Friday, October 18, 2013

Activating a Comcast Cablecard to Work with Windows Media Center and a SiliconDust HD Homerun Prime Cablecard Tuner.

I am writing down the various steps that I have had to take to use the above DVR gear with Comcast, in hopes that this will help other folks. 

So, Comcast decided (just because they can) to encrypt the channels that they were previously required to broadcast unencrypted on the clearQAM channels over cable.

I previously had a nice setup using a SiliconDust HD Homerun dual tuner to take unencrypted HD signals; a Windows 7 laptop with the very nice software (that came free with every copy of Windows 7 Home Premium) Windows Media Center took the signals from the HomeRun tuner over my home network and recorded the shows.  In short, I had a Tivo without paying any membership fees. 

Once Comcast encrypted its signals, I had to work out a new solution.  After talking to Comcast support, I was told that even with my Limited Basic account (Comcast’s lowest tier of service), I could get what is called a Cablecard.  This turns out to be a PCMCIA card, something that you put inside a tuner box to decode the signal coming from Comcast.  SiliconDust makes an HD Homerun Prime box that accepts Cablecards.  I ordered one of these through Amazon, it arrived yesterday, today I got a Cablecard from the local Monterey office, and now I am back to watching and recording shows on my Windows 7 laptop using Windows Media Center. 

I encountered several problems in getting Windows Media Center set up with the new Cablecard and HD Homerun Prime tuner. 

1.  Trying to get Comcast on the phone to activate any new piece of gear is a real hassle.  This was no exception.  I describe my problems in a separate blog entry, complete with a video that gives some sense of how frustrating it is to try to contact Comcast. 

I did so this morning and have called the activation phone number three times, spending over an hour, trying to reach a person to have my Cablecard activated.  The phone tree keeps disconnecting me.  It's incredibly frustrating.

I then finally got my Cablecard activated by going to:
www.comcast.com/activate

which is exactly what the Comcast rep in the local office told me not to do.  I had problems doing this with my Firefox browser at first (an infinite loop), but using Chrome, I was able to activate the Cablecard. 

2.  I encountered numerous error messages when trying to set up WMC with the Cablecard tuner.  Here are some web pages that helped with various error messages:

a.  Error message: “Your computer is not digital cable ready.  You will not be able to set it up for use with a CableCard.” 

One website discussed going into Control Panel – System –Administration and re-running the Windows Experience utility again.  This utility determines if your computer has enough horsepower and graphics power to work well. 

This did not help me.  I found this website that explained my problem:

http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/extremewindows/archive/2010/12/30/digital-cable-advisor-lets-you-know-if-your-windows-7-pc-is-digital-cable-ready.aspx

This website explained how to enable digital cable for my Windows Media Center laptop, but then I enountered this error message:

b.  “graphics fail: your graphics card or driver doesn’t support content protection.”

Now, I know that my laptop is fine; I used to run Windows Media Center on it and view all kinds of shows in HD.  I found this website that provided a solution to the problem.  After becoming a registered user on this website, I was able to download a zip file that bypassed the DCA (digital cable advisor) settings in Windows Media Center: 

missingremote.com/guide/override-digital-cable-advisor-windows-media-center-7

c.  I was almost there.  I ran “set up TV signal” in Windows Media Center again, and I got through most steps until encountering this error message:

“the PlayReady update was incomplete.  You will not be able to watch or record protected content until the update is successful. 

I found the answer to my problem at this website:
http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_8-winapps/playready-in-media-center-will-not-update/288f025e-1543-4152-b269-e94427d1be4b

Method 3
Open up Windows "Services" via Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services.
With Media Center Open and Showing "The PlayReady update was incomplete. Do you want to try again?" Go to the "Services" panel you just opened and scroll all the way down to "Windows Media Center Receiver Services", double click on it, then click "Stop"

Navigate to the ReadyPlay HIDDEN folder (C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\PlayReady) and then delete the mspr.hds file.  {I could not find this file or folder on my Windows 7 Machine, but as it turns out, just following these steps worked!}

Go back to the STILL OPEN & RUNNING, Media Center and click "Yes" and "Next" to the Update PlayReady question. It should immediately zip past and say update complete & you can watch and record copy protected.


3.  Once I was able to get past the above errors, I got a message that I had to enter a product key, which was entered automatically. 

product key MW4F-r2T2...xxxxxx : WMC automatically entered this. 


After three hours of work, I am back to where I was before October 1, which is when Comcast ridiculously decided to encrypt all the broadcast channels on clear QAM.  Thanks for all the work, Comcast!  At least your escalated technical services folks are of some help.  Forget trying to get someone to help you on your first call, though.  See my other blog entry for my experience in this regard.  

Update: My Cablecard and HD Homerun Prime setup worked for a few hours on Friday after I went through the above processed.  I seemed to activate the Cablecard on Comcast's website, www.comcast.com/activate.  However, I kept getting calls from Comcast's elevated tech support (which I missed) that I needed to call in to give pairing codes.  Sure enough, around 8pm, I was no longer able to view channels on my WMC setup using a Cablecard, Windows Media Center running on a Windows 7 laptop, and SiliconDust HD Homerun Prime.  

I had been told to call this number to activate my Cablecard, but I gave up after three tries: (855) 652-3446.  If you like to listen to weird clicks and computer tones, being commanded to enter various numbers, put on hold while listening to more weird clicks, and finally being disconnected after patiently waiting, perhaps you can try this number. 
 
But the service tech left this other number for me to call to "pair" the Cablecard -- (877) 405-2298.  I called this number, I got through fairly easily, and the technician actually was fairly knowledgeable and helpful!  She had me go into WMC and read off some serial numbers.  After ten minutes or so, I was done and my channels were back working.  I now am back to where I was before October 1, $150 poorer (I had to buy a new HD Homerun Prime) and about 24 total hours spent on figuring everything out.  Why, Comcast, why waste your customers' time so much?  Why?  
 

4 comments:

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ryans test blog thing said...

This helped me a ton! WMC and Comcast working, finally! Thank you!

ryans test blog thing said...

Thank you! This helped a ton. WMC and Comcast working great together now!

Sophia Wolf said...

The (855) 652-3446 is the Activation line for Comcast services on Modems & Cable boxes only (not Cable Card), while the (877) 405-2298 is the Activation line dedicated for Cable Cards, still provided by Comcast.