Well, not free as in you can get one without any cost but the days of having to buy a pre-made system just to able to use a Cable Card in Windows Media Center are over. EngadgetHD has the short and sweet
on the announcement made at CEDIA today where Microsoft announced that enthusiasts and integrators will be able to add Digital Cable Tuners with Cable Card to their PCs. Yes, you could have done this recently with hacks but now it's all well and good.
My HTPC has been a Windows Media Center build since the Windows XP days and while it might not have the flexibility of say MythTV, the interface and ease of use can't be beat. I've done my share of hacking with the software to enable it to stream MKV files off of a NAS, mount ISOs, and other little things but seeing this news really made my day.
Now all we need is some decently priced hardware to allow for said Cable Card to be plugged into our systems. Right now there are a few places that sell the ATI version for around $200 from Dell
, which I think is still a tad too expensive. Knock it down a $100 and we'll talk as you still need to get your own Cable Card from your local cable provider to use it.