My First Media Center PC

4tuner_card1After stumbling onto a TV tuner card called the InfiniTV 4 by Ceton, I decided to try my hand at making a Media Center PC.   There was potential to save some money on my cable bill and get some additional functionality that isn’t offered by Cox.

ML03-3-4First I needed a PC to put the InfiniTV card in.  I didn’t want to install it in my main system as it might end up in the living room.  I decided to use a small form factor.  The case I chose was a Silverstone ML01 case.  It is a nice looking low profile case that supports both mini-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards.  ML03-3-4-Back-02It has places to mount either two 3.5″ hard drives or three 2.5″ hard drives.  The case does not come with a power supply so I had to add that to the mix.  One thing to note, the PSU would need to be no deeper than 5.5 inches to leave room to put a DVD drive in.  The DVD would also need to be as short as possible to ensure there would be enough room for cabling.

I picked a Rosewill 400W PSU, in hindsite, I could have used a smaller PSU.  Something in the 250W to 300W range would have been find and would run cooler.  But this is a nice PSU that has a quiet 120mm fan.  The DVD was an ASUS DRW-24B1ST drive (OEM 24x DVD burner).  The two worked together to leave just enough room to route the SATA power and data cables between the drive and the PSU.

FM2A75Pro4-M(m)For the motherboard, I picked the Asrock FM2A75 Pro4-M.  It is a mini-ATX form factor board for the AMD FM2 socket.  It has all solid state caps.  For outputs, it has VGA, DVI and HDMI.  It also has an optical sound output, and supports USB3 and eSata.  The motherboard fits nicely in the case, but the front panel header is on the front edge of the motherboard.  You’d think this wouldn’t be a problem, except that the case front panel connector is very tall.  The case has a plastic hard drive shelf that goes between the motherboard and the case front.  With the front panel header on the front edge and the case connector installed, the drive shelf won’t fit without putting a serious strain on the motherboard.  To avoid the strain, I removed the drive shelf.

Fortunately the alternate 3.5″ hard drive mount was under the DVD drive bay.  The Seagate Barracuda ST1000Dm003 (1Tb 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s) drive fit there nicely.  There are rubber grommets on the mounting holes to reduce drive noise.  The grommets work great.  I can hardly hear any drive noise.

I put 8Gb of DDR3 memory on the board (Crucial Ballistix Sport low profile DDR3 1600).  That was probably overkill, I could have gotten away with 4Gb.

The OS is Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.  This gives me Windows Media Center for my tuner controller.  I also picked up a Rosewill RRC-126 MCE infrared remote control.

The InfiniTV 4 has 4 tuners and can receive premium cable channels as well as HDTV channels.  It requires an M-Card CableCard from your local cable provider, in my case Cox Communications.  Ceton packages a low profile card back, so I swapped it for the full size that comes installed with the card.  It installed in the PC without problems. 

This is where the fun part began.  I went to my local Cox store and picked up a CableCard, $2.00 per month for the rental.  I made sure that I asked for an M-Card.  You need an M-Card in order to receive multiple channels.  The older cards were S-Cards which could only receive a single channel.  They entered it into their system and handed me the card.

As soon as I got home I plugged it into the InfiniTV card and then fired up the Ceton Diagnostics.  It immediately said that the card was an S-Card.  I jumped back in the car and went back to the store and told them that what they gave me was an S-Card.  Of course, they said that those were the only cards they had.  I told them that I had to have an M-Card.  “Well those are the only cards we have,” they said.  Now I’m starting to fume, but it would do no good to get mad at the drones.

Back at home, I called the Cox technical support group.  They told me that they absolutely had M-Cards and that they would transfer me to sales so I could get one.  I’m thinking, “Great now I’m getting somewhere.”  But after just a couple of minutes with sales, I realized I was in trouble again.  They asked what my location was and I told them Tulsa.  Then they said that all they had were S-Cards in Tulsa.  Now I was starting to get angry.  “What am I supposed to do?” I asked them.  They had no answer.

Feeling at a loss, I sent in a trouble ticket to Ceton.  I told them that I knew it wasn’t their problem, but if there was some way then could help get me an M-Card, I would appreciate it, since there seemed no way to get one in Tulsa.

While waiting for a response from Ceton, I did some Google searches and found out that according to FCC regulations, all cable providers are supposed to provide M-Cards by default.  If you need an S-Card you have to specifically as for one.

The next day I got an email from Ceton telling me that I should receive a call from Cox about my problem.  When they did call, I found out that it was Cox executive resolution group.  (Thanks, Ceton!)  I explained my problem and they told me that would check and call me back the next day.  They were true to their word and called me the next day.  He told me that he had contacted the store and they did have some M-Cards and would set one aside for me.  Having been told just a day or so earlier that they didn’t have any M-Cards, I was a bit apprehensive.

On the way home I pick up the card.  Unfortunately it looked exactly like the previous card they had given me.  Sure enough, it was another S-Card.  I called the executive resolution group back and told them what the problem was.  He seemed confused as to what could be causing them to keep giving me S-Cards.  He said that he would try to get to the bottom of it and call me back.

The next day he called me back and said that it turned out that all their CableCards were indeed S-Cards but that they were in boxes labeled as M-Cards.  They would order some new M-Cards and he would call me back when the cards came in.  A day later he called and told me that the cards were available and they had set one aside for me.  I immediately went to the Cox store and picked up the card.  Sure enough, this one was actually labeled “M-Card”.  Woopee!

I installed it in the InfiniTV card and it identified it as an M-Card.  I now called the Cox CableCard self-install group to get the CableCard activated.  They asked for the numbers on my card and then tried to send the validation signal.  Keyword here was “tried”.  The card wouldn’t accept the signal.  He put in a service call for the next day.

The next day the service tech came out and had three M-Cards with him.  Good thing, since it took all three cards before we were able to get one that would verify.

Now I fired up Media Center and sure enough there was a picture. Woopee again!!

Now I have to figure out how to make Media Center do all the things that the Cox DVR box does.  I did connect my son’s X-box as a Media Extender to the PC.  It worked, but the video was rather jerky.  I ran the Network Tuning tests and found out that my wireless network is too slow.  I’ve just ordered a couple of Powerline Networking adapters to try to get some better bandwidth for the X-box.  They should come in later this week and we’ll see how it goes.

Now, off to learn how to use Media Center.

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