CableCARD Setup and Impressions
While we definitely wanted to check out the Ceton InfiniTV 4 CableCARD tuner included with the Maven, obtaining a CableCARD was a bit of a challenge. I've cut the cord at home, and Ryan subscribes to DirecTV which uses fundamentally different technology than the CableCARD infrastructure. This left Allyn who is a Time Warner Cable subscriber, and took the system home to try it out as a live TV device. Here are some of his impressions.
Believe it or not, one of the most full featured applications for watching live video is still Windows Media Center. Even though applications like Plex have certainly surpassed Media Center for watching video files, not much else has TV tuning and specifically CableCARD support. WMC is no longer bundled with Windows although it can be added after the fact for a small fee to both Windows 8 and 8.1. Steiger Dynamics has included the Media Center Edition of Windows 8.1 with this build, and that is the software we will focus on testing.
After installing the CableCARD and a coaxial cable into the InfiniTV, setup in Windows involved simply launching Media Center and going through the Live TV Setup Wizard. After entering in your zip code to determine what TV listings you need, the Digital Cable Advisor will run to make sure your computer is fully compatible, and then continue to setup the CableCARD connection. The most difficult part of this process was actually finding a Customer Service Representative at Time Warner who knew how to activate a CableCARD, but once it was activated on their end, we were able to tune live TV inside of Media Center.
Although Media Center hasn't gone any major upgrades since the release of Windows 7, it still provides a positive experience for watching TV. Navigating through menus is way faster than on a run of the mill set top box. While the design for the UI might be a bit dated at this point, the menus are still easy to navigate and minimal enough to not take away from the TV viewing experience.
Recording TV is as simple as any set top DVR you might get from the cable company, and Microsoft provides a nice interface for choosing how much of a drive you want to dedicate to TV recording, and allowing you to switch drives easily. With gigantic hard drives, like the 3TB Western Digital Red in the Maven Core, though these features become important.
Overall, the experience with both the Ceton InfiniTV 4 and Windows Media Center were only positive. It seems very unfortunate that CableCARD was never widely adopted, and that Microsoft has mostly abandoned Media Center in Windows. With the renewed push they are trying to make with TV consumption in the Xbox One I think a Media Center app built on top of that framework could be a really compelling product. But for now, the existing infrastructure is definitely world beyond dealing with clunky cable boxes.