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Archive for the ‘Media Center’ Category

Comcast Cable made me mad.  I could not seem to get on a permanent cable/internet package that was less than $150 a month.  Too much.  I looked into DirecTV and found that they have an F rating from the BBB.  Yikes.  And like DirecTV, Dish starts with a low price and then as you add DVRs and rooms and features… you’re back up near $100 for TV only.

Well, I hate bad business, and I’m just the sort of dork to try to figure out a way around it.  So I did it.  I’m off the cable/dish teat.  And, I am NOT one of those people who decided that I just won’t watch TV… I still watch a ton of TV.

Media centers and streaming video stuff can be complex, and I didn’t want this to seem like using a computer… so one of the major requirements of the system was that it needed to be 100% operable from a remote control (no keyboards or mice), intuitive enough that babysitters and visiting grandmothers can use it, and stable enough that I’m not getting dirty looks from my wife as I fix the TV.

So here’s what I’ve got:

  • 12 Channels of broadcast HD television: ABC, CBS, FOX, CW, NBC, NBC Weather, Universal Sports, 3 PBS, 2 Independents. I am seriously considering pointing another antenna in the other direction, because Longmont has 4-5 more independent stations that show movies, DIY shows and more.
  • A fully functioning DVR to record all my favorite broadcast shows for adults and kids (probably 20 different shows at this point)
  • Integrated Netflix streaming which I use for kids shows and movies, Mythbusters, Dexter, Firefly, History Channel documentaries, indie movies, anything from the BBC archives, Spongebob, and more.
  • Integrated Hulu (free version) – Slightly aging network and network partner shows.  We’ve watched Hell’s Kitchen on it, and I watch Always Sunny and old NFL Films stuff.  But, as Hulu moves to a pay model and networks start freaking out, the selection here keeps getting worse over time.
  • Integrated Boxee – A different home theater software that aggregates a large selection of web-streaming services from Comedy Central, Networks, and more.  Also has an API for 3rd party apps so you can use Pandora and other radio services, Photo services, RSS readers, and other web services right through the Boxee app using a remote.
  • Media Browser – a tool for playing any ripped, downloaded, or homemade video content through the interface… so if you have ripped in your own movie collection or downloaded movies or seasons of a TV show… you can play them.
  • Photo Browser – I have all my family pictures on this computer, and we can call up albums and pictures quickly.
  • Music Player – play albums, artists, genres, and playlists through the TV alongside a slideshow of your family pictures or other visualizations.

I pay for DSL (currently $20/mo, but may go up to $40 after an intro period), and Netflix ($8.99/mo), and that’s it.  That’s $100-$120/mo in savings.  The hardware cost me about $400… so since this summer, I’ve made my money back easy… never mind the satisfaction I get from sticking it to the man.

Wanna see it?

Here's the setup. The smallish PC is underneath, the remote, and the Vikings losing again.

 

Here's the somewhat customized main interface for the system. Big friendly icons to select.

 

My Beefy 12 channel program guide. I already see a few things I want to watch.

 

Recorded TV sorted by show title. We record a lot. Live TV is for chumps.

 

Media Browser for the TV series and movies I have acquired on the hard drive.

 

Netflix through WMC is really easy to use, and look at all the great content you can stream for $8.99/mo.

The Hulu interface. I'm kinda losing interest in Hulu as it keeps removing features, and I record broadcast shows anyway. Non-premium users get huge delays before you can watch new episodes of good shows. We haven't gotten a new Always Sunny since September, so I quit looking.

Pandora as seen through Boxee. Beautiful interface, really. "Vampy Spacy Mellow" is my default life-soundtrack station.

What’s really amazing about this setup is that I don’t feel like I’m cutting back.  I have traded some things for other things… like I can’t watch cable shows as they air… but I can watch the cable shows from years before that I never watched.  Is that trade down worth $120/mo?  Durr… Easily.  I can’t watch cable sports which might be a deal killer for some, but I still get 4 broadcast football games a week and local baseball (and I can find ways to watch other events if I really want to).

Cable and Dish companies are feeling the squeeze right now because of competition from internet sources, and because people are cutting costs during the recession.  They’ve reacted to this by trying to squeeze more dollars from paying customers for a product that is worth less.  They are cutting off access during big events like the World Series as a means of ransom, and acting like there is nothing you can do about it except capitulate and pay more.  I highly recommend showing them that they are wrong.  🙂

Coming soon: How to build your own!

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