Monday, May 2, 2011

Watching TV on your computer with encrypted digital cable.

I, like a lot of people use my computer as a DVR. That was until my cable provider decided to start encrypting almost all of my TV stations, effectively squashing the DVR concept on my computer. It wasn't that bad when I lost all of my premium stations as I didn't record much from them, but then one day I also lost my HD local channels.

At this point I was outraged, I think by nature we already have a loathing for the cable company as we all know we are being overcharged for the services we receive, and when we try to make the best out of what we do get, they take that away as well.

My first though was to just drop my services and find another provider.  Unfortunately I don't have many options in that area, and I am not kean on signing contracts (Dish and DirectTV), so I was forced to find other options. I could:

  1. Pay $10-15 extra a month to rent one of their DVRs: Out of the question. I feel like I already pay to much money for cable, and I don't want to keep adding to my bill.
  2. Drop cable and live off of internet TV, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc...: I have friends that have done this, and so far they seem like they are enjoying being off of the cable grid, I don't think the timing is right for this option, but maybe I will look into it again this summer.  The only real thing that cable has going for it is convenience.
  3. Find another provider that doesn't encrypt their traffic: Where I live this is not an option, every provider has moved to encrypted digital cable.
  4. Stop watching TV altogether, save a ton of money each year and maybe become healthier in the process: Who am I kidding. TV is a part of my life and the lives of my family.  Honestly this really is the best option, but being a person who likes being able to relax and vegetate in front of the TV at night, I just wasn't able to cut the cord.
  5. Find a way to successfully decrypt the traffic before trying to use it on the computer (yes legally): I tried to use the digital desktop box that was provided by my cable provider, but I was not able to get the IR blaster to consistently work with my TV tuner, so Windows Media player was not able to change the channel. After this failed attempt I just stopped using my computer as a DVR. 
For a while it seemed that I was stuck with just not using my comptuer as a DVR until recently I had a neighbour who put me onto a new idea. He was able to buy a USB TV tuner that works with the cable companies CableCard, so instead of having to worry about two separate devices trying to work together, the USB TV tuner has them both built into one unit. 

There are a couple of choices out on the market right now, but most of them are very expensive ($400+), except one.  The ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner.  It was produced a couple of years ago and for some reason I don't believe it is being made anymore.  They make it as both an external and internal device. I was able to pick one up off of Ebay for about a $100 bucks. Other than a few minor hiccups while setting it up, it has worked like a charm. It has allowed me to once again use my computer as a DVR (legally I might add)

Look for part 2 of this post as I will be writing about setting up the tuner, and some of the problems I had to work around to get it working correctly in my environment.

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