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I know this can be done but I'm not exactly sure what software and hardware is required. I'd like to build a media center pc with a TV capture card. I'd like to plug this capture card into a cable box and automatically schedule recordings. I'd then like the ability to get those recordings in an unprotected format so I can convert them to whatever formats I wish with tools such as ffmpeg. Can this be done with Windows 7 Windows media center? If so what hardware should I get, specifically what is necessary to control the cable box? I believe I'll need an IR blaster but that's about all I know. What other options are out there besides windows Media center? I know MythTv can probably do this but I'd like to stick with windows if possible since I will be using this machine as a personal computer as well and have programs that require windows to run.

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4 Answers

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typoknig and josh are right that you can get a QAM digitizer card that will allow you to capture and view signals from your cable line. However, they can only view unscrambled stations. If this is all you are subscribing to, then you'll be fine without having to use the cable box and an IR blaster.

However, if you have any premium channels or want pay-per-view, this solution won't work for those channels.

Technically speaking, there is the CableCARD standard that was mandated by the 1996 telecom law in the US to allow computers to directly descramble cable signals. If you can find CableCARD hardware, you might have the best solution.

But there are very few manufacturers and the hardware is hard to find, mainly because cable companies don't like it because it leaches from their DVR hardware subscription revenues when people can use alternatives.

Also, legally speaking, there might be some issues with connecting "unauthorized" hardware to your cable line, even if you bought legitimate and legal hardware. Read the fine print for your cable contract.

If you can't find any CableCARD hardware to unscramble your signal, then you'll have to use your cable box and control it with the IR blaster.

Anyway, I'm currently using an IR blaster with Win7 Media Center and my cable box and it works fine. It takes some time to set up the system (Win7 has to figure out what the IR signals are from the cable box), but once setup is done, it works pretty seamlessly.

Good luck.

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To capture all digital channels, including HD channels, in an unprotected format that can be edited you need an HD PVR. They have native drivers for windows 7 so that you can run the live TV set-up just as if it were a regular TV Tuner. It requires a component video output from your cable box and an IR baster (I'd recommend a normal MCE blaster as the one in the box has poor driver support). The only real limitation is only one HD PVR can be used with the native drivers, though DVBlink for HDPVR will enable 4 or more tuners at once.

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Most TV Capture / Tuner cards have software that will let you connect your cable box directly and switch channels, have favorites, etc. There's nothing special really that you need to do.

Windows 7 Media Center has a really nice UI and works well for this.

This article should have plenty of information you need to plan for this and get started: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-media-center/learn-more/record-tv/default.aspx

How to Record Broadcast TV: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-media-center/learn-more/record-tv/tutorials/broadcast-tv-record.aspx

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You really don't need an IR blaster unless you intend on controlling your cable box with the remote that controls your computer. As for the recording part, when I used Media Center 2005 I had no problem recording with Media Center and converting into whatever format I wanted later. Just get a T.V. Tuner card that has QAM and ATSC since NTSC has been phased out in the U.S. Hauppauge makes good tuner cards and they would be my first choice as far as brand goes. Just install the card, hook up the coax cable to the card directly from the wall (you do not even need a cable box) and set Media Center to record what ever you want! If your computer has an internet connection you can download program guides to make recording scheduling even easier.

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