One of my favorite features of Windows 7 is Windows Media Center. For several years now it’s been the main way my family records and watches TV as well as watches Netflix and DVD’s. To add to some of the cool things I can do with it though I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first network attached CableCARD tuner, the HDHomeRun Prime from SiliconDust. The benefits of networked tuners has been covered in previous posts here but the inclusion of CableCARD support in a networked tuner makes for a deluxe solution for getting TV on your PC anywhere in your home.
The HDHomeRun Prime is a small standalone device that connects directly to your home network by plugging into an Ethernet port on your router or a network hub. It also takes a coax connection from your cable company and accepts a CableCARD that they can provide for you. Once connected you have three separate tuners that can be used to watch or record from. Windows 7 PCs on your home network can then use these tuners to watch and record live TV with Windows Media Center.
I’ve been using one for a few weeks now and I have to say that my favorite thing is being able to get TV to my laptop without having to plug into anything. I was surprised how well it worked over my wireless actually. I’ve got an 802.11n network at home and it just simply worked. Once connected over Wi-Fi I was able to use Media Center to watch a live show from anywhere in my house. A quick look at Resource Monitor showed a stream between about 6 to 10Mbps on average while I was watching Pawn Stars.
The tuners are ‘pooled’ when you configure several PC’s to use them which allows me to do things like record two shows using the desktop PC in the playroom while watching another channel live on my laptop. I can do any combination of watching and recording from various PCs across the three tuners provided.
It gives me tuners on my main Media Center machine but since I don’t have to dedicate a tuner to any one PC it makes it easy to get TV to places in the house where I have a PC and might only occasionally want to watch TV. This is the case with the first PC I configured, the one in our kitchen. It’s pretty slick as of course you don’t need to run any coax to the PC, install a card or even connect a USB device. You just install the software and configure Media Center on a PC that is digital cable ready and you are set to go.
The initial HDHomeRun configuration was easy and took only a few minutes including a quick call to my cable company to enable the CableCARD. I used the ‘Device Webpage’ link from the configuration utility to check the status menu to see when it had received the signal from them and was ready to go. I’ve made the mistake in the past of hanging up before I had time to confirm a successful activation. Watching this screen helps avoid that problem entirely.
Once the device itself is setup I just went to the PC’s I wanted to enable and ran the HDHomeRun setup program and then Windows Media Center Live TV setup. I had already run the Digital Cable Advisor prior to this to confirm my PC was digital cable ready. No additional calls or authorization from the cable company are necessary.
After setting up a few systems I could do something I’ve wanted to be able to do with digital cable for a long, long time. Easily get premium digital cable content to all the Windows 7 PC’s in my house. If three tuners aren’t enough SiliconDust has a dual CableCARD version available that provides six separate tuners.
Network Tuners are Chock Full of Win – Great blog post with more details on network tuners
Digital Cable Advisor – Tips on verifying compatibility and enabling your Windows 7 PC for digital cable.
Windows Experts Community Forums – Get advice and talk with other enthusiasts about network tuners and or anything related to Windows.
HDHomeRun Prime – SliconDust’s product page for the HDHomeRun Prime.