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Installment 009 of The Custom Integrator Show is live.  This one builds off of the previous two installments and starts our discussions on interpreting the Man-Machine Interfaces (MMIs) presented by the web server built into the ATI Digital Cable Tuner.  I cover them from a couple of different perspectives.  I try to tie the architecture and terminology from the previous Podcasts to the screens and the informational data presented through them to keep with the philosophy of the more you know about how it works under the wraps, the easier it is to make it work well and to troubleshoot it if it does not for some reason.  I also look at some of the information that is critical to have correct and which pieces of it point to specific problem areas.  Once again, the elimination of variables through a divide and conquer approach.  I already posted the accompanying information that goes with this audio portion of this discussion at http://thedigitallifestyle.com/cs/blogs/custom/archive/2009/04/02/pre-cursor-to-installment-009-of-the-custom-integrator-show.aspx.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so please take a look at them because the Podcast makes a lot more sense if you can see the screens I try to describe.

I would like to reiterate that all of this builds off of using your standard good installation and integration best practices.  Get it all up and running at “The Shop” before taking it on site.  Ensure the RF cable plant is solid and the numbers are within range.  Use a “standard” TV with a digital cable tuner (and even CableCARD) built in to make sure everything works correctly outside of the Windows Media Center environment.  Do your homework ahead of time and have your print outs of the available service providers and the appropriate channel lineups tied to your client’s subscription pack ready when you go to fine tune the channels.  Read as much “how it works” documentation as you can.  CableCARDs are like any other piece of equipment – read the manual at least once to understand the features and nuances.  Schedule time with the cable provider and try to become best friends with the one or two technicians or support personnel that actually understand CableCARDs and what you are trying to do.  Most of all, include enough time in your proposals to allow for the unforeseen circumstances that always seem to arise.  You always can come in ahead of schedule and under budget, which is a whole lot better than losing money by spending days trying to isolate the cause of a problem.

Why go through all of this effort and detail related to Digital Cable Tuners (DCTs) and CableCARDs?  The Windows Media Center platform is one of the few (if only) PC-based home theater and DVR solutions that lets your clients consume high definition premium content via cable, especially throughout the home.  It is a huge selling point for this product since most people currently “just want to watch TV.”  The incorporation of CableCARD technology into Windows Media Center seems to get a bad rap for some reason – probably because most integrators really do not understand the architecture, how it works, how to make it work well, and how to troubleshoot it efficiently.  The technology works, but more importantly, it has to work well.  It is part of the ultimate Windows Media Center experience if you have done your job well.  Hopefully, you find this level of detail worthwhile as part or your efforts to deliver that experience to your customers.



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