companies allow different streams. Unfortunately, Brighthouse only offers 2-stream cards so even though our tuner supported 3 streams, we could only record two shows at a time.
The other thing you’ll want to find out affects how you can use the recordings. CableCARD supports copy protection which is determined by your cable provider. There are two main types: copy-free and copy-once. Unrestricted, or copy-free, is the one you want and lets you do whatever you want with the recorded files. Copy-once lets you record the files, but you can’t convert the file format or view them from a different device. There are other more restrictive types, but they are generally only used for pay-per-view movies and super premium channels such as HBO and Showtime. Again, Brighthouse comes in with bad news here and encrypts all cable channels except for a few such as local stations. I’ve read that Verizon FiOS is the best service as all but super premium and on demand channels are copy-free.
Once you get your order placed and maintenance scheduled, you’ll need some way to read the content from the CableCARD.For this, there were two main options:
Since I had experience with the HDHomeRuns before and because I wanted the signal to be available over the network, I went with the Prime.
Setting up all of the physical connections was pretty easy. Plug in the power cable, ethernet cord, and m-card and you should be all set. The HDHomeRun comes with some easy to use software that will set everything up for you, but you will need to go to the device’s web site and give the cable guy some information so they can activate the card.
When we were setting things up, we did have some issues getting Windows Media Center to work, but from what I could tell, everything was set up correctly on Brighthouse’s end and so the cable guy went on to his next appointment after spending over an hour getting our house set up (apparently our house never had cable before).
Getting Windows Media Center (WMC) set up took some time, but I think the main reasons for our issues were due to our HTPC being relatively under-powered.
Once you’ve run through the step-by-step guide, you should be able to watch and record cable channels. Unfortunately, we learned that Brighthouse is lame and only provides 2-stream cards even though the HomeRun supports 3. The cable guy said that this is true even for TiVo, so there wasn’t anything we could do about it. This meant we needed to select the manual detect process in order to disable the 3rd tuner.
The main issue we ran into was with activating the computer. I’m still a little confused as to why we even needed to do this considering the card was already activated, but we kept getting these errors saying the computer didn’t support CableCARD. It turns out that there is a plugin you install called “Digital Cable Advisor” and if that fails, you can’t use your computer with CableCARD. Fortunately, you can follow the steps over at missingremote.com to override this program. This worked perfectly and I was able to complete the activation process and watch full HD TV!
Now that we had the TV working, it was time to disable the channels we either didn’t get, or didn’t receive the HD version for. After determining those channels, we could disable them in the settings.
Now that we’ve got our HTPC set up, we’re able to watch and record cable TV without having to pay the monthly fee for a DVR.