Networked CableCard TV Solution

For those Cable TV subscribers looking to ditch their set-top boxes, CableCards provide a way for your equipment (Tivo, Moxi, etc.) to decode encrypted and High-Def TV channels without having to rent a set-top box. I was able to ditch the horrible Motorola DVR box my cable company was charging around $20 a month for with a new setup, described below. The new setup cost me for the hardware, but the CableCard rental is $2 per month from Cox, so they’re taking less of my money each month (though still way too much).

Last spring, we moved from a modern, fully wired house (Cat-5e and Cable TV jacks in each room and a wiring panel with a GigE switch) to an antiquated house without such amenities. There is a cable jack in the living room and another in the back room, but none elsewhere, including the master bedroom. So I needed a solution that could use wireless networking, because I didn’t want to deal with running cables, because there aren’t any convenient conduits.

A company, SiliconDust, makes the HDHomeRun Prime, a nifty cable card tuner that puts the cable TV signals on your home network. I put in an M-Card CableCard, which provides 3 separate tuners (I also needed a Tuning Adapter, provided by Cox with the CableCard) and can watch or record 3 HD channels at once. To watch, I use a Windows 7 PC connected via HDMI to my TV. Windows Media Center knows about the 3 tuners and manages them nicely. My laptop can simultaneously use Windows Media Center and watch, too.

This helps me get TV to the master bedroom because an Xbox 360 can be used as a “Media Center Extension” so it can access the tuners via the living room PC over the network and display live or recorded TV on the bedroom TV. It will wake the PC when needed and the PC will then go back to sleep when not in use. There is a slight problem with this in my current configuration: I’m using wireless networking between the PC and the Xbox 360 at the moment, which is a problem. Since wireless bandwidth is shared, even 802.11n doesn’t have enough bandwidth for the PC to send data to the base station which then forwards it to the Xbox 360. To remedy this, I’m planning to move the wireless router and cable modem to be wired to the living room PC so the video stream only goes across the wireless once.

There is apparently an iPad app that can also use the HDHomeRun Prime from El Gato, but I haven’t tried it.

In summary, the HDHomeRun Prime is a really great solution that allows us to take charge of our TV. I have 2TB of DVR storage and can access it over the network, which would be much more expensive using any other solution.

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