August 9, 2010 5:21 pm

New Ceton Digital Cable Tuners Make TV in Windows 7 Awesome

By / Senior Program Manager, Windows Insider Program

For those that don’t know, Windows 7 comes with a feature called Windows Media Center. Windows Media Center can be used to turn any Windows PC into a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) when a TV card is present in the PC. Windows Media Center also comes with Internet TV which provides free access to shows and movies streamed across the Internet. Windows Media Center is designed to be used with big displays. People can connect their Windows PCs to their HDTVs and use Windows Media Center to display content. In this post – I’m going to talk about my own setup in my living room which is powered by Windows 7 and Windows Media Center.

A little over 3 years ago, I published a blog post about my Windows Media Center PC and setup in my living room. That post was celebrating the 5th anniversary of Windows Media Center. This year it celebrated its 8thanniversary and I still have that very same PC I blogged about 3 years ago running my all-things digital entertainment in my living room but with Windows 7 of course! That PC – a CineMagix Grand Theater Entertainment System from Velocity Micro – has probably been on and recording tons of TV shows for 90% of those 3 years. It’s held up pretty well. Over the course of the last 3 years, I’ve done a few things to the PC such as adding Blu-ray. But I think after 3 years, I decided it needed a more substantial upgrade: a new graphics card and a new TV tuner card with better capabilities.

Note: In the rest of this post, I am going to be talking a lot about “cards” such as graphics cards or TV cards. These “cards” are components to PCs that add and provide functionality. For example a graphics card provides the graphics capabilities for the PC and a TV card provides TV capabilities. There are sound cards and network cards too – you can probably guess what those cards do 😉

For the last 3 years, my Windows Media Center PC has been running with a pretty decent graphics card (an ATI Radeon X1950) but it didn’t have HDMI. I had been using a DVI-to-HDMI cable to connect to my HDTV. But I wanted to go “native” with straight HDMI. Back in March, I had posted about HDMI and Windows PCs. I recommend giving this post a read for understanding the benefits of HDMI – especially in the particular scenario my Windows Media Center PC is serving in my living room with my TV. I also wanted to have a DirectX 11 capable graphics card in this system. So I went out and picked up one of AMD’s low cost DirectX 11 capable graphics cards (with HDMI!): an ATI Radeon HD 5450. I will likely upgrade this card again to something more higher-end in the future (likely a graphics card with more onboard memory) but for now this works perfectly for my needs.

Next was the TV tuner card. When I bought this PC from Velocity Micro, it came with a TV tuner card that supported CableCARD – or “digital cable tuner”. When digital cable tuners were first introduced, they were only available as part of a new PC. What’s a “CableCARD”? A CableCARD is a special PC card that you can lease from your cable company (U.S. only) that can be used with a digital cable tuner to view and record digital cable TV channels (pay TV channels like DiscoveryHD or HistoryHD as well as premium channels like HBOHD and ShowtimeHD) without the need for a special set top box such as a DVR unit from a cable provider. A TV card that supports CableCARD has a slot in the back that allows a CableCARD to be put in. With a digital cable tuner card in a PC, you can use Windows Media Center to watch and record digital cable TV channels – and in HD!

The TV card that came with the PC was an ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner. At the time, it was top-of-the-line. However, there were draw backs that over the years have grown into a little bit of some frustration. For example this digital cable tuner card was a single tuner. That means that you couldn’t watch and record different channels at the same time. Whatever you were recording at any given time, you had to watch it too – you could not change the channel. There were many times where I wanted to watch something and record something else at the same time.

This is where the new Ceton InfiniTV 4 digital cable tuner card comes in.

Last November, we announced it would be possible to add a digital cable tuner card to any Windows PC that supported it. Because of this, I could now replace my current TV tuner with something newer on my own. Ceton’s new InfiniTV 4 TV card is a brand new PCIe 1x digital cable tuner that is hitting the market that includes 4 tuners in one card! That means with the InfiniTV 4 TV card, I can watch a TV show at the same time I’m recording 3 other shows at the same time. At any given time, in Windows Media Center you could be recording up to 4 HDTV shows at the same time. For me – the InfiniTV 4 offered an incredible upgrade to my Windows Media Center PC. Ceton’s work here with their InfiniTV 4 TV tuner card this a great example of a product from one of our partners that takes Windows to a whole different level and makes a good feature (Windows Media Center) great.

After I completed the upgrade of my Windows Media Center PC – my living room’s digital entertainment experience was simply awesome. Recording multiple TV shows while watching another is amazing. However, I foresee another upgrade in my future: more storage! I’m running out of hard drive space from recording so many TV shows!

Do you want to add one of Ceton’s new digital cable tuners to your Windows PC? In Windows Media Center, you can use the Digital Cable Advisor Tool (located under the Extras gallery) to check if your PC is capable of running a digital cable tuner. If your PC checks out and has a spare PCIe 1x slot, you can buy a Ceton InfiniTV 4 here. Ceton has begun shipping units to those who have pre-ordered and people are starting to see them arrive this week.

I suggest visiting the website The Green Button as it is a great place to find Windows Media Center and home entertainment experts to help you out if you need assistance or any tips or tricks integrating your Windows PC with your TV!