One of the nice things about using a PC as a “media hub” is the ability to watch, record, and share Live TV without the restrictions of a cable box. It sounds great but of course there are limitations as many of the channels are blocked from free access. However, if you are like me and a large majority of your TV viewing is from the basic network stations (CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, CW) you can avoid some of the more involved steps (such as CableCard or HDPVR) and get a basic TV Tuner Card. What channels you can access freely will be dependent on your cable provider, or if you live close enough you can try getting OTA (over the air) with an antenna. I am a Cablevision subscriber, so several analog channels are made available (aside from the basic network channels I also get SD versions of Disney, ESPN, HGTV, Food Network, etc…) and well as digital (QAM) channels (mostly just the basic network channels). Unfortunately I live too far away from the network station towers to get OTA without a NASA grade antenna, so “cutting the cord” is out of the question. The best way to determine what “free/unencrypted” channels you get from your cable provider is to simply plug your TV directly into your cable line without a cable box and see what channels come in. For my setup I decided to go with a HDHomeRun Networked Digital TV Tuner. There were two main reasons I chose this tuner (1) Two tuners are included and (2) it is a networked tuner so all that needs to be done is for it to be connected to your network and any PC on your network can access. Since this is a digital tuner I lose all the analog channels, but I am only concerned with getting the basic network channels (all of which are available in digital). If you are curious what digital channels are available in your area HDHomeRun has a web page that will show this based on your zip code.
- I decided to go with the HDHomeRun Dual (2 Tuners). It retails for $149.99 but can usually be found for much less at online sites such as NewEgg were it currently goes for $99.
- Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux
- Compatible with Windows Media Center, Elgato EyeTV, MythTV, BeyondTV, SageTV, Media Portal, GB-PVR, VLC, and TS Reader.
Installing/Configuring The HDHomeRun:
The first step is to connect the HDHomeRun to a coax cable connection, network connection, and power outlet. Right now I have my HDHomeRun set up in my basement
Once the HDHomeRun is connected to your network, go into the Network control panel of any PC on the same network and you should see the HDHomeRun listed under “Other Devices”
To download the necessary drivers simply right click on the HDHomerun icon and select “Go To Device Webpage”
Once the download has completed run the installation file which should install all necessary drivers/software. After completion as long as you have the “Detect and configure HDHomeRun devices” option checked the HDHomeRun Install Wizard should appear.
On the “Location” tab specify the Zip Code that you are located in.
Under “Application” choose the Main Application that you want to use the HDHomeRun with. For my setup I chose Windows Media Center. The one negative is that you cannot use the HDHomeRun with multiple applications (at least when I tested out SageTV would not work properly with the HDHomeRun since it was set up with Windows Media Center as the Main Application). You can also specify what preview application you want to use to view the scanned channels (I chose the default HDHomeRun Quick TV Application).
Under the “Tuners” tab choose the Source Type of each tuner (i.e. Digital Cable or OTA).
Once all options have been filled out the HDHomeRun should now begin scanning for channels.
Once complete you should now see a list of all available channels. It can get a little tricky to sort through as you may find random channels get picked up (for example I picked up random weather and traffic channels from Connecticut). For channels that you don’t want to have accessible simply uncheck the Enabled option. If you are unsure what a channel is there are two ways to figure out. The first is by clicking the “View” button which should bring up a window with the selected channel playing. The second option is by going to the Zap2it website (button located at the bottom left) and to match up the Guide Number / Guide Name. Once done, just click the “Finish” button. The Install Wizard can be accessed against from the Start Menu -> Programs -> HDHomeRun.
Screenshot of HDHomeRun Quick TV application. A list of all channels can be seen on the right. You can also access this from the Start Menu -> Programs -> HDHomeRun if you want to quickly access a channel.
Screenshot of the Zap2it website TV Guide.
Along withe drivers and HDHomeRun Quick TV, there is also a configuration tool that allows you to see what the signal strength is of each channel.
Setting Up In Windows Media Center:
With the HDHomeRun set up now go into Windows Media Center and under TV go to “live tv setup”
Windows Media Center will walk you through a variety of screens setting up the TV services.
Once Windows Media Center has completed the initial setup you should now see a list of all available tuners. Correctly detected is the HDHomeRun (Digital Cable Clear QAM 2 tuners)
After confirming the correct TV Tuners Windows Media Center will download the TV Program Guide and scan for all available channels.
Once the scan is complete you should see a list of all channels found. If for whatever reason no or few channels were picked up you can delete and rescan. Otherwise, clicking “Next” will complete the TV Setup process.
With TV Setup now complete, you should be back at the main menu for Windows Media Center. To confirm that all guide data and channels were pulled in properly select “Guide” under the TV Section.
One weird thing which I don’t know why it happens, but Windows Media Center does not pull in the correct TV Program Guide data for a majority of my channels (noted below as No data available)
To manually correct this (which only needs to be done once), right click on once of the channels and go to “Edit Channel”
This will take you to the Settings for the selected channel. For this case we want to select “Edit Listings” to assign the correct listing.
The issue appears to be Windows Media Center assigned channel 4.1 (NBC HD) to a generic WNBC listing. However, the digital listing for NBC is actually WNBC-DT. Why Windows Media Center was able to do this correctly for CBS but not for the other channels is beyond me.
Once the correct listing is selected (WNBCDT) the correct Program Guide data is pulled in. I needed to do this extra step for almost all of the nearly 25 channels that were pulled in which is a small inconvenience, but only needs to be completed once at setup.
To test that the channels are working properly simply click on the guide data for one of the channels which should bring up Live TV (below is a screenshot of a commercial during NFL football (If Cialis really did what it claims to do that couple would be in the same bath tub, but anyway…).
Now that Live TV is set up there are a few additional things that can be done to help spruce up the experience:
- TunerSalad! - Windows Media Center has a limit of 4 TV Tuners per PC. With TunerSalad the limit can be increased to8 TV Tuners!
- My Channel Logos For 7MC – for adding some colorful channel logos into the TV Guide
- Remote Potato - a web-based application to schedule recordings on your Media Center PC, as well as stream Recorded TV
- Automatically archive recorded TV to a network share thanks to Windows Home Server PP3
- MCEBuddy – excellent tool for scanning/cutting out commercials (with the use of ShowAnalyzer or ComSkip) and encoding to a desired format
I remember when I first tried to set up Live TV on my PC it was a little intimidating, but after walking through it was fairly straight forward. The nice thing about the HDHomeRun is that since it is a network TV Tuner not only can it be shared across multiple PCs but you no longer need to worry about installing/taking up a PCI slot in your PC. Currently on my desktop PC where I do much of my TV recording/viewing I have 4 TV Tuners set up, 2 Digital tuners via the HDHomeRun, 1 Digital tuner via the Hauppauge 2250, and 1 Analog tuner via the Hauppauge 2250. For those who want complete access to all channels (including premium channels) this is not the solution for you as only Cable Card or the HD PVR can accomplish this. However, for the basic channels this fits my setup perfectly and frees me from being locked down by my cable box DVR. Funny enough, I find the digital channels I receive to be much clearer/crisper then the same HD channels received via the cable box.