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Windows Vista Media Center in HD

After years of waiting, the pieces of Windows Media Center are finally clicking into place. With CableCARD support and the latest generation of Media Center Extenders, Vista can deliver just about any kind of digital media throughout a household, without breaking the bank. Here's how Windows expert Ed Bott put a multi-room system together.
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1 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
By Ed Bott
The edition of Media Center included with Windows Vista offers support for high-definition cable TV, including premium channels, without requiring an external converter box. In this walkthrough, I'll show you how the pieces of the Windows+cable+HD puzzle fit together and how well it all works in the real world.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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2 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
You can't just connect a digital cable tuner (DCT) to any old PC and expect it to work. You need a PC that has been specifically designed to work with a DCT. You also need an additional product key to activate support for the DCT in Windows Vista.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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3 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
The three options at the bottom of this menu are available only if your edition of Windows supports digital cable. After completing activation, you need to call the cable company and arrange to have your account enabled for CableCARD support. In my case, it took several visits from technicians before the kinks were all worked out.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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4 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
My system includes two digital cable tuners made by ATI. Each one requires a CableCARD, supplied by the cable company and linked to my account. The choices on this menu open web pages that allow you to check the status of the connection between the CableCARD and the cable head end.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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5 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
This option on the Diagnostics menu in Media Center shows details about the cable tuner. The Host ID is a key part of the connection, and during setup it's linked to the CableCARD and the system. During the initial setup last fall, I had to upgrade the tuner firmware to the version shown here.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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6 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
The diagnostics menu in Media Center also allows you to check the performance of each tuner on a given channel so you can tell whether signal strength is sufficient. The preview window in the lower left shows a live picture of the current channel.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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7 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
If you try to use a digital cable tuner with a CableCARD that hasn't been properly set up, you'll see this error message in Media Center. If you remove the CableCARD, you can use the tuner to receive any unencrypted ("clear QAM") digital channels available from your cable company.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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8 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
Currently, Vista Media Center supports a maximum of two digital cable tuners (although you can hack the registry to add a third or fourth tuner). In my case, I added a separate digital tuner to handle over-the-air (ATSC) signals in high-definition. This setup screen shows the strong signals for local channels available via my outdoor antenna.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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9 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
The Network folder in Windows Vista shows a variety of interesting digital media devices on my system. Each cable tuner shows up as a network device, as do two Media Center extenders and a handful of computers that offer streaming media support. The information at the bottom of the properties sheet can be useful for troubleshooting.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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10 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
Each digital cable tuner has its own web-based interface that displays information about its status. You can't control anything here, but a knowledgeable technician can interpret details here to fix problems.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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11 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
The first time you connect a Media Center extender to the network, you see this screen on the main Media Center PC. Click Yes, to run through the quick setup and begin using the system from another room. Every channel available on the main system, including premium HD channels, is also available via the extender.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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12 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
A hidden feature in the online program guide allows you to filter listings to show only programs in a certain category. Here, I've chosen the HDTV category, which removes all channels and programs except those that are available in HD.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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13 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
On this system, I have a 750 GB hard drive (698 GB formatted) set aside exclusively for holding recorded TV. An external 1 TB drive holds music, pictures, and recorded shows I want to keep around.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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14 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
The Scheduled page shows a listing of which programs are set to be recorded in the future. The summary line at the bottom of this page shows how many programs are currently available for playback. Unlike the previous screen, this one shows actual space in use rather than theoretical capacity.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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15 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
The red dots in the program listings here mean that three programs are currently being recorded. Both digital cable tuners and the over-the-air tuner are in use, and all three programs are in high-definition.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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16 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
This overview page shows a slice of real-time performance with three HD programs being recorded and simultaneously viewed in different locations throughout the house. The 2.4 GHz Intel processor is getting a workout, but all three programs are glitch-free.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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17 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
This system has been in operation for six full months, and the Reliability Monitor tells the story best, with a perfect 10.00 rating. This system has never had a crash or hang. An update in late December fixed a problem that occasionally affected viewing over extenders.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.
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18 of 18 Ed Bott/ZDNet
The numbers in the bottom right corner indicate that the Music Library on this system includes 1,481 albums. The currently highlighted album, a new release from R.E.M., was downloaded as part of my Yahoo! Music subscription and is available in any room via a Media Center extender.
For the full story, see Windows Media Center meets Cable TV, in HD.

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