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New Media Center PC with Dual Cablecard Tuners Arrived Today

April 10, 2007

About 68 days after the consumer launch of Vista, my Cablecard PC, finally arrived. Comcast is scheduled to come tomorrow, but I thought I would post an update of what I discovered today as I did the necessary prep work.

I arrived home to find that the box from Velocity Micro had finally arrived. Inside was my dual Cablecard, Core 2 Duo E6400 Cinemagix Grand Theater with 2 GB of RAM. I run Small Business Server 2003 at our house, so I ordered the PC with Vista Ultimate installed so I could join the SBS domain.

In addition to the PC, inside was a keyboard and mouse, that I’ll probably use for another system as this one will be hooked up to a KVM switch. This PC will replace our existing Media Center 2005 PC that acts as a server for Xbox 360 Media Center Extenders throughout the house.

This was originally supposed to be an AMD box (for no particular reason other than it was less expensive), but because of problems with the applicable motherboard, Velocity upgraded my to the Intel product at no additional charge (a several hundred dollar value). Due to another small SNAFU, they added my Vista Ultimate at no charge as well. No complaints here!

I disconnected my existing Dell Pentium D820 machine in our server room and connected the Grand Theater in its place. I hooked up the USB connection from the KVM switch, and the VGA connection from the KVM switch (thorough a DVI to VGA converter dongle). I turned on the power switch in the back and the nice vacuum fluorescent display in front came on, as well as the fans but no video. My heart sank, but I quickly realized that I needed to press the circular power button on the front as well. Doh. With that done the PC booted up without incident.

The initial Vista setup went smoothly and quickly. Much more so that the 20+ minutes it took to set up even preinstalled Vista on several HP Pavilion notebooks. When I reached the desktop, I was delighted to discover that there was no crapware at all!

Next, I decided to install an extra 750GB SATA hard drive that I will use for recorded TV. Removing the five screws holding on the top of the case was more difficult that I anticipated and I suspect that one of the screws had been over tightened as it took about 15 minutes to get it loose. Once the top was off, I discovered that unlike the Dell this PC would replace, adding hard drives was not so easy in this beast. There was no way to slide a new drive in and connect the requisite cables. Instead adding the drive required removing the rack holding the hard drives inside and then partially disassembling that rack. When putting the rack back in, I discovered that the presence of the drive blocked access to one of the screws, making it impossible to reattach the rack with more than three of the original four screws. I’ve never owned a PC in a HTPC form factor before, so maybe this is normal. In any event, I don’t plan on adding another drive any time soon.

I attached the Ethernet cable and the PC was able to connect to the Internet without any problem. I tried to connect to Small Business Server and join the domain. I received an error running the connection application indicating that I should have only one network card or Small Business Server was not on the network. After some experimenting I discovered that the problem lay in the fact that the DCT cards were being identified as network cards so that Vista thought I had three networks cards. Once I disabled the DCTs, I was able to join the PC to my SBS 2003 domain without any problem. Once this was completed, I was able to enable the cards again without incident.

After installing several basic applications including antivirus software and QuickTime, I moved my Vbox internal ATSC tuner from the old Dell box to the new Velocity Micro box. This installed without incident, downloading the proper drivers and installing them automatically.

Now that I had a tuner set up, I went ahead and went through the setup for Media Center. The ATSC tuner worked just fine.

Next, I set up the DCTs for Digital Cable. Even though I have no Cablecards yet, they tune all of the analog stations just fine.

Next, I set up the Xbox 360’s to connect as Media Center Extenders. This was much easier than in XP, as no additional application needed to be run. As I turned on each Xbox and tried to connect to Media Center, the Grand Theater popped up a request for the 8 digit code displayed by the Xbox. After the code was entered, the PC did a setup routine and about two minutes later the Xbox could be used as a Media Center Extender.

With basic functionality of the Grand Theater now approximating my old XP Media Center I decided it was time to try copying over my old recorded TV shows. I intended to just remove the data drive from the Dell box and hook it up as a third drive in the new Velocity Micro PC, but quickly discovered that there did not seem to be an appropriate power connector for a third SATA drive. So I powered the drive from the Dell box and hooked its SATA data connection to the Velocity box and proceeded to copy about 420GB of recorded TV. It was estimated to take about 150 minutes and is still going as I write.

Lastly, I set up series recordings on the new Media Center by accessing it via remote desktop from my office PC. I happened to use the Small Business Server facility for doing this (as it required no set up), but it is probably possible to do without SBS as well.

So far so good, based on stories like this, I am only cautiously optimistic about the scheduled Cablecard install tomorrow, but I hopefully things will go well. Even if they don’t I no worse off with the new PC than with the old, if need be I can still repurpose the old PC (for my wife’s office) while waiting for any Cablecard issues to be addressed.

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3 Comments
  1. Ted permalink

    Do you mind sharing what this cost you?

  2. Doug permalink

    I think I paid about $2500 for the PC itself.

  3. amit permalink

    can any one send me the steps to create  anew setup with media center, xbox 360 and vista ultimate

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