Adding a CableCARD™ TV tuner is really the pièce de résistance in creating a full-featured Windows Media Center PC because it is the only way that US-based users can bring high definition, premium digital cable content directly into their PCs without using a set-top box. If you use Windows Media Center to manage your television and DVR needs, and you subscribe to a lot of premium channels in your cable plan, then a CableCARD tuner makes great sense for you.
When CableCARD™ tuners first hit the market a few years ago, however, they required a Digital Cable Ready PC. At the time, these could only be obtained from an original equipment manufacturer, which was very much to the chagrin of DIYers and enthusiasts who were eager to round out their Home Theater PCs with a robust digital cable experience.
All of this changed with Windows 7, however. The OEM-only requirement was lifted and DIYers were free to build their own HTPCs with CableCARD™. What’s more, the next generation of CableCARD™ tuners are arriving on the market now from companies like Ceton, and coming soon from Silicondust, and the reviews thus far have been fantastic.
Enabling a Windows 7 PC for CableCARD
If you’re getting ready to take this next step with your Windows 7 PC, there is a tool called the Digital Cable Advisor that you must run for the successful integration of a CableCARD™ tuner. The Digital Cable Advisor measures system parameters such as CPU speed, RAM, graphics card support for hardware acceleration, and digital connection capabilities.
- If the PC meets the minimum requirements, the tool enables digital cable functionality on the PC. Then, users can add a digital cable tuner with a CableCARD™, allowing them to access all of their high definition and premium cable content within Windows Media Center, but without using a set-top box.
- If the PC does not meet the minimum requirements, the Digital Cable Advisor will indicate which components failed and make some basic recommendations for upgrading the PC to accommodate digital cable.
In Windows 7, Digital Cable Advisor can be found within Windows Media Center’s extras gallery.
Before you run the Digital Cable Advisor:
- Ensure that you are not running on battery power when installing and running this tool. Some of the tests will not run on battery power alone.
- Ensure that you are not running other applications when running the Digital Cable Advisor.
After you select Install, you will be prompted to confirm the download and accept the end user license agreement. Digital Cable Advisor will start automatically after it has been downloaded.
If any issues occurred during the download process or if the tool doesn’t automatically start, navigate to Extras | Extras Library in Windows Media Center to run the tool. If the tool was not successfully downloaded, try to download it again from Extras | Extras Gallery.
Select Next to start the tool and display the license agreement. This second set of terms relates to the updates that will be made to the system if it meets the minimum requirements.
Above: Terms of Service for system updates
After agreeing to the terms, you are ready to test your system. Select Start Test to analyze your system.
The tool may take several minutes to run the tests to analyze the system. The tool’s progress is indicated above the Start Test button. When complete, you will select Next to see the test results.
Digital Cable Advisor System Analysis Results
If the system does not meet the minimum requirements, the results will indicate where the system has failed. Make note the results and consult with a qualified computer reseller to upgrade the necessary components. Below, a sample failure caused by a system’s graphics card.
Here are results for a PC that has a processor suitable for digital cable, but additional RAM and an upgraded graphics card are required:
Finally, an example of multiple failures. This PC would not provide a quality digital cable experience.
If your system has met the minimum requirements, you will be notified and prompted to update the system settings. Select Update System Settings to configure the system to support a digital cable viewing experience on your PC.
Once the PC has been updated with the necessary configurations to support a digital cable experience, a congratulations page is displayed along with additional considerations for ensuring the highest-quality viewing experience.
Next Steps and Additional Considerations
Now that you have enabled your PC for digital cable, you will still need to obtain a digital cable tuner, a CableCARD™ from your cable service provider, and a premium content subscription. How cable companies deal with CableCARD™ Windows Media Center PCs tends to vary greatly by provider. Check out Windows Help and How-To for more information on the process, and if necessary, seek assistance at TheGreenButton.com, our forums for Windows Entertainment and Connected Home enthusiasts.
If the system does not meet the minimum requirements, update the necessary components and run the Digital Cable Advisor tool again from Extras | Extras Library.
Finally, some resources that may help you as you go down this path: