Vista Media Center with Four Digital Cable Tuners

(or How Much TV Can You NOT Watch in a Week?)

This is so very, very cool!  For those of you who are considering buying a new Windows Vista PC with one or more Digital Cable Tuners (DCT), there is hope for some rockin' systems.  We've seen various announcements that Niveus will be shipping a Vista Media Center PC with support for four (4) Digital Cable Tuners and I'm sure other vendors will follow. 

I really, really wanted to see this in action, so I asked the Media Center beta team if they could accommodate me.  They were fantastic. They sent me two additional DCT devices and the information needed to set them up and have four DCT's working all at the same time!   I'd like to include a really big thank you to the Media Center beta team for letting me try this out!!

Now, I've had my Vista machine with dual tuners working since the early days of the beta, so I'm not too worried about screwing things up.  So once I had the additional tuners in hand, and ready to go, I called Comcast and scheduled a service call to have the tech come out with the extra Cable Cards.

The setup of those went pretty smoothly.  As I expected, the tech did not have any idea that they were to install the Cable Cards in a Media Center PC, but she didn't balk.  Once the cards were in, I called up the pairing information for the tech, soon I was able to watch and record up to four programs at once ( actually 4 are recording as I write this! ).

This does put quite a demand on the system. With four programs recording, hitting Recorded TV on the remote control caused the one program that was playing to stutter for a bit, but once the Recorded TV screen came up, it settled out.  I suspect that I may need more RAM. But it could also be hard drive speed.  I've already got SATA-300 drives in the system, so there isn't going to be much improvement there.

I've been asked not to go into the specifics of how to accomplish this, as for now its limited solely to the OEM vendor(s). So for now, we'll just have to content ourselves with the OEM offerings.  After all, you can't just go out and buy the Digital Cable Tuners at any retail outlet.

More on this as I get a chance to play with this setup some more!

System Specs

Dell XPS 400
3 Gig Intel Pentium D
1 Gigabyte RAM
Western Digital WD3200KS hard drive (for recording)
4 - ATI Digital Cable Tuners

Updated 10/25/2007

Ok, after adding in the second Gig of RAM, things have been "just smashing" as our friends across the pond would say!  One, two, three, four shows recording/being watched at the same time is awesome!  My spouse even had the chance to catch a new show that she had written off due to lack of tuners in the primetime period.  Three were already recording, she called up the Guide and clicked on the show.  She happily watched it, while the other three tuners were dutifully recording what they were supposed to! 

Ok, I won't ask the MCE team to send me four more tuners and see if I can push it to 8 tuners.  Would love to, but I'm pretty sure I'd need some major hardware upgrades in the CPU and RAM departments!  Plus the wife would shoot me when the cable bill came in.  In all fairness, being a "geek" has its ups and downs.  I've been able to test some great software and hardware from Microsoft and other vendors, but sometimes that comes with the price tag of having to upgrade things.  And the wife has been great about that, so far :-)

Now, if the the MCE team would come out with a "software" Media Center Extender that retailed for $100 or less per copy, I would happily shell out the money for a kick-@$$ machine with tons of storage, upgrade to Gigabit ethernet throughout the house and build a really sweet Windows Media Server!