Dell XPS 420 CableCARD Q&A

Lots of questions have come up with the release of Dell’s
XPS 420 so I thought I’d try and address as many as possible for anyone on the
edge of purchasing a CableCARD PC.  For
questions not answered below, be sure to check out
my Vista CableCARD FAQ
which has some more basic information covered in a
Q&A format.  A special thanks to James
Clardy at Dell for helping out here.

Q: Are tuners
internal or external?

A: Dell is using external ATI Digital Cable Tuners, and it
includes a Media Center remote/receiver so you have everything you need to get
going.

Q: How quiet is the
XPS 420?

A: According to James the XPS 420 is extremely quiet
although not silent.  Sound is very
subjective, but a few already have XPS 420’s at their homes so
they might
be able
to give their
subjective reviews of how quiet it really is.

Q: Can I swap the
components to another case (HTPC style)?

A: Yes and no.  The
Dell XPS 420 is a BTX system, not ATX. 
You can swap the components into another BTX case, but few HTPC exist in
the BTX form factor.

Q: Will Dell offer an
HTPC style case in the future?

A: There are no public plans for Dell to do so at this point,
but James says “If people speak, we’ll listen.” 
The suggested path here is for those who want to see some sort of HTPC
form factor to start a campaign.  Dell
already has a website for such called IdeaStorm,
so I’ll leave it to others to start up some initiative.

Q: Are more then two
CableCARD tuners support?
A:  Dell officially only supports two
CableCARD tuners which is the max supported by Microsoft.  That said this can be hacked using a registry
change
that has been around forever. 
That is not supported by Dell, but it does technically work.

Q: Should I get an
upgraded video card?
A: James suggests an upgrade to a NVIDIA 8600GTS (+$200) over the base ATI HD
2400 Pro.  If you are doing a lot of
viewing via the local PC or Blu-ray/HD DVD, this might be a good upgrade.  If you are viewing via an Media Center
Extender then you should be good with the 2400 Pro.  All of the cards support HDCP.

Q: Can I change the
graphics card myself after purchase?
A: If you are just changing the graphics card, it “should” work just
fine.  I would personally suggest only
upgrading from ATI to ATI or NVIDIA to NVIDIA. 
That’s just me though.  Your card
upgrade must support HDCP to work correctly locally.  Having said that, I would suggest not chaning it at all.  There are several threads at The Green Button and AVS Forum with
people fighting to get their system to work again after video card upgrades.

Q: Can I change other
components on the PC?

A: Changing multiple components can screw up Vista/OCUR activation
which can be a pain to recover from and generally requires a reinstall of
Windows Vista.  Once you reinstall,
previously recorded content will not playback at all.  I would suggest changing as little as
possible, there are several threads at The Green Button and AVS Forum with
people fighting to get their system to work again after major hardware upgrades.

Q: Can I playback
recordings on Media Center Extenders?
A: Yes.  The Xbox 360 Extender and
upcoming Linksys/D-Link/HP MediaSmart HDTVs can playback all recordings made
with CableCARD’s.  Dell has the DMA2100 here,
and if you are using wireless a Wireless-N router upgrade is suggested (James
likes the Linksys WRT600n).

Q: Will the XPS 420
work with BOCRs (or MOCURs) in the future?

A: While CableLabs has not announced anything, Dell is
interested in being in the forefront with such technology and does not
anticipate that you will need a new PC for MOCUR or
BOCRs
to work (new hardware and software updates will be needed of course).

If anyone has additional questions let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

46 thoughts on “Dell XPS 420 CableCARD Q&A

  1. Chris,

    You might want to caution people regarding Video card upgrades. While it should work, i’ve seen a post on TGB with a guy who did that (nvidia > nvidia) but then had some issues getting digital cable key activated (still having issues last time i checked)

    Just a warning since you specifically state no problem 🙂

  2. How about a warning that there’s currently no known or planned solution to the SDV (switched digital video) issue when using OCUR devices?

  3. Mike: Thanks, when I first wrote it the transition between the “other components” part the the video card part was a bit smoother but I edited that and it lost the warning for the video card portion. 

    Scott: I’m searching for more information on that now, but it is addressed in my CableCARD FAQ linked to in the post.

  4. I just got an xps 420 with dual cable card tuners, I reformated the hard drive, using dells supplied recovery dvd. I am trying to hook up my cable cards, and when i go through the tv signal setup in media center, vista tells me my machine is not cable card ready. Anyone have any idea why this would be happening?

    Thanks

    Nick

  5. I just got an xps 420 and I seem to be missing a remote. I clearly saw it on the computer creation page but it never showed up with one. Anyone else having issues with not getting your remote?

  6. Mine arrived today no remote either. Also having trouble getting MCE to see the tuners (yes i have updated the firmware ok). I will keep posting when i have more sucess!

  7. * Look for the COA sticker on the PC
    * On the COA sticker there are two keys
    * Click Start, Right Click Computer and Click Properties
    * On the System page click the Change Product Key
    * Enter in the key from the COA listed as the Digital Cable key and activate windows
    * After doing this you can go into Media Center and activate the CableCARD

  8. Remote – I don’t care what a packing list says….my order on the Dell Configurator showed me selecting “DUAL ATI Tv Wonder Digital Cable Tuners w/ Remote”. I want my remote. I have called Dell and they have no idea what they are doing. They said I don’t get a remote/receiver. What the heck is going on. How on earth could Dell go through the whole process of certifying a PC for CableCards, promote the XPS as a digital entertainment center, and not provide a remote. Ridiculous.

  9. Andy: That review is actually from a few months ago before CableCARD support was added.

    As for the remote, it is suggested that you contact Dell with your XPS ExpressService code and simply advise them that the shipment arrived without remote, then they should supply a replacement.

    It should have shipped with the remote.

  10. I contacted Dell, the only thing they would do was re-ship the ATI TV Digital Wonder Tuners. I informed them that I thought this would not fix the problem as the tuners are shipped from ATI and they do not include a remote. They said there was nothing they can do, and would re-ship me the order. As I suspected, I receiced two new tuners…and not remote.

  11. Yes, I have four tuners now and have to send two back. Thanks for your help….I am soooo close to having the system I have been planning on 🙂

  12. You can get other TV tuner cards for the 420, but the 420 is the only Dell PC that you can get the ATI cablecard tuner. There are better, cheaper options if you do not require a cablecard tuner.

  13. I was just wondering if you know if all XPS 420’s can have a CableCard tuner added to the system. They have some cheap ones on the Dell Outlet but none of them come with the tuners and I was wondering if a tuner can be added. Thanks.

  14. I’ve had all the same issues. About to return it if I can. They sent me a cheapo remote to make up for the lack of one. I’ve done the key change to the digital cable one on the sticker and sometimes that lets me past on of the “computer not able to see digital cable” type of error, but still stuck with “restricted content” when trying to watch digital cable. I’ve had 4 cablecards and 3 visits from Comcast and probably 12 different lengthy conversations with XPS tech support. None of them know what to do anymore. Reimaged to factory setup once, reimaged using the CD’s this second time, in hopes that the new digital cable key would stick, but it’s not working either. If they miss this next scheduled call-back to “research” and help me fix(tomorrow), or if they can’t fix it, I’m ready to pack it up and ship back to cut my losses. The Blue-ray program is a little quirky too. If they don’t let me return, I”m organizing a class action suit. I’ve completely had it. I’m gonna loose my job if I spend another working day one the phone w/Dell. btw, the last XPS tech was trying to blow me off to reimage by myself.

  15. Wow…same problems here. They reshipped the tuner due to no remote. I finally have a cheapie remote coming and the customer service rep said that Dell isn’t going to carry the cablecard tuner anymore. He was trying to get me to take a Theater 650 instead of a remote! But since this POS won’t recognize a cable signal…after 20 days of goofing with this thing, not counting DHL delays, I am on the edge of over it!

  16. same issues here – restricted content and no-one knows what the hell to tell me – i am being told that the ati cards the 2400 pros and being replaced by dell in favor of 400 xt which apparently correct the issue. i have a nvidia 8800 and they supposedly know about the issue but do not want to downgrade customers to the ati so they are telling me to sit tight – not sure what cards you guys have

  17. That’s interesting. I’ve got the 8800 GT or GTS card too. I missed the dell call tonight! But at least they called this time. I’ll ask about the ‘sit tight’ thing. I have till the 15 to return this thing in their extended holiday return schedule. I’ll sit tight for 2 more days! LOL

  18. I have the 8800GT as well, I have yet to get this thing to even find an initial signal! One would think Dell would have tested these things. When looking at forums one sees that the same problems have been happening since launch…this is stupid. I thought I wasn’t being an early adopter at this stage. I would have thought after the Anand Tech review Dell/ATI/Microsoft would have this ironed out. The ATI documentation is sparse. Dell tech or customer service hasn’t the slightest clue about these OCUR tuners. Hell, I had to explain it to my tech and he had to go read about it…very reassuring! When he is brickwalled (right after Vista MC won’t show up on his live connect screen) he is calling others…to no avail. Then I get transferred from him to Dell on Call “because they deal with 3rd party stuff” and they tell me they are a pay service, only deal with virus and malware, and have never heard of the OCUR tuner. They give me the number to ATI! This is truly upsetting and I am going from only owning Dell’s since the 16 mhz 386 days to never owning one again…and starting a blog about it! And don’t get me started on DHL’s delivery of Dell products!

  19. i talked with this guy chris on the dell community – he is a dell rep – he told me the same thing – the 2400pro are being replaced by the xt and the 8800 is a mystery – i have spoken with others with nvidia 8600 and they are up and running – this is completely nutty – so i just went out to best buy for the hell of it and picked up a ati 2600 xt – i will see if this works with a fresh image because any time you change something the setup needs to download security items specific to your system – if this doesnt work the issue is more widespread than the 8800 – this completely sux

  20. I just purchased the 420 with Dual CableCard Tuners.  I have a question that I haven’t been able to find the answer to yet.  Can I install an internal ATSC/NTSC Tuner and receive OTA HD channels in addition to the cablecard decoded content?  Will Vista MC recognize all of these channels combined in a single guide?  Also, I will probably keep one HD STB from Charter for On-Demand access, can I run this through the 420 as well?

  21. This is quite an expensive piece of hardware just to upgrade significantly from a rented digital receiver. That said, I’ve been wanting CableCard for like ever.

    BOCR and Switched Digital scared the snot out of me because I just ordered the XPS before I discovered these two things. It’s extremely nice to know that Dell doesn’t anticipate a PC upgrade for BOCR. But I’ll have to call COX to see if Switched Digital is going to screw me over. I hope I don’t have to cancel my XPS order.

  22. Seems I suffer from nearly all of the above, so here’s some info on my experience:

    1) I’m missing the remote. I’ll try the link above.

    2) At first, my system said it wasn’t digital cable compatible. I tried entering the digital cable code from the Windows tag on the computer per the instructions above. This solved that problem. Note there are two codes on the tag. You want the one to the right side of the tag. After that media center should recognize your computer as digital ready.

    3) After that, my system works fine with the tuner, minus a cable card. The tech arrives from the cable company Tuesday with that. We’ll see how it goes. Should be as simple as using media center to install and enable the card.

    For the record, I have a XPS420, 4GB, 8800GT, 24″ Dell and Acer HDCP compliant monitors, Blu-ray, and single ATI external digital cable tuner with Vista.

  23. Wow, I was getting all worried reading about all these issues. I’ve had my XPS 420 with 8800GT for about a week. My ATI tuners are due to arrive this week.

    I did some more research and a fix for this issue has apparently been found. On a bunch of XPS in particular with the 8800GT the BIOS was incorrectly programmed. The OCUR flag didn’t get set. Download an run the following utility to see if your BIOS has the OCUR flag correctly enabled.

    http://www.dougknox.com/vista/index.htm

    Looks like I lucked out with mine. If this utility doesn’t report your BIOS is OCUR compliant you won’t be able to watch any content. Here’s what it should say:

    This utility checks the PC’s BIOS for OCUR support/compliance
    The correct OCUR signature (DWORD-WORD-WORD-BYTE[8] is: {B46F133D-235F-4634-9F03
    -B1C01C54785B}
    Or, as a byte stream (memory dump) it is: 3D 13 6F B4 5F 23 34 46 9F 03 B1 C0 1C
    54 78 5B

    OSFR table present … table size is: 124 bytes
    Number of OSFR objects found: 1
    Object GUID: {B46F133D-235F-4634-9F03-B1C01C54785B}
    OCUR object found at table index 0
    Manufacturer Name: DELL INC
    Model Name: XPS420_OCUR
    Microsoft Reference Name:

    Skipping remaining objects
    The PC BIOS is OCUR compliant
    END

    If your BIOS is not compliant, you have three options to get it fixed. See the following link (Message 151)

    http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board/message?board.id=Tech_Talk_XPS&view=by_date_ascending&message.id=32656#M32656

    AustinDeadhead is the man who can assist you with the fix.

    I’m optimistic that my setup is gonna work out once I get my tuners this week and get Comcast out here to get my CableCARDs installed.

  24. Looks like Dell pulled the cablecard tuners from their web site… anyone have more info on if/when this will come back or if it’s FATAL??

  25. They are still there. Make sure you go to Home & Home Office. Their Business department doesn’t have a license to sell the tuners.

  26. yup, that was it. my account defaulted to the small biz site… scared me, i am seriously considering this as an alternative to my old xp media center and external tuners. HD would be a huge plus. Any other gotcha’s i should watch out for??

  27. I purchased my 420 w/o a tv tuner card, and have read somewhere that I won’t be able to view HD programming as a result. If I buy a digital tv tuner off the shelf from Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. will I still not be able to view HD programming?

  28. Well, at least you guys got your tuners. My XPS 420 arrived 7 days ago without the digital cable tuner. I’ve spoken to probably a dozen different support people (seriously), and stil no love. They said they can’t order it as a separate part and that it must be ordered with a Dell system. No !@#$? I finally got them to credit me $335 so I could order one from Sony (which I did).

    I did confirm that I have the BIOS update, and this system reports “The PC BIOS is OCUR compliant”, so I think I’m good there. Just need the tuner.

    I wonder if Dell will end up sending me the tuner afterall. The irony.

  29. Joann: Assuming you ordered your XPS 420 from Dell’s consumer website you can buy a Digital Cable Tuner from somewhere like SonyStyle.com. If you just want local broadcast channels you can pick up a OTA ATSC tuner from just about anywhere. Just make sure it works with Windows Media Center.

    PiranhaTodd: DCTs are shipped independently of the PCs. That should be noted somewhere in your order information. If you ordered one, you most likely have it on the way.

  30. PiranhaTodd: You might be getting a free tuner. Like chrisl says, the tuners are shipped from a different place. My tuners arrived over a week after my system and via DHL as opposed to Fedex. If you look at your order, you should actually see two orders. One for the system and one for the tuner(s).

  31. Thanks for the reply, Chris. I should also say that I really appreciate your blog and posts regarding Media Center, and specifically CableCard.

    Regarding DCTs shipping independently…
    Really? I see no such notes in my order information. I do realize that the Dell site says something like “may delay your order”, but wouldn’t you think that everyone else in the support organization could look that up and tell me that “it’s on its way”? And if so, give me some clue as to when it might arrive? As it is, I have no confidence in Dell (and I have previously been a loyal customer for years). Hopefully my new tuner from Sony will work. If not, I’m sending this brick back to Dell. If the Sony tuner works, great. Dell has still lost a customer. And if Dell ships a tuner also, then I’ll have 2 tuners — and Dell has still lost a customer. No one should ever have to endure speaking with a dozen support people over the course of a week in order to get what they paid for – and still not get what they paid for.

  32. Marcel, I hope you are right. Again, I didn’t see any mention of two orders. If I get a tuner from Dell, it will hardly have been “free”, considering the time and stress involved. Any way you look at this, it is simply bad business practice for Dell, and they need to address it — either in notifying customers of the status of multiple orders, or in training their customer service reps to help customers in such matters.

  33. PiranhaTodd,
    Not sure what to tell you. Sorry about your experience. When I placed my order, I got a Purchase ID and two Order IDs. The two orders were linked to the purchase ID. I was able to pull this up online and it was showing me the expected shipping dates for both orders.

    I didn’t order through the regular Dell channels, though. My employer participates in Dell’s Employee Purchasing Program (EPP). So far everybody who has posted about tuners said they got them shipped separately. Some have said they come directly from ATI.

    When you pull up your order, are the tuners listed on the parts list?

  34. I can confirm that there was only 1 Order ID associated with my Purchase ID. I also used my employer’s EPP. In the original email I got from Dell titled “Dell Order Has Been Acknowledged”, after submitting the order, I did see the “Single ATITV Wonder™Digital Cable Tuner with Remote” listed in the Order Details section. However, there was no part number listed next to this item. Later emails, such as when the system shipped, did not include a detailed list of components.

    When I got the system, with no tuner, I called Dell, and no one would even believe me that I ordered the tuner until I forwarded the “Dell Order Has Been Acknowledged” to them (3 different Dell support people).

    Then of course, no one could actually order it for me because it must be ordered with a complete system.

    All I can say is, I got screwed, and Dell did not fix the problem. I guess I’m unlucky, or you guys are lucky.

    The Sony tuner shipped, so it should be here in a couple days.

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