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Send commands to a set top box

Comcast is requiring me to use a set top box to receive any cable tv signals even though I have only a basic channel subscription

I currently record TV programs using an old Asus tv card because I currently have analog cable.

I have read the horror stories on various forums about the troubles people have in getting a digital tv card to work with Comcast cable. Comcast requires a special card to be inserted into the computer along with the digital tv card.  Many have said how difficult it is to get Comcast to insert and program the card correctly.  And then a fee must be paid for the special card.

I’d like to avoid those problems.  I know very little about Media Center.  I plan to buy a pc capable of running Windows 7 Professional.  I understand Media Center is included in Windows 7 Professional.

My question:
-      The Comcast set top box has an IR receiver to receive commands from a remote control  .  What equipment is required to enable Windows Media Center to send commands to the Comcast set top box?

-      I assume when Windows Media Center sends a command to the Comcast set top box to change channels, Windows Media Center will want to send a command to the tv card to change channels also.   Since the Comcast set top box sends all its signals on channel 3 or 4 to the TV, how do I tell Windows Media Center to send codes to the Comcast set top box yet tell the tv card to tune to channel 3 or 4?
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2 Solutions
David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
You ned to set up a ir transmitter and your tv capture card must be configured to use it. Whether or not your older analog card has this capability is only something you can answer.

Ideally you should use a cablecard tuner and get the cablecard from Comcast. They are required by law to make these available. From comcast the first card is free, additional cards are $1.50/month

you will need something like the ceton line or hauppauge line of cards

These USB units all say they're plug-n-play with media center
HP - http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=280411110260
Gateway - http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270611059826
Dell - http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=150548525702

Here's a picture of the HP unit with its remote (none of those linked above include a remote... so if you don't have an infrared remote already, you might want to search for a kit with the remote, too)...
HP IR Receiver/Blaster and RemoteNote that has 2 jacks for IR blasters, if you have more than one component that needs to be controlled (such as a VCR/DVR/etc), but comes with only 1 blaster.

Here is one that's serial port-based,
but many new computers don't even *have* a serial port and that doesn't say it's compatible with media center.

ATI used to make a USB RF unit for their TV Wonder cards and MCE, but it didn't have an IR blaster jack on it like those IR receivers from HP/Gateway/Dell, for changing channels on the set top box.

The small boxes I've seen from Comcast actually convert the digital cable signal to analog output, the same as their DVR-size boxes, by the way.
donpickAuthor Commented:
Hello ve3ofa

Thank you for your response.  Have you read the Comcast forum?  So many are trying to install the equipment you suggest .  They write about how many problems they are having trying to get their digital tv cards to work.  

From what you write it seems you were successful in getting your digital tv card to work? What suggestions do you have to avoid the problems described by others?
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donpickAuthor Commented:
Hello Darr247:

Your idea is interesting.  Let see if I fully understand.  You say there is equipment whose sole purpose is to send ir codes to other ir equipped devices?  

So my question is how do I determine which IR blasters can send correct codes to Comcast set top boxes?  I imagine I'd have to somehow program the blaster to send the correct codes.  

Anyone know where I can find a list of codes the Comcast set top box understands?

As I mentioned before, you may already have a remote control for IR that can be programmed to control multiple devices (Tivo, Denon/Onkyo/etc AVR, Gear4, Logitech Harmony, et al). If you don't have an IR remote already (I've collected 4 of them without ever specifically buying one), then you would need to buy one.

Newegg has over 50 Universal Remote controls listed
And I'm sure there are nice ones that newegg doesn't stock, too.
donpickAuthor Commented:
Hello Darr247

Thank you for your help.  

My goal is to record programs on my computer hard drive.  I have basic cable and I don't expect to buy any higher priced subscription.   So I don't record in HD.

Let's see if I fully understand what I must do:
 - I currently have an old Asus tv card.
-      I need to buy a pc which will run Windows 7 Professional so I can use Windows Media Center.
-      The output of the Comcast set top box will be set to a single channel (let’s say channel 3)

-      When I program Windows Media Center to record a program on say channel 11, I assume Windows Media Center wants to tell the tv card to change to channel 11 and record the program.  But the Comcast set top box sends all info to channel 3.  I have to tell Windows Media Center to record on channel 11 so it will send the appropriate codes to Comcast set top box (using the IR blaster) so it changes to channel 11.

-      So, if I put 2 tv cards in my pc, one which  I configure with Windows Media Center and the Asus one which I do not configure with Windows Media Center.  So now, Windows Media Center is instructed to record on channel 11.  It sends commands to the non Asus tv card which has an IR blaster connected to it.  The IR blaster sends commands to Comcast set top box to change to channel 11 at 7pm.  The output of the Comcast set top box is connected to both tv cards (using a coax splitter)  

-      I tell the Asus software to record on channel 3 at 7pm.  The signal from the Comcast set top box should be recorded by the old Asus card.

What have I forgotten?

Yes, I hate to have to buy tv card just so a signal can be sent to the Comcast set top box but I assume Windows Media Center wants to see a tv card or it will not work correctly.  With this configuration of 2 tv cards then I would not have to pay Comcast a monthly fee for a recording device.  I will have to pay a fee for the set top box.  

What is a better way to accomplish this?
David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
complain via twitter, you get faster support from comcast.. my local shop it was almost plug and play.  They are obligated by law so you just have to push a bit.

using an IR blaster is what they recommend
I assume Windows Media Center wants to tell the tv card to change to channel 11 and record the program.  But the Comcast set top box sends all info to channel 3.  I have to tell Windows Media Center to record on channel 11 so it will send the appropriate codes to Comcast set top box (using the IR blaster) so it changes to channel 11.

As far as I know, Media Center will tell the comcast box to change to channel 11 and leave the tuner card where it is. I don't think you need to buy a second card.

If you have to buy anything else, I would get something like a Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 instead of an internal card. That box will work with the decryption cards from comcast et al cable companies.
donpickAuthor Commented:
Thank you all for your help.

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