CableCard hopes dashed for now

Update on CableCard

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
3 min read

It's been over a week since I reported that we got CableCard working on a Velocity Micro CineMagix Grand Theater PC, and I promised that I'd take requests for things to try out. I wish I could deliver. Sadly, 12 hours after we got it working, we lost the signal completely. I haven't reported since then because I wanted to know what the problem was before setting off a wild string of speculation. About all I can confirm is that it still doesn't work.

CableCard or no, we still like Velocity Micro's CineMagix Grand Theater. CNET

I hoped yesterday I'd either get it working or have an answer as to why it won't stick. Time Warner Cable came out and boosted the cable signal to my apartment. My Internet speed went up, so they definitely did something, but still no CableCard reception. Velocity Micro's Chris Morley then connected remotely into the system and ran through all kinds of trouble shooting steps. No dice. The card diagnostic screens reported that the card and the tuners are paired together properly, but all of the other readings indicating signal strength and such gave us nothing but zeroes.

Our best guess is that somehow between the initial signal loss and ensuing troubleshooting, our pair of CableCards either went bad (which would make them the second off batch), or some setting unknown to either TWC or Velocity Micro (possibly at a firmware level, which would explain why they might not know) is preventing the PC and the cards from seeing each other. I could have TWC come out with yet another set of CableCards, but I'm not confident that would solve the problem, and frankly, I think it's clear CableCard on the PC isn't ready yet. As further evidence, I submit almost every other preview system out there and the installation troubles they've run into.

Regardless of the technical reasons why CableCard is so troublesome, I don't believe that the technology has any insurmountable problems that can't be sorted out. We're mostly frustrated about the timing. Dell and Velocity Micro got everyone's hopes up by showing off these preview systems too early (although Velocity Micro has actually sold a few to a handful of intrepid early adopters). And AMD gets a special share of the blame for letting its TV Wonder OCUR cards out the door before they were fully cooked (which we reported back on March 29th, for the record).

I can't really shame Microsoft or Time Warner Cable, because neither of them have claimed PC-based CableCard is ready yet. I still have hopes that all of the core technology providers will get things together before the end of this year, in time for Microsoft's "official" CableCard launch. Time Warner also told me that, on Microsoft's recommendation (which hopefully means that this will apply to other providers as well) it's likely going to authorize self-installs of CableCard, regardless of the receiving hardware. You'll simply need to get the card(s) and call your provider to authorize them remotely. That means a) you won't have to waste four hours waiting for a tech to show up and b) hopefully the customer service rep will know what you're talking about when you call.

So that's where we're at. I'll revisit CableCard when things are a little more robust. I did manage to record a few shows in HD in the 12 hours it did work (Lennie Briscoe never looked better), so I'll see about answering your questions from the last post as best as I can. I also still have this fairly powerful HTPC sitting in the middle of my living room, along with a handful of input devices, an Xbox 360, and a multiplatform home network. I've held off on all that stuff in the interest of keeping the PC as pristine as possible for troubleshooting purposes. Now that I've put CableCard on the back burner, I think there's still some interesting things to check out here. Anything non-CableCard related you'd like me to check out, hit me up.