Even More Fun With Windows Media Center

I mean it this time!

Previously, I had used our old [really only] desktop as a media center PC only to fall short of our goal. After you read that, you’ll find that I got to the point where everything was great – except for the digital encrypted channels… which was most of them. I had given up and just configured a virtual machine with an extender to play our music.

We almost never turn it on.

I had at one point subscribed to a discussion about media center and was still getting emails about it. The other day, I actually read a couple. What I read was liberating. Not in a metaphysical sense, but a technological one. In the previous post, you’ll note I discuss the fact that in order to get a CableCard tuner to work with a Windows Media Center PC, it needed to have special BIOS – and be blessed by the cable industry. While to some extent this is still true, some interesting things are happening.

First, new system boards are becoming available with the special setting enabled by default. That is great, since there was previously no way to buy special parts for those who wanted to build their own system or upgrade existing ones for lower costs. Secondly, there seems to be a “hack” out there, or more precisely a utility, which allows non-OCUR systems to show as compatible for CableCard tuners.

Guess which one I was leaning to?

Having already had a nice, capable system [4GB of RAM and 250GB HDD – possibly need more space, though] I was not really desirous of buying anything new. So, I took the old box, wiped it out and installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 RC1. Win7 is quite a bit better, I must say. Especially when it comes to Media Center. The TV Pack is included by default and it, while familiar, has a few more features. I then used a utility to check OCUR compliance: FAIL. Next, came the OCUR utility. I installed it and, Viola! PASS.

I finished building the system, including installing the Amazon Unbox player and the new beta version of the Hulu Desktop [quite cool, I might add] and customized it to be launched from inside the WMC GUI. It even uses the WMC remote control! That being done, I synchronized the music locally to the machine and took it upstairs. I hooked the old analog tuner into the computer and achieve low-def success.

Now that it’s working the way I want, the only thing left is for us to obtain a pair of CableCard tuners [I think Win7 Ultimate can handle up to 4] and cards and get them paired. I’m waiting on that because the tuners are still almost $300 a piece so that has to fit into my budget.

One thing is certain, though: the additional $40 or so per month I’m spending on cable boxes will go away once I go live with CableCards. I’ve even thought about cancelling cable. You can watch all you want on Hulu, so why do I need cable, right? Well, Laura says I can’t drop it yet and the Hulu shows aren’t in full HD and because they’re streaming tend to jump a little. So – not completely free of the cable company. Yet.

All I know for certain is that the saga will continue, and once I can save up enough for the tuners, we’ll be good to go… but…

I need to save up for a car too… decisions, decisions…

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