Friday, February 19, 2010

Ditching cable (part 4)

Cable is gone. I still have some work to do with my antenna signal and WiFi, but cable is gone. Internet service cost a little more than I realized because there is a discounted rate if you have cable TV. So, the updated costs are:

$58 - Internet
$15 - Phone
$9 - Netflix

Total = $82 + some taxes. I'll follow up with how much money I spent to get to this point, but I am at a savings of $70 per month. I'm now inspired to tackle other recurring expenses. I'm thinking that insurance (house, car, life) is probably the next thing to look at.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ditching cable (part 3)

Well, I'm having some struggles. First of all, I went to a Terk HDTVa indoor antenna because the other, cheaper ones (passive from Philips and amplified from RCA) just weren't cutting it. I can't seem to find a good position to get all of the "over the air" channels. I really don't want to put one outside. That opens up a whole host of things that I don't want to do - aesthetics and wiring issues. I'll play with this a little more and report back. Ultimately, I get most channels, but can't get my PBS and NBC stations without compromising the rest of the channels. These both provide 3 stations that are all watched in our house.

The other, larger problem is that I'm using WiFi to stream content from PlayOn for Netflix, Hulu, and other sources. I get very frequent pauses in playback to the point where I consider it unwatchable. I'm pretty sure that the problem is with WiFi because I have some movies ripped to ISO on a NAS box that have a similar problem. I'm going to investigate ways that I can optimize my WiFi capabilities. I'm also looking into dropping Ethernet into my living room and basement.

The Windows Media Center I have upstairs is hard-wired. Its streaming is perfect. I still have antenna issues with over-the-air TV, but I haven't put the Terk antenna on it yet.

I really want this to work, but don't know how much leash I'll have with the family. For the moment, I'm not even worrying about the basement TV (which is the best one of them all). Also, I'm not sure what I'll do with the TVs behind the bar (and their wall mounts) down there.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ditching cable update

Well, I'm cranking along. I actually called to cancel cable yesterday. I missed some fine print on the bundle I was looking to go do (Internet + Phone) even after I looked for the fine print. I am not eligible for that bundle, so the unbundled price was not as attractive.

Existing pricing:
$130 for TV/Internet/phone
$15 for HD-DVR
$5 for cable modem rental
($150 total + tax)

The unbundled pricing:
$43 for Internet
$40 for phone
$5 for cable modem rental
$9 for Netflix (part of the cable replacement)
($97 total + tax)

Not to be deterred, I told them I would look to cancel all of my Comcast services if need be. They offered me $20/month for 6 months off of my current pricing. Whoop-dee-doo!

I found a cheap, but well reviewed, VoIP provider Phone Power. I signed up for their month-to-month plan for $20. If I'm satisfied, I will go to their $15 plan or even one of their "prepaid for a year" deals.

Comcast Internet is good. I'll keep it, but I already have my own Linksys cable modem. I had to rent one because of the phone service. Without their service, I can drop their cable modem.

New pricing:
$43 for Internet
$15 for phone ($20 initially)
$9 for Netflix
($67 total + tax)

I purchased a 32" LCD with a digital tuner to replace my downstairs 23" CRT. That was a bit of a splurge at $350, but a decent price. I also got one digital converter box for my 51" basement TV and two antennas for these two TVs. My DVR will be solely on the upstairs 32" TV running from Windows Media Center. There may be a way to stream that to my other media players, but I haven't investigated that yet.

To run Netflix and Hulu (via PlayOn), I am going to bring my original Xbox with XBMC up from the basement to go onto the new LCD. Its wireless is a bit shaky from there, so I'm hoping that moving it closer to the access point upstairs will make it better. It's possible that the Xbox doesn't have enough processing power. I'm hoping that's not the case. My backup is getting a Roku box (or two).

The Wii will move downstairs to the basement as the source for PlayOn. Allegedly, a Netflix CD will become available for the Wii which should make that interface better. PlayOn will be used for Hulu and other things at that point.

More to come...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ditching cable...

... I think ...

Every month, I look at the cable bill and think I don't need it. A friend posted this link on his Facebook page and I checked it out.

He is a single guy that, presumably, only has one television. He has no children.

I am married and have children. I have six televisions in my house, although I only regularly use three of them for general viewing. Only one is HD - a 51" rear-projection, with no tuner at all, in the basement. The other two are a 32" CRT (upstairs playroom) and 23" CRT (downstairs living room). The 23" has a Wii with it. The 51" has an original Xbox with XBMC on it. None of them have a digital tuner.

I currently have Comcast cable. I have direct coax for each of the TVs, except for the 51". It has a Comcast HD DVR attached to it. Overall, I've been fine with Comcast's service and channel offerings. It's the price that I'm getting tired of. I looked at satellite and it's not much different.

So, why now? Well, Comcast is in the process of going all digital. I stuck with them all these years because I could hook a coax into any regular TV and get service - no box, no extra cost. This is about to end. Now, I have to either have a digital tuner or one of their converter boxes for each TV. They will give me two at no additional cost, but I have to pay more for my other TVs. I have zero TVs with a digital tuner. This is not the end of the world, but it's been enough of a push to get me off my butt to investigate the ideas in the above website.

I decided to experiment this past week with the 32". This is because a couple of months ago, I had fitted one of my PCs with a digital TV card (Hauppauge HVR-1250 - $50) and a video card with an S-Video out (NVidia GeForce 9400 GT - $50). Using Vista Media Center, I was watching digital cable, including HD, on my TV as a second monitor. There were a lot of logistical problems though with video, remote, mouse, and sound. It worked ok if nobody was on the computer, but it got ugly when they were.

Having this hardware already gave me the perfect opportunity to sample what the website suggests, which is to use digital over-the-air and a Roku box. I simulated the Roku box with Media Center. I decided that the PC needed to be dedicated to avoid my initial problems. I had a third PC downstairs that I wasn't really using. It was a "throw-away" from my mom when she bought a new one. I brought it upstairs and moved the video and TV card into it. It only had Windows XP on it however. All of the new, cool Windows Media Center stuff seemed to be focused on the Windows 7 Media Center. I have a friend at work that was able to hook me up with Windows 7, so I installed it.

I bought a digital antenna ($20 at Wal-Mart) and attached it to the digital tuner. I signed up for a trial Netflix membership. Since Hulu is another biggee, I added it though a software called PlayOn. PlayOn allows streaming of Hulu and Netflix (among others) to various devices. There is a WMC add-on called PlayIt for PlayOn. It also allows my Wii and XMBC on XBox to play Hulu and Netflix on the other TVs.

I've been in test mode for the last day. I'm cautiously optimistic. The Wii's graphics are a little weak and I haven't tested XBMC yet. On WMC though, it's fantastic.

So far, the overall negatives are:

- Can't just sit and channel surf. You can with the locals, but that's pretty limited.
- It's not as simple as sitting and turning on the remote.
- I'm not using a uniform interface. That means it's different for each TV.
- I haven't solved the "most watched" cable channels: ESPN, Disney, and Nickolodeon.
- Tolerance for TV being down if the Internet is down will be interesting.

... more to come!