Thinking about going HTPC, but I need help!

Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
217
106
Hello All,
I will tell you all from the get-go that that there will be a lot of information here. Any input much appreciated.
The short of it is: Is cable TV plus a computer for HTPC duties what I want for getting TV shows recorded as they air (while not paying a monthly fee for something?

Right now I have a file/media server. It does ok, but just having that, Netflix, and Amazon Prime has it's issues:
-there is a limited number of shows that we want to watch (albeit a fairly high limit)
-shows will go away after an unspecified time (the kids hate this)
-streaming on Netflix and Prime is adequate at best (our cable internet speed is fine)
-there are current shows I would like to be able to save for later viewing (without commercials)

The server I have now is an Intel 2500k on a Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 with 8 GB of RAM. I have HDMI on the board and HD 3000 graphics from the CPU. Hard drive space right now is 2 TB. I also have a wifi card for the server, when needed (it is usually hard-wired to the router).

Questions:
-My assumptions are that I mainly need cable TV service, a TV tuner card, and software, for the server.
- I need ANY recommendations here (additions or deletions if necessary.)
-Do I need a remote, or can a mouse do the job (keyboard when necessary)?
-Once I get this set up, how is this going to work? Does the display need to connect directly to the server/htpc, or can I send it to the TV over the network?

I will be grateful for any input here. I know some of the questions probably sound silly. I have been looking at guides the last couple nights, but they seem to all be skipping steps here and there.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
Hello All,
I will tell you all from the get-go that that there will be a lot of information here. Any input much appreciated.
The short of it is: Is cable TV plus a computer for HTPC duties what I want for getting TV shows recorded as they air (while not paying a monthly fee for something?

Right now I have a file/media server. It does ok, but just having that, Netflix, and Amazon Prime has it's issues:
-there is a limited number of shows that we want to watch (albeit a fairly high limit)
-shows will go away after an unspecified time (the kids hate this)
-streaming on Netflix and Prime is adequate at best (our cable internet speed is fine)
-there are current shows I would like to be able to save for later viewing (without commercials)

The server I have now is an Intel 2500k on a Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 with 8 GB of RAM. I have HDMI on the board and HD 3000 graphics from the CPU. Hard drive space right now is 2 TB. I also have a wifi card for the server, when needed (it is usually hard-wired to the router).

Questions:
-My assumptions are that I mainly need cable TV service, a TV tuner card, and software, for the server.
- I need ANY recommendations here (additions or deletions if necessary.)
-Do I need a remote, or can a mouse do the job (keyboard when necessary)?
-Once I get this set up, how is this going to work? Does the display need to connect directly to the server/htpc, or can I send it to the TV over the network?

I will be grateful for any input here. I know some of the questions probably sound silly. I have been looking at guides the last couple nights, but they seem to all be skipping steps here and there.
I hate to admit it, but we'll all learn a lot when there's a consensual set of answers to all those questions. I use my WHS-2011 to ARCHIVE DVR-captures from cable-TV or OTA-HD broadcasts. I have a workstation configured to my AVR/HDTV. If an HD content-protected channel is DVR'd on that machine, it can only be played on that machine. So for this, I never really explored what might be really possible with the WHS server.

You'd want to be able to stream LiveTV to more than one computer through the server, but I don't think you can.

I use the HD HomeRun Prime network tuner devices, and I can allocate a tuner or tuners to any PC in the house. But again -- if material is DVR'd by that computer, it can only be played on that computer if it is premium or encrypted content. Other stuff -- PBS, digital-non-HD channels -- their captured media can be shared across the network and PCs -- wired and wireless.

If there's something else I don't know -- answers to more than one or two of Ketchup's questions -- I'd like to know myself.

You can mix input from a PCI-E tuner and a network device like HDHR Prime, and obviously the options with OTA would be greater. they're just not "Premium" options.
 
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Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
217
106
Thank you for the response. So if I capture something to one device, it is stuck to that device. Do you know how that works? It is stuck in a weird format, or part of a larger file after it is recorded?
 

bradly1101

Diamond Member
May 5, 2013
4,690
292
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www.bradlygsmith.org
Thank you for the response. So if I capture something to one device, it is stuck to that device. Do you know how that works? It is stuck in a weird format, or part of a larger file after it is recorded?
Only copy protected channels (premium ones on ours) are locked to the PC that recorded it. It's all that DRM stuff.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
Thank you for the response. So if I capture something to one device, it is stuck to that device. Do you know how that works? It is stuck in a weird format, or part of a larger file after it is recorded?
Bradly1101 is correct about this. I still need to verify if I was able to play unencrypted HD content on my non-HD laptop.

I've captured many programs from OTA and subscription-cable broadcasts -- HD and non-HD. You can burn 'em to disk and pass them around.

It's the premium encrypted HD channels that are the bitch. Since a lot of our DVR activity will also involve capturing "Black Sails" or HBO-STARZ-ENCORE movie broadcasts, you're stuck playing it on the same HT-configured-PC.

I find myself divvying up DVR captures between HD-encrypted and "Other," to organize in different folders so I can make the latter available throughout the house via the WHS server.

I'll tell ya, Ketchup. I started fiddling with this stuff around 2001 with my first Hauppauge card. I was slow to migrate from SD to HD-capability. All those old tuner cards aren't worth s*** now, even if they fit in a PCI slot. MAYBE I could get an SD line from my cable-box (STB) and port it to one -- I can't say.

I've been set up for encrypted HD and everything else for maybe three or four years, and I'm still "learning stuff." I'm emphasizing here that I'm not SURE about the answers to all your questions, and I'm hoping to get a free ride on the answers if others give them.
 

Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
217
106
OK, gotcha .... sort of. Did a little reading. Do you guys know what kind of protection is used? Is it limited to the software playing it back, location on a specific disk?
 

Binky

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 1999
4,046
4
81
What OS is running on your server? I think you need Windows for cable TV recording.

You say free, but you also say cable. Do you mean cable TV, or do you possibly mean off-air HDTV?

If you're in an area that can receive antenna-based broadcasts, you can get "normal" channels for free in HD (2-13, PBS, etc.).

Cable is never free. For the PC, you would need a cablecard tuner (e.g. HDhomerun PRime) and a cablecard from your cable company. The card will cost a few bucks a month, in addition to the normal cable fees. You won't need an additional set-top box.

To play on the TV, there are MANY options. The best for cable recordings is either another Win7 computer, or an xbox360 running as an extender. You can also run Kodi, but IMO, the Win7 machine is better if you're strictly talking about recorded TV.
 

bradly1101

Diamond Member
May 5, 2013
4,690
292
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www.bradlygsmith.org
OK, gotcha .... sort of. Did a little reading. Do you guys know what kind of protection is used? Is it limited to the software playing it back, location on a specific disk?
The name for the DRM is 'PlayReady' and it can't be broken, not that I've tried ():).

If you know where you're going to watch it, just record it there. You have to adapt to that restriction for premium stuff. It's lame, I know.
 

Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
217
106
What OS is running on your server? I think you need Windows for cable TV recording.

You say free, but you also say cable. Do you mean cable TV, or do you possibly mean off-air HDTV?

If you're in an area that can receive antenna-based broadcasts, you can get "normal" channels for free in HD (2-13, PBS, etc.).

Cable is never free. For the PC, you would need a cablecard tuner (e.g. HDhomerun PRime) and a cablecard from your cable company. The card will cost a few bucks a month, in addition to the normal cable fees. You won't need an additional set-top box.

To play on the TV, there are MANY options. The best for cable recordings is either another Win7 computer, or an xbox360 running as an extender. You can also run Kodi, but IMO, the Win7 machine is better if you're strictly talking about recorded TV.
Thanks Binky. If I go this route, we are probably going to go cable for this (pay of course). The HD channels over the air look good most of the time (40" 1080 Samsung), but there are some non-air channels I know the family will want. The non-pay I referred to would be a service (Tivo) for example.

Right now the server is running Server 2008. I also have an extra copy of Vista, and will probably be going 10 when it comes out.

You brought up a good point though. I know I need a tuner, not sure what would be best here. I am a little fuzzy on the cable card. I have read people say you have to pay for it, and I have read people say that with new regulation you don't have to (it's a service they have to provide if you are paying for cable).

So, is there any software that is clearly the best for these?

bradly1101 thank you. We are not "on demand" people, but I would like to know if I run into issues if I have to clone to a larger hard drive, or OS/Software/Hardware updates down the road.
 
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BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
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900
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Now as I recall it, you could configure the MS remote receiver with option wiring to IR communicating with a set-top box IR. This possibility seems likely because WMC asks you if you have a set-top box. For HDHR Prime, you say "No."

My current STB has an Ethernet port and a coax "out." I think you'd configure something like the coax to the coax input of a card like the HVR-2250. That card by itself has something like 2 or four tuners of its own, but with the STB configuration, you'd only use one channel.

If the STB can be set up as an Ethernet device, there may be other possibilities -- I can't say.

My memory is very vague on this stuff. I shoulda kept notes!

Once you get a device to work like the SiliconDust HDHR', or the Ceton . . . Infinitv (I have no personal experience with it), you could look back on it as a big accomplishment. All sorts of one-time configuration pitfalls. You have to pay attention to both the HDHR software and web-interfaces, and to WMC. There is a "configured for CableCard" and a "Cablecard Activation" item on the WMC menus.

If hardware isn't configured to spec -- for instance an otherwise-HD monitor connected through a VGA-era KVM, the PC won't be HDCP compliant unless you have another monitor connected to it through direct HDMI. If it's not HDCP compliant with effective pass-through in cabling or switching as needed, you'd get non-HD digital stations but failure for any encrypted HD stations. There ARE unencrypted HD stations in cable, or so I think so. No problem either with OTA HD using a $50 indoor antenna and an HVR-2250.

I give myself a pat on the back for fully integrating OTA HD /2250 and SillyDust HDHR' through WMC. If you can do it through the OS's own, I believe it is simpler or better, but I've never tried XBMC/Kodi or MythTV. I once had SageTV, but -- no more. Google bought 'em, I think.

All these things can foul up your initial setup. They are eventually all resolved, but one must establish at least an intuitive procedure for re-init, reset, reconfiguration of tuners and channels.

You can foul up your configuration just for updating a graphics driver, so create checkpoints so you can restore the OS and registry to a previous status-quo. Or you'll find yourself reinstalling and uninstalling drivers to "get back to the right one."
 

Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
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I like the looks of the Hauppauge 1213 WinTV-HVR-2250, which Newegg lists as the replacement for the one you mentioned. Now to find some more info about how it operates.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
I like the looks of the Hauppauge 1213 WinTV-HVR-2250, which Newegg lists as the replacement for the one you mentioned. Now to find some more info about how it operates.
If you're new to this, that is also a good way to get started.

The HDCP and content-protection features in this business always present a slight hurdle. [Well -- "a hurdle," for sure.] It will be there through Media Center with a PCI-E tuner card, and it will be there with the process of initializing a cablecard.

Sometimes if you just "ask" the provider to activate and initialize a cablecard, they can fail to enter the data properly -- both the cablecardID and hostID reported by WMC. Once you get that done, a device like the HDHR' should show "success success success" for three items in its status screen, and "ready" for tuner-resolver. I went three years with "success success none" and "ready," and thought everything was working fine, but I needed to call the provider and have them re-initialize the adapter and/or the cablecard maybe once monthly. "None" was for "cablecard Validation." This was due to my failure to pay more attention to the HDHR' instructions and troubleshooting guide. Once it was done properly, it has worked without the slow deterioration requiring more customer-support contact.

And I didn't have anybody punching me in the shoulder about my incomplete understanding of it. It was "there" in the SD HDHR' online guides and help, but I had to "know" I had a problem before I solved it. Once I explained the importance of entering the data properly to the provider, they got it done right. And the provider has to deal with a lot of different cablecard devices: you can't expect them to be HDHR' experts.

Whether with 2250, HDHR', Ceton or some other device, a PC with WMC properly configured for subscription TV seems like "a thing of beauty."

There are a lot of options to WMC available: XBMC/Kodi, MythTV, PLEX -- maybe more. I just haven't tried them yet.

It's just that a lot of folks lose patience with it too soon in the process.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
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By the way. With my charter provider, each cablecard is $2/month each -- cheap in my estimation. Other providers may charge more.

They use cablecards in all their own STBs, tuner-adapters and add-on subscription devices. Here -- they just provide you the essential item, and you provide the device.

And like I said, I'm still "learning." When they threw HDCP/content-protection into the mix, I was never completely clear as to what I could or could not do with DVR'd/captured material. Just last night, I was able to play on another system a capture of a movie that hadn't been recorded from a premium HD channel, but it was a subscription channel I thought would be encrypted.

these discoveries widen the flexibility of "streaming" across your LAN.
 
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Sep 12, 2004
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Just to clarify, a premium channel flagged as "Copy Once" can only be played back on the same PC. Other WMC PC's on the local network cannot playback the program. However, that does not apply to extenders. Extenders can playback a copy once flagged program without issue. That is why I recently changed from using an HTPC on my main TV to a server with extenders (a Ceton Echo) for all TVs; not to mention that it reduces HDCP issues, resolution problems when resuming from Standby, and has a much better WAF. Unfortunately the Echo is not perfect. Every once in a while it freezes up. Still, it the closest to perfect I've achieved using a cable card tuner system.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
Can anyone recommend any books about setting up HTPC with a range of devices such as HVR-2250, HDHR' or Ceton? Media servers and extenders?

Everything I've learned about this thus far has come through experimentation, tinkering and web-searches.
 

bradly1101

Diamond Member
May 5, 2013
4,690
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www.bradlygsmith.org
Can anyone recommend any books about setting up HTPC with a range of devices such as HVR-2250, HDHR' or Ceton? Media servers and extenders?

Everything I've learned about this thus far has come through experimentation, tinkering and web-searches.
It's no more complex than putting any PC together, and the manufacturers' websites have all the installation help you need. If you go cable card with Silicon Dust's offering get ready to have a ridiculously easy time setting it up. I mean give me something to troubleshoot! ;-)
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
It's no more complex than putting any PC together, and the manufacturers' websites have all the installation help you need. If you go cable card with Silicon Dust's offering get ready to have a ridiculously easy time setting it up. I mean give me something to troubleshoot! ;-)
The only problem with the cablecard rental and the device you use with it is that errors can occur at both ends when setting it up. I even discovered that switching from "Hyperthreading Enabled" to "disabled" would foul up the handshaking related to HDCP.

And apparently, all the HDCP handshaking is only enabled properly if certain things are done in a certain sequence. If you change the hardware configuration even slightly, or "Activate Cablecard" before your final WMC configuration, you need to make another call to the provider.

I could be mistaken about some of this, but I don't think I've mistaken all of it.
 

Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
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Good discussion here. Let me get specific then, just to make sure we are on the same page. Right now I have
- Samsung blu-ray with wifi, plays Netflix, as well as video and audio from
- Server running Samsung Allshare, watching only on our 40" LED 1080 TV

Here is what I want (will have cable, assuming we do all this):
Right now just want to record cable shows so that we can watch later.
- What will I need to watch the recorded programs on the TV, and sometimes on tablets in the house as well?
- The TV has two HDMI ports, both being used ATM (Wii-U). Is there a way to spit them?, or
- Let's say I didn't want to hook the computer directly to the TV. What will I need to get the recorded shows to the TV? Right now we use the software built into the bd-em57, and it does fine for what we currently have.

Really appreciate all the input here.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
Good discussion here. Let me get specific then, just to make sure we are on the same page. Right now I have
- Samsung blu-ray with wifi, plays Netflix, as well as video and audio from
- Server running Samsung Allshare, watching only on our 40" LED 1080 TV

Here is what I want (will have cable, assuming we do all this):
Right now just want to record cable shows so that we can watch later.
- What will I need to watch the recorded programs on the TV, and sometimes on tablets in the house as well?
- The TV has two HDMI ports, both being used ATM (Wii-U). Is there a way to spit them?, or
- Let's say I didn't want to hook the computer directly to the TV. What will I need to get the recorded shows to the TV? Right now we use the software built into the bd-em57, and it does fine for what we currently have.

Really appreciate all the input here.
Like I said, I'm also watching for answers to your questions. I have two HDHR' units connected to the household LAN. I can, if I wish, provide TV with protected content to every computer in the house -- if the users want it. [The fam-damn-ily.] The first of the HDHR'-'s is working perfectly, but it was never initially paired to my server, but to a workstation. The second one -- for initial pairing with a second "sister" PC -- is unable to receive encrypted HD stations because it was activated before I'd sorted out "HDCP" issues with that system.

Both PC's are connected to the same HDTV, but they're also connected through a non-HDCP [DVI-to-VGA] KVM to a common "HD" monitor (1920x1080). It is this latter connection which makes configuration just slightly tricky: the configuration, activation . . . whatever . . . must be done with MC set up with the HDTV as the "viewing" instrument. So I've been looking at HDMI switchers to supplement the KVM, for instance, this one:

http://www.amazon.com/Sewell-Direct-.../dp/B00629NHW6

But such a splitter could also eliminate one of the two lengthy HDMI cables I'm using -- at the moment -- to the AVR/HDTV.

Right now, I can get digital subscription content on the second system, but not the HD channels. I even get non-HD "subscription channels, even those those provided for HBO. And this is quite "fixable." Before I get to "mission accomplished" though, I need to choose the final "hardware adjustments" to that machine. would've been easier if I'd simply paired both HDHR'-'s with the first system, but I didn't want to "break" what was already working fine.

I don't think someone building a dedicated HTPC will have either my hesitations or difficulties -- beyond the initial setup. I didn't choose the "dedicated" route, so . . .

Anyway -- the Sewell 2x1/1x2 device has a 3x1 1x3 cousin. They're not expensive. I'm just attempting to make careful choices based on indications of "quirks" from customer-reviews. If there are "quirks," I want to know what they are up front.
 
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Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
217
106
So I just pulled up this:
http://www.amazon.com/SiliconDust-HD...productDetails

and found this:
I was tired of renting a DVR and cable modem for $36+tax/mo from Time-Warner Cable, so I decided to buy my own equipment.

Replacing the cable modem was pretty easy - just get one from their list and call them with the MAC address and return theirs, it'll pay for itself in under a year.

Replacing the DVR required more effort but the end result is much better than a rented DVR. The HDHomeRun PRIME is the start for CableCard-based independence.

With Time-Warner Cable, here's what you need:

1. The HDHomeRun PRIME
2. A CableCard from Time-Warner Cable ($2.50/month)
3. A free Cisco DTA 170HD Digital Transport Adapter (connected via USB to the HDHomeRun PRIME, it transparently re-tunes switched digital video) from Time-Warner Cable
4. Windows Media Center on a PC that's on your LAN. This is a must; nothing else will play anything but local broadcast TV on Time-Warner!
5. Activate the CableCard as well as the Cisco Adapter with customer support over the phone. You'll use your web browser to see the HDHomeRun PRIME, and plan on 1/2 to 1 hour to get to the right support rep
6. Install the HDHomeRun PRIME software/driver on the PC
7. Get Windows Media Center PC properly configured for the HDHomeRun PRIME. This is pretty quick from WMC's tasks - settings menus

The reason that Windows Media Center is the only viable computer software for TWC is that TWC transmits the copy-once flag for virtually every channel. Connect any other PC/Mac program (including VLC) to the HDHomeRun Prime and it will refuse to play almost all channels within one second or less. The Time-Warner people confirmed for me that WMC is the only fully functional computer-based solution. Sadly, even Windows + WMC in a VMWare virtual machine will not work because the display driver isn't "end-to-end encrypted." You can also extend WMC to other rooms with an XBOX 360 or a different WMC extender. Once set up, the HDHomeRun PRIME will view or record up to three simultaneous channels. Overall it's not exactly a no-brainer to get it going with Time-Warner Cable but it works great!
Right now we have Charter Cable, so I will have to confirm what program I am limited to (I am ok with WMC though) but I like the explanation/solution here.
 

Engineer

Elite Member
Oct 9, 1999
39,255
698
126
Another restriction is that 'On-Demand' channels don't work, so cable boxes do have some value in these areas.
That's why TV apps can be important, if available. With Time Warner, the HTPC can watch On Demand through the TW portal and on an extender such as Xbox 360, On demand can be watched through the TWC app (as well as regular TV for that matter but you get no recording or pause/rewind capability plus eat your Internet bandwidth).
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
So I just pulled up this:
http://www.amazon.com/SiliconDust-HD...productDetails

and found this:


Right now we have Charter Cable, so I will have to confirm what program I am limited to (I am ok with WMC though) but I like the explanation/solution here.
The only thing about the quoted material I take issue with -- and I HOPE someone will correct me if I'm wrong -- there has to be one PC on the LAN that completes the initial pairing in the setup. And the activation and validation with the provider need to occur AFTER the intial WMC configuration on that system -- which must be HDCP compliant (to include at least one monitor/TV that fulfills that compliancy.)

I've got Charter, and my first HDHR' works fine, as I said. The second HDHR' -- I also explained. If you look at things like customer-reviews of the HDHR', you will ALWAYS find folks who lose patience with the initial steps -- coordinating with the cable-provider. For me, with HDHR' #2, I can take my time on this: it already provides all the digital cable content except for encrypted HD stations. I'm pretty sure when I activated it, I did so with a pairing to the first of the two PCs -- together with the original HDHR'. I should've actually just done it that way, because I'd then be able to configure it to the second system -- no problem.

Also, a lot of folks tout the virtues of XBMC, PLEX and MythTV. I won't question their views at all. I had once tried SageTV and used it for some time. But my "mature" set of principles these days -- simplicity. If the OS provides it, you should be able to make it work. If you introduce other software and hardware, be prepared for . . . more complexity.
 
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Ketchup

Elite Member
Sep 1, 2002
14,486
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I have already decided that I will need to call Charter before I do anything, just to make sure I get someone who can tell me what the requirements are going to be like for the adapter they provide, so I appreciate the heads up. Since the conversation will be stemming from me wanting to ADD cable service, should be able to get to a person that can give me the information I need.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,384
900
126
I have already decided that I will need to call Charter before I do anything, just to make sure I get someone who can tell me what the requirements are going to be like for the adapter they provide, so I appreciate the heads up. Since the conversation will be stemming from me wanting to ADD cable service, should be able to get to a person that can give me the information I need.
The keep a detailed log in a database of telephone contacts, and I deduce that they record every action that they take for a customer. I've NEVER been able to get "the same person" on their tech-support team through multiple calls. But they've all done a stand-up job: I always punch "5's" for the survey after the call.

Maybe it depends on the area and region of charter's service, but here -- we have SDV/Switched-Digital-Video, so a tuner adapter is provided with every $2/mo cablecard subscription, and you need one for each cablecard. No extra charge -- it's covered by the $2/mo.

The TA device is bigger than the HDHR' but equally "smaller" than an STB. It has its own "cablecard," as does an STB.

They will first initialize the TA, which begins with a blinking green light which should become a solid light after 5 to 10 minutes. (It can take less time, but if it ever takes more than 20 minutes, they need to do it again.) After that -- the cable-card activation and validation. You should end with two solid green lights on the HDHR' and of course the solid green on the TA.

If everything is done properly -- and in the proper sequence -- you should never need to call them again. Once in a while . . . maybe . . .
 

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