My CableCARD tuner is causing me lots of grief

It started off bad because it took me a few hours before I could even get the tuner added to my setup, but after I got it working, I thought I everything was cool and wrote up a nice little post about it. At the time everything did seem cool except the occasion drop out, which I assumed I could fix by checking my coax connections etc. But since then, not only has the occasion drop out not gone away despite spending a few hours messing with my connections — the same exact connections that work perfectly with a Series3 TiVo — but every single morning since I woken up to a system that is not operational. Then even after I remotely kill the process, I still have to reboot the system and the ATI CableCARD tuner to make the signal watchable.

First some background, skip this paragraph if you want to go straight to the problem. I’ve had a Series3 Tivo since the day they were announced and have had it working with two different providers using both SA and Moto CableCARDs. I’ve had a total of 10 CableCARD tuners installed without ANY issues and the wiring in my house is brand new. Speaking of the coax, it’s all high grade RG6, with good splitters (there are only two) and I use compression fittings.

When I removed one of my Series3 TiVos to replace it with the ATI CableCARD tuner, I took the exact same coax cable and CableCARD that has been serving me well without any issues for 14 months and used them for the ATI tuner. So I’m pretty confident that I don’t have a bad CableCARD or a signal problem. But just in case I tried both CableCARDs from my TiVo and double checked all my coax connections. I even hooked up an old attenuator that I used to use on my old HR10 TiVo, which only made things worse, so I don’t think the signal is too hot.

Anyways, on to the issue. I originally posted this at The Green Button, but since no one has really responded, I’ll try again here before throwing the thing out the window. Ever since I installed my CableCARD tuner every morning when I turn the TV on after being off all night, there is a just a black screen (TV indicates it’s receiving a 1080p signal). If I hit the buttons on the remote, I can hear the sounds and the extenders continue to work fine, but if I get out the mouse and keyboard I can’t see the cursor and it doesn’t seem to respond to any keyboard presses (not even ctrl+at+delete or ctrl+shift+esc). If I telnet in and kill ehshell.exe, it returns me to my desktop, then I re-launch VMC that then works properly, except all the CableCARD channels (ATSC channels are fine) have unwatchable pixelation (yes I checked every channel I watch, about 20). If I reboot and unplug the ATI CableCARD tuner for a second, then all the channels work fine — aside from the occasional drop out.

In the System log, I see this event every 2 seconds from some time after I turned off the display, until the time I killed ehshell.exe.

Log Name: System
Source: atikmdag
Date: 4/20/2008 9:06:46 AM
Event ID: 52233
Task Category: CPLIB
Level: Error
Keywords: Classic
User: N/A
Computer: VMC1
CPLIB :: General – Failed to authenticate output protection

My setup is pretty much a out of the box Dell XPS 420.
Intel Q6600 quad core.
3GB Ram
ATI Radeon HD3650 via HDMI @ 1080p60 (tried both Catalyst 8.3 and 8.4)
Pioneer PDP-6010FD
1 ATI CableCARD tuner
1 VBox PCI ATSC tuner
1 HDHomeRun dual ATSC tuner.

Since this is obviously completely unacceptable, if I can’t get it resolved, no matter how much I enjoy the VMC UI and extender architecture, I’ll just have to go back to using my TiVos.

**Update**  The issue was resolved by setting Windows Power Setting to turn off the display after 5 minutes, even though Windows isn’t capable of turning off the display this appears to tell the ATI driver to stop trying to verify the HDCP handshake.

29 Responses to “My CableCARD tuner is causing me lots of grief”

  1. Utah says:

    I wonder if this is related to cable card or just vmc in general. Lately within the past two weeks, I have been seeing something similar, but not consistently like you have. I do not have a cable card, but I know we both use HD Homeruns, since that is the only commonality between our two systems, try removing it temporarily and see if it fixes your problem. Its probably not the cause, but worth a shot.

  2. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    I’ve been running the HDHR for two weeks without any issues, this issue started Friday morning, after I installed the ATI CC tuner. At this point the only thing that works is the HDHR and VBox tuner, if anything I’ll uninstall the ATI tuner and see if it persists. I really wish I had some idea what that error is.

  3. Ed Bott says:

    Ben, this sounds like a video driver issue. In fact, I’ll bet if you were to use a Media Center Extender ytou would find that everything is working just fine. Are you using the latest ATI drivers? SWhat sort of conection do you have? HDMI or DVI? Is Service Pack 1 installed? For what it’s worth, I have an almost identical setup to yours, no custom code of any kind on it, and I do not see this issue.

  4. Ed Bott says:

    Oops, silly me for not looking at the details more closely. This definitely sounds like an HDMI sync issue.

  5. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    I couldn’t agree more, I even tried to upgrade from 8.3 to 8.4, which didn’t help.

    The odd thing is that this never happened until I installed the CableCARD tuner. I was thinking about uninstalling it, to see if it persists. I know the CC tuner has more DRM, which is maybe why I never noticed before.

    I’m running SP1, Catalyst 8.4 with the control center, HDMI connected to the current generation Pioneer Kuro PDP-6010FD @ 1920x1080p60.

    As for your setup, do you use extenders? Do you ever turn off your Media Center?

    The reason why I’m asking is that I added the Extender the day before the ATI tuner, and this only seems to happen at night when I’m using the extender in the other room.

    The other thing I thought was that the driver was trying to verify HDCP while the TV was off, so obviously it would fail, then when I turn the TV on the screen is black. The part of this that doesn’t make sense is that I can’t hit ctrl+alt+del, but I can kill ehshell.exe to see the desktop.

  6. Ed Bott says:


    My setup consists of an XPS420 in my office, connected to a 24-inch monitor via DVI. I have multiple extenders in other rooms. I almost never turn off the Media Center, and restart it only to install patches or the occasional app that requires a reboot.

    Do you have a DVI connector on your TV? That might be worth trying as a workaround temporarily.

  7. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    No, don’t have DVI. But the fact that your almost identical setup doesn’t exhibit the same symptoms re-confirms my suspicions. I think I’ll try to configure Windows to turn off the display after say 10 minutes. I’m thinking that even though Windows can’t turn off my display, maybe it’ll try and properly notify the ATI driver that the display is off.

    Any ideas about the periodic drop outs? They are not terrible, but they are noticeable, and annoying.

  8. Patrick says:

    These tuners are VERY VERY finicky about signal strength. They need a near perfect signal in order to function. That is most probably the cause of the drop-outs.

    As for the other issues, this is part of the reason why after a week I shipped my two tuners and shiny new PC back to the manufacturer. It just is too frustrating to troubleshoot these issues on an ongoing basis.

  9. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    If I have to troubleshoot issues on an ongoing basis, I’ll get rid of it as well. But I’m still optimistic that I’ll be able to build a stable system, which at that point it’ll be up to me to leave it alone.

  10. Ed Bott says:

    I had dropouts and blocking for the first week or two with this system. For the past six months, however, performance has been stellar. I would have zero tolerance for ongoing troubleshooting as well. In my case, swapping out the CableCARDs seemed to help. I enlisted a lot of help from my local cable company, and to their credit they came through. I’d say it took a few weeks to get everything sorted out, but it’s been (knock wood) smooth sailing since.

  11. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Thanks again.
    Would you mind going to your CableCARD status page and telling me what your SNR (db) and Signal Level (dBmV) is?
    Mine is
    SNR (db): 33
    Signal Level (dBmV): -10

  12. Alex says:

    Sounds like you should get a TiVo…wait a minute :).

  13. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Thanks Alex ;p
    My wife has already suggested that as well.

  14. Ed Bott says:

    I have dual CableCards. Those levels vary widely, depending on time of day, channel, and content. Current readings are 33/35 (yes, that’s correct) and 33/-7. Both readings are taken from nbrowser-base daignostics page for each ATI device. That signal level on the first tuner probably indicates that it is having trouble with the signal, but it is able to consistently lock and record. At some point I might consider working on it by swapping tuner or card, but for now it’s just working so I leave it alone.

    Anyway, I disagree with the previous comment that you need “a near-perfect signal” for CableCARDs to work. You need consistent and sufficient signal strength. That certainly doesn’t mean perfect. I have a fairly long cable run with three or four splitters in line and it all works fine.

  15. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    So how can I tell if the drop outs are caused by signal strength? Is 33/-10 a good number? If it was signal strength would it still affect all channels? Keep in mind that I have FiOS which many say is liking having the headend outside your house, the signal is very hot. So hot that some TiVo users have to use attenuators to tone it down. I have had problems with one of my TiVos on a few channels before, but in my case it was a lose coax connection.

  16. Kevin says:

    Does the CableCARD adaptor have any power management options in the device manager? When PCMCIA style cards do not get enough power they can cause some very strange side effects.

  17. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    I’m not sure, where would I find something like this?

  18. Ed Bott says:

    Kevin, the ATI tuner is a USB device. Windows does not see the CableCARD device as PCMCIA. Power management shouldn’t be an issue.

    Ben, you cannot tell from the readings on the ATI page whether your signal is good, as my example shows. Your cable company needs to measure that and verify for you that they are delivering a good signal. You need to keep track of the problems and see if they are at specific times or channels, or if they’re across the board.

  19. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Based on the fact that the Series3 I have connected to the exact same splitter (the -7.5 output while the VMC is on the -3.5) and doesn’t have any drop outs on the exact same recordings (I’m keeping it as a backup for now) and it is consistent across all channels all the time, I’m going to rule out the signal.

    What else could it be?
    Keep in mind FiOS will charge me $50 to come out and tell me it’s ok.

  20. BobsledX says:

    Ben, I have a similar setup to yours, different PC, but same tuner setup. Anyway, I had to turn off optimization to keep VMC from crashing overnight.

  21. Dave Wright says:

    From the error message it seems like you may be having HDCP issues.

    Does your ATI go direct to the TV or to the receiver?

    I have had some issues myself with the ATI drivers acting screwy when I power off my receiver. The ATI drivers would lose the HDCP handshake and disable all video.

    I would up getting around this by adding an old PCI video card to my PC. It does nothing other than serve as my backup video. Windows seems to activate it automatically when the HDMI goes offline.

  22. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Interesting, what does it do anyways?

  23. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Yes the card is plugged directly into the TV, no dongle, no receiver, nothing.

    I believe the problem is that the TV is off and I had the power settings in windows set to never turn off the display, so after I’d turn off the TV, HDCP would fail.

    Yesterday I set the power settings to turn off the display after 5 minutes. It obviously can’t turn the display off since it doesn’t support HDMI-CEC, but the video card will at least think it’s off.

    This morning, was the first morning since installing the CC tuner that the screen wasn’t black. I’ll give it a few more mornings before I’m convinced that did it.

  24. […] My CableCARD tuner is causing me lots of grief – Ben Drawbaugh Ever since I installed my CableCARD tuner every morning when I turn the TV on after being off all night, there is a just a black screen (TV indicates it’s receiving a 1080p signal). (tags: CableCARD HTPC Windows Vista MediaCenter) […]

  25. BobsledX says:

    Don’t quote me on this but I am pretty sure optimization is more or less a VMC refresh that sheduduled during a none use time. My best gues is in setups like yours and mine where VMC is on and running all of the time I think it causes problems.

  26. BobsledX says:

    Sorry about the spelling m’keys are stiiiiking.

  27. Ed Bott says:

    BobsledX is correct. The optimization option just restarts the Media Center services in the middle of the night, as long as they’re not doing any work, like recording a TV program.

  28. […] ’cause once again he’s helped out a fellow blogger on their quest to making Vista work. He left a comment in my original post, that helped me realize that configuring Vista’s Power setting to never […]

  29. […] My CableCARD tuner is causing me lots of grief – Ben Drawbaugh Ever since I installed my CableCARD tuner every morning when I turn the TV on after being off all night, there is a just a black screen (TV indicates it’s receiving a 1080p signal). (tags: CableCARD HTPC Windows Vista MediaCenter) […]