After crunching the numbers, and an annual raise on rates, we've decided to ditch satellite service at our house.
There are numerous channels that we don't watch, and the bulk of what we do watch is either available OTA (over the air) or by way of online streaming.
I thought I would share my journey of getting rid of cable/satellite, so maybe it won't be as intimidating if you're thinking of doing it yourself.
1) Getting started:
Read my primer of HD tuning for PCs
. Hardware wise very little has changed. You do have a few more options these days with software packages such as MythTV
. Since my HTPCs are currently Windows 7 systems that is what I'll focus on here. A word to the wise though, Windows 8 hardware validation is different, so not all old tuners will function with Windows 8 Media Center (which is an add-on by itself). If you buy a new tuner for Windows 8, make sure it is certified.
2) Choosing your tuners:
In my case I already have two tuner cards, Hauppauge's 2250
. If you are looking to buy a tuner, and have an existing wired
network, then I highly suggest SiliconDust's HDHomeRun
. This is a dual ATSC/Clear-QAM tuner which is distributed over your home network, allowing different PCs to access the tuner. If I were to buy an additional tuner it would be the HDHomeRun.
3) Choosing your antenna:
The right antenna makes all the difference in the world. You can go inexpensive, but depending on your location it might take a higher power/bigger antenna. The best place to start looking is Antenna Web
, where you can find information on the various types of antennae, as well as information on the stations near your residence. I opted for a Terk HDTVA
indoor antenna. I was able to find one on Amazon for a reasonable price. Once I received the antenna I tested and verified I can receive all 6 major broadcast channels with clear quality (ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS).
4) Streaming subscription(s):
My wife and I are already Amazon Prime members, which gives us access to a broad library of TV shows and movies, but there are still a number of shows we like that we won't get through Prime. A great website to look for your favorite shows or movies is canistream.it
. The one catch is you need to be very specific with the title. One wrong letter or punctuation and you might not find what you're looking for. After searching for a number of shows we've decided to subscribe to Hulu Plus and Netflix. If you average the cost of Amazon Prime ($79 a year) it comes out to $6.59 a month. Hulu Plus is $7.99, and Netflix is $7.99 a month for streaming.
5) Streaming hardware:
Again, in my case I have existing HTPCs in place, which will allow me to control Netflix and Hulu Plus from within Media Center. Unfortunately Amazon has not released a native Media Center application. While there a few workarounds available, I've found that I'm okay using the good old mouse/keyboard option. If you want separate streaming boxes you can't go wrong with a Roku
. All three major streaming services also have clients for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3.
6) Supplemental disc services:
At $22.57 for three streaming services, we're still saving $70+ monthly versus our current DirecTV bill, and we're missing only a few shows that eventually are released on DVD/Blu-Ray. This is why we'll continue to maintain our Netflix disc subscription with the Blu-Ray option. To us the HD streaming options and DirecTV pay-per-views will never match a quality Blu-Ray title. We currently have the three disc option as for our family it brings the best value. If you haven't tried it, RedBox
can be a good supplemental service. The downside to RedBox is title availability. Most titles are either new or seasonal, with the occasional catalog title in the mix. The upside is there are usually numerous RedBox rental machines nearby, and using their handy smartphone app you can find what you're looking for on the go. Once you're done with your disc? Just return it to any
of the RedBox machines.
7) Other options:
Much of this is predicated on existing hardware. The good news is that HDTV recording doesn't require much horsepower, so if you have an older system, such as an old Core2Duo or Athlon X2, you'll be able to do everything you need to. If you're buying new hardware, a good starting point is a current generation Socket 1155 Pentium or a AMD Trinity CPU. So called 'green' hard drives are perfect for recording and playback, and with OTA recordings you can offload them to a server/NAS if you want to save them for future viewings. Also, if you don't want to buy another Windows license, you can always tinker with a MythTV or XBMC Linux build. You might miss out on the streaming options, but they're solid HDTV PVR software solutions.
I'll update this post one month from now with how the family, including the children, are handling the switch. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.