For a while now I have been using a somewhat low-tech solution to provide tv programming for our house. We were using a satellite dish which was connected to an old-school Tivo Series 1 (which I had hacked to add two 120 gb hard drives, a half a gig of memory and a network adapter). I use a device from leapfrog to allow me to use my Tivo throughout the house, and a channel plus devices which provides me with a way to route the video from the Tivo throughout the house. The solution has worked pretty well but I had been looking for a way to cut costs on a monthly basis and a $54.37 a month satellite dish bill was a very tempting target to make disappear.

Goal: My goal was to use a media pc combined with other media options to provide a cost-effective solution that replaces our current satellite dish.

As background I had a bunch of the equipment which was required for the Media PC including:

  • A computer which could be used as a Media PC and Windows Vista Ultimate edition.
  • X-Box 360 with an X-Box live membership.
  • A solid high speed Internet connection provided by Roadrunner.

 

The following is the equipment which I purchased for this:

  • Digital Tuner – AverTV Combo PCIe for $99.99 from Newegg
  • Digital Antenna – Terk HDTVa Amplified Directional Indoor HDTV Antenna for $39.99 from Newegg
  • Video card – GeForce FX 5200 128 MB 64-bit Video card for $41.99 from Newegg
  • X-Box 360 – broken with the red ring of death, fixed with help from a friend (thank you Scott!) for $100.00.
  • Total equipment cost: Approximately $300 with shipping and tax

 

Solution:

We now have a total of three tiers of media at the house:

Tier 1: NetFlix

NetFlix (www.netflix.com) has been a great media source. We currently have the three-DVD option which also provides access to on-demand content which is available from their website (instant queue). Their instant queue provides a large number of television programs and movies which we have enjoyed. It’s really cool to be able to watch some of the old stuff we watched as kids (like the Office, the A-team, Airwolf, Mythbusters and for the kids things like Hanna Montana and the Replacements).

Pro’s: This streams well in our environment and has a far larger on-demand library than I expected. DVD delivery works like a champ.

Con’s: X-Box 360 only works with NetFlix if you have an X-Box live account which is active. While this also works on the MediaPC, the process to access NetFlix and the User Experience is different between the two systems. Monthly cost of of the 3 dvd option is $18.22 after tax.

Tier 2: Digital Antenna / Media PC

So what I ended up doing is using Windows Vista Ultimate edition combined with a digital tuner and antenna to provide live television programming. In my area there are 19 digital stations which are available and I am now able to tune in about a half a dozen of the major ones with a digital quality signal which looks really good.

Pro’s: Streaming of media to the X-Box works like a champ.

Con’s: Issues with receiving for CBS in my area. Streaming on the media pc to the local tv can be choppy depending upon the recording.

Tier 3: Hulu

Hulu (www.hulu.com) is a great free media source. There is a downloadable extension for Media PC which provides a level of integration with Hulu (http://secondrun.tv/blog.asp?action=viewarticle&articleid=179) and if I heard correctly Hulu is supposed to be integrated with the Windows 7 version of Media PC.

Pro’s: Great free media source.

Con’s: Not integrated with Media Center extenders.

 

So what does it look like? (Ok, my TV’s don’t actually have physical antennas on the top but they aren’t HD so it seemed like the appropriate graphic)

image

The Media PC is directly connected to one television in the house and streaming is done to both of the X-Box 360’s in the environment. NetFlix is available on the Media PC and one of the two X-Box 360’s. Hulu is currently only available on the Media PC.

Additional Benefits:

  • NetFlix access from my laptop both at home, in the office and on the road.
  • Hulu access from my laptop both at home, in the office and on the road.
  • Media PC content can be accessed remotely through an application called WebGuide (http://www.asciiexpress.com/webguide/). 

Return On Investment:

Ok, so what’s the ROI on this?

  $54.37 per month on Satellite

– $18.22 per month on Netflix

Savings per month: $36.15 per month savings.

Initial investment $300, saving $36.15 per month so in less than 9 months this solution should pay for itself!