Some time ago I wrote a post about an HTPC (home theater PC) that I was building. The intent was to use it as a DVR on our cable system via a Ceton TV card. After quite a bit of trouble I finally had it ready to go using Microsoft Media Center to control the DVR and playback. Well, about the time I got it ready to go, Cox Communications decided to implement switching to their cable system. This required that I get a switching box to use my Ceton TV card. After trying three different switching boxes I could not get the box to work with my Ceton TV card. So the HTPC basically became just a PC attached to our TV.
Since that time Cox has raised their rates to the point I had to switch providers. We now have AT&T U-verse which uses a streaming technology for cable TV delivery rather than the traditional cable. So I still can’t use the Ceton TV card on the PC. Our two year discount with AT&T has run out and their charges for cable TV are just as much if not more that Cox was.
Paying nearly $170 a month just for cable TV is stupid. So I have decided that it is time to cut the cord and go with streaming TV. I have been investigating this now for about the last 6 months trying to determine all the pieces that we need to get the TV service we really want. As part of this investigation, I discovered some software called PLEX. PLEX at its most basic is a personal media streaming server. The cost for PLEX is free. There are a few more advanced features that require a $5.00 a month PLEX Pass subscription. Not a bad investment for what you get.
I used the Media Center PC that I mentioned above to install PLEX. I did upgrade from an AMD A4 processor to an A8 processor and added an additional 8 Gb of memory. I also replaced the DVD drive with a Blu-ray drive. I have ripped most of our DVD and Blu-ray collection and put it on the PLEX server. It puts a very nice front end on the media and automatically downloads some additional meta-data about any media you put in the PLEX file system. You can access the media via the web or apps that are available on Windows, smart TVs, streaming boxes, X-box, and smart phones. All my testing so far has gone well.
Of course when you cut the cord you would like to keep access to your local network affiliates so you can watch your favorite network shows. For this you need an antenna. We live about 15 miles away from the main transmitters in our area, which would normally mean we could get by with one of those flat antennas that you can put on a wall or window. Well not for us. We live in the Arkansas River valley so there are some hills and many trees between us and the transmitters. I needed to get a larger outdoor antenna. I did some web searching and found the DB2e antenna from Antennas Direct. It is a good high gain wide angle antenna that does a good job picking up UHF channels. I had to add a VHF antenna to the DB2e since some of our locals still broadcast on VHF. To keep from having to deal with grounding issues, I installed the antenna in our attic. When hooked up to one of our TVs for a test I picked up about 38 channels. Great!
To do some more detailed testing I used PLEX once again. They have added a new Live TV feature recently. You have to subscribe to PLEX Pass for $5.00 a month to use it, but that is not a large amount of money for all the other PLEX Pass features. I bought a WinTV-Dual USB tuner and hooked it up to PLEX. It is working very well at this point. Unfortunately, none of my PLEX capable devices support Live TV except the Web app and my Fire Tablet app. Oh well, at least I know the antenna is working.
My plan for the rest of my cutting the cord is to get a Tablo OTA DVR and a Roku set top box. The Roku sounds like a very well supported device and has apps for the Tablo DVR. I will have to pick up a cable streaming service such as SlingTV, DirecTV Now, or PlayStation Vue. With one of those I should be able to get the few cable channels that we really use. After the upfront cost of the equipment, we should be able to save about $100 a month, which will pay for the hardware in about 12 months.
I’ll add additional posts as I add more pieces. So you can see just what it takes to cut the cord and how well it all works.