Most people with a digital cable tuner have purchased a Digital Cable Ready PC, and most cable providers that offer CableCARDS have technicians to install and authorize the cards for you. It's possible to purchase and install a digital cable tuner yourself, and some cable providers even let you to install a CableCARD into the digital cable tuner on your own and then call customer service to have it authorized. However, this is an advanced task. If you're unfamiliar with troubleshooting hardware and software problems, it's probably best to rely on your local cable company technician to install and authorize the CableCARD for you.
The process of setting up a digital cable tuner and a CableCARD depends on your location, cable provider, and what type of tuner you have. Media Center community sites, such as The Green Button, are great resources for information about buying and setting up a digital cable tuner for use with a CableCARD.
If you're planning to purchase a digital TV tuner but you don't want to deal with a CableCARD, another option is to get a digital TV tuner that's configured for ATSC and ClearQAM signal types. There are a number of these on the market today that can receive unencrypted digital TV signals in standard definition and high-definition, either through an antenna (ATSC) or a cable TV jack (ClearQAM), without the need for a CableCARD. The downside to this type of setup is that your channel selection might be limited depending on your cable provider or, if you're using an over-the-air antenna, your signal strength. For more information, see What should I know before adding TV tuners to use with Windows Media Center?