Digital cable tuners: frequently asked questions

With Windows Media Center and the right hardware, it's possible to watch and record premium digital cable channels from your cable provider. However, setting up a computer to do this can be an advanced task. Here are answers to some common questions about setting up your computer to receive digital cable.

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What is a digital cable tuner?

A digital cable tuner is a type of TV tuner that can receive encrypted and unencrypted digital cable channels. A number of PC manufacturers sell specially configured Digital Cable Ready PCs that include at least one digital cable tuner. You can also purchase digital cable tuners separately.

What is a CableCARD and how do I get one?

A CableCARD is a security device that, when inserted in the slot of a digital cable tuner, provides secure access to encrypted digital cable programming that comes with your digital cable subscription. You'll need a CableCARD to access premium channels from your digital cable provider.

CableCARDs are owned by cable providers and leased to subscribers. To get one, you’ll need to schedule a service appointment with your cable provider. If your cable provider offers this service, a technician will deliver and authorize your CableCARD and ensure that the cable signal is strong enough to be received by your digital cable tuner.

What is the Digital Cable Advisor?

The Digital Cable Advisor is a tool in Media Center that you can use to analyze your computer hardware to determine whether it meets the minimum requirements for watching and recording digital cable. This includes your computer's performance and display capabilities, as well as the available connection types.

If your computer meets the minimum requirements, you can then update your system settings to enable digital cable support on your computer.

To run the Digital Cable Advisor and enable digital cable support

  1. Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, click All Programs, and then click Windows Media Center.
  2. Do one of the following:

    • If you've never used the Digital Cable Advisor before, scroll to Extras, click Extras gallery, click the Digital Cable Advisor tile, and then follow the instructions to install it.

    • If the Digital Cable Advisor is already installed on your computer, scroll to Extras, click Extras library, and then click the Digital Cable Advisor tile.

  3. Follow the instructions to run the Digital Cable Advisor.

    • If your system passes the test, click Update System Settings to enable digital cable support on your computer.

    If any of your system components don't meet the minimum requirements, you'll need to address the issue before you can watch and record digital cable. For example, if your video card isn't powerful enough to support digital cable, you'll need to install a new one, then rerun the Digital Cable Advisor.

    Picture of the Digital Cable Advisor in Media Center
    The Digital Cable Advisor results screen

Can I add a digital cable tuner and a CableCARD myself?

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?

Can I watch TV with a digital cable tuner if it doesn't have CableCARD installed?

The purpose of a CableCARD is to allow access to channels that are encrypted. As long as you have a digital cable subscription, you should be able to set up your digital cable tuner to watch unencrypted digital channels (using a ClearQAM signal). However, you probably won't be able to watch many of the channels you subscribe to (including premium digital channels) because they're encrypted. To learn how to set up a ClearQAM signal, see Set up a TV signal in Windows Media Center.

How do I install and activate a CableCARD?

If you have a PC with a digital cable tuner installed, follow these steps with your cable technician to install and activate the CableCARD:

  1. Ask the cable technician to check on the quality of the cable signal. The signal level of the QAM signals should be between ± 8 dBmV (the cable technician should know what this means.)

  2. Follow the instructions in the “To set up a digital cable TV signal with a digital cable tuner (United States only)” section in Set up a TV signal in Windows Media Center. Be sure to write down the UnitAddress and the CableCARD S/N (serial number) from the outside of your CableCARD. (These numbers will not be visible after the card is inserted into the tuner.)

  3. While Media Center is running, insert the CableCARD into the Digital Cable Tuner. One of the LED lights on the tuner should flash red and green for 20 seconds or so, and turn green. If it turns red, it indicates a problem with the Out-of-Band signal (the cable technician should know what this means.)

  4. A “CableCARD Detected” message should appear in Media Center. Follow the instructions to start the CableCARD setup.

  5. When you reach the “Call your cable company” page, you or the cable technician will need to call your cable provider and give them the information from this page (called pairing data) to authorize the CableCARD.

    Once the cable provider has received the data and authorizes the CableCARD, it can take up to 20 minutes for it to be fully activated. Test a variety of channels to confirm that the CableCARD has been activated properly.

What do I do if I’m having problems with my digital cable tuner and CableCARD?

Here are some things you can try, depending on what problem you’re having.

  • If your computer is joined to a network that uses Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), you'll need to disconnect from the network for your digital cable tuner and CableCARD to work.

  • If you can’t watch live TV or you can only watch a small subset of the channels, try the following:

    • Call your cable provider and ask them to check the quality of the cable signal and to confirm that they've recorded the CableCARD pairing data (from the “Call your cable company” page) correctly.

    • Check Windows Update to make sure that your digital cable tuner has the latest firmware installed. To learn how, see Install Windows updates in Windows 7. (Digital cable tuner firmware will appear as an optional update.)

    • Call your cable provider and ask to try a different CableCARD.

  • If you're seeing a “Restricted content” error while watching TV, try the following:

    • If your computer is connected to your TV or monitor using DVI or HDMI, confirm that your display is compatible with High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).

    • Check with your computer manufacturer or your video card manufacturer to ensure that you're running the recommended driver for your computer’s video card.

    • If you recently added a new video card to your computer, and it uses DVI or HDMI to connect to your TV or monitor, make sure that the card supports High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) and DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA).

    • Make sure that your computer is connected to the Internet and that your service hasn't been interrupted.

    • Confirm that Windows is activated by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Security, and then clicking System. Make sure that it says Windows is activated under Windows activation.
  • If you're seeing a "Tuner not found" error while watching TV, try the following:

    • Restart your computer.

    • Remove and reapply power to your digital cable tuner, and then try to set up the TV signal again. If you receive the error again, you might need to update the firmware for the digital cable tuner. Refer to the documentation that came with the device or contact your computer manufacturer for assistance.

    • If you’re still seeing this error, it might be because a firewall program is blocking the tuner. In your firewall program’s settings, try opening the following exceptions:



      UDP 5001-5006


      Local subnet


      UDP 1900

      Inbound, Outbound

      Local subnet


      TCP 2869

      Inbound, Outbound

      Local subnet


      TCP 554


      Local subnet


      UDP 5757-5772


      Local subnet