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Installing a Vista CableCARD Media Center PC (part 2): Perfecto!

Ryan Block, @ryan

So, how many people did it take to install my Vista CableCARD Media Center PC back west in SF?

The answer is four, but had Microsoft not been there to supervise, it would have been one.

You read how Peter's install was, well, less than ideal to say the least. Mine couldn't have gone better, though. Excepting the time it took for Microsoft to come in and set up the rig (which it's assumed you will have all done before your cable installer gets there), getting CableCARD DVR functionality took no more than 20 minutes, tops. Yeah, Microsoft was there to supervise my installation too, but in all reality they didn't need to be, considering what a breeze it was. Read on for the (comparatively brief) blow-by-blow of a CableCARD-enabled Vista PC install gone horribly, horribly right.

11:45AM - Craig Cincotta and Joe Chauvin from Microsoft and Janet Argentin from Waggner Edstrom show up -- the same team from last time. This time they brought their pal from Comcast, my cable provider out in San Francisco. They brought the exact same rig (Dell XP 410, 24-inch monitor, external ATI tuner, etc.); my Dell also has a floppy -- can't wait to have our intern standing over the unit, swapping out disks as it futilely tries to record some HDTV to the A drive.

11:54AM - Comcast is testing the lines and checking to see how the levels are; we just had a Series3 dual CableCARD install, so we're hopeful things will be in tip top shape.

11:59AM - Comcast is wrapping up the line testing; Craig and Joe are ready to rumble with that PC.

12:08PM - Everything is hooked up and ready to go; they're just running through the regular install routines -- the stuff that the cable company would expect you to already have done, like turn on your computer, flip on the Media Center interface, download your local EPG...

12:14 - All set, now they're pairing the CableCARD to the DCT.

12:19 - Ok, we're in! Man, it looks great -- unlike Pete's install there's zero stuttering, jitter, glitching, etc. Piping it through hard Ethernet to the Xbox 360 looks perfect too, the experience is flawless.

12:22 - Weird, the EPG is two hours off... oh, just turns out the computer is set to CST, not PST. Problem solved. And with that they're done!


I kind of wish I had more to write about -- Pete's installation experience is a harrowing, if hilarious ordeal. I was there, I got to see the night and day difference two installs can have on the end user experience. It's amazing how many variables there are, between digital cable (and all the DRM there), the reportedly high failure rate of CableCARDs, the wonky ATI DCTs, and issues with the ever-present Windows x-factor. Still when it all comes together and works, it just works so well, and all things said and done, this install was even easier than our recent dual-CableCARD TiVo Series3 install. And really, it's impossible to argue with the awesomeness that is watching three flawless simultaneous HD streams -- one on the main head, two to Xbox 360s -- all at once.

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