Cord Cutting 14 Months Later

Fourteen months ago we cancelled AT&T U-Verse.  We kept AT&T for internet access only.  We now use Vonage for our land line.  Yes, I know we could have dumped the landline too, but what can I say, we’re old and set in our ways.  We just can’t quite give up the landline yet.

We were originally paying $60 a month for SlingTV but since the Olympics ended, we dropped the Sports Extra package and we’re back to paying $50 a month.  Since we have an antenna in the attic, SlingTV works fine for us.  We get nearly all the channels we used to watch on cable.  SlingTV recently added some of the Discovery networks so now I get to see Deadliest Catch and Gold Rush.  Those were the main two series that I had to originally give up to cut the cord, now I have them back.  Yea!!

We started out using a Tablo 4-Tuner for our local TV.  The only channel that gave us trouble at first was KOTV.  It would sometimes drop out and become difficult to watch.  I’m convinced that it has to do with a combination of the frequency they transmit on and the fact that we are in a river valley and there are hills and trees between us and the tower.  About 10 months after cutting the cord KJRH started giving us problems.  It was not all the time, but seemed to happen mostly during primetime.  Since it came in clear for 10 months, I really think that someone near us is creating some RF interference with the frequency that KJRH transmits.  That made two of our most watch networks nearly unviewable, NBC and CBS.

I had to find a solution.  We tried a free trial of PSVue since they carry local channels and it worked fairly well, but to get some our favorite shows would require subscribing at a level that would cost a fair amount more that what we pay for SlingTV.  Other live TV streamers had similar problems for us.  We needed a solution for the antenna.

I had a spare PC that I had built a couple of years ago to use as a media center PC.  When Microsoft dropped support for Windows Media Center that was the end of that experiment.  Now that PC was going to get a new purpose.  I had heard about Plex so I downloaded the Plex Media Server and installed in on the PC.  I bought a Plex Pass so I could experiment with Live TV and DVR.  I then purchased a Haupauge WinTV HD Dual USB tuner to use with Plex.  Once the channel scan was finished, I tried to tune into KJRH.  Wow, it worked with a nice picture and no sign of interference.  Then I checked KOTV, again a picture that was watchable.  We are down to two tuners, but if it becomes a problem, I can drop in another WinTV USB tuner and we will be back to 4 tuners.

Now we can watch OTA TV via Plex on our Roku boxes.  Occasionally we get some pixelated bands across the screen when the signal gets bad, but most of the time it comes through just fine.  I am disappointed that we don’t use the Tablo anymore.  I really like their user interface.  But Plex works well and we are getting used to the interface.  Using Plex for live TV is easier now since the latest preview version has a traditional grid guide.

We have yet to come close to using up our 1 terabyte per month limit with our streaming.  We have two TV’s that we stream, although we mainly use just one.  We might get closer to the limit if we were not using our antenna as much as we do.  If we did get too close, I guess we could switch from AT&T to Toast for our internet access, they have the same speeds as AT&T for a bit less money and they have no limits.

Bottom line is we are still saving nearly $100 a month vs cable and can watch virtually everything we used to watch when we had cable.  If we ever give up the land line we will be saving $120 a month.  That may be an option to consider.  At this point, I’d never go back to cable.  We are not in any long term contracts.  We can change anything with our TV packages whenever we want, no contracts at all, just month to month.

My First Media Center PC

4tuner_card1After stumbling onto a TV tuner card called the InfiniTV 4 by Ceton, I decided to try my hand at making a Media Center PC.   There was potential to save some money on my cable bill and get some additional functionality that isn’t offered by Cox.

ML03-3-4First I needed a PC to put the InfiniTV card in.  I didn’t want to install it in my main system as it might end up in the living room.  I decided to use a small form factor.  The case I chose was a Silverstone ML01 case.  It is a nice looking low profile case that supports both mini-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards.  ML03-3-4-Back-02It has places to mount either two 3.5″ hard drives or three 2.5″ hard drives.  The case does not come with a power supply so I had to add that to the mix.  One thing to note, the PSU would need to be no deeper than 5.5 inches to leave room to put a DVD drive in.  The DVD would also need to be as short as possible to ensure there would be enough room for cabling.

I picked a Rosewill 400W PSU, in hindsite, I could have used a smaller PSU.  Something in the 250W to 300W range would have been find and would run cooler.  But this is a nice PSU that has a quiet 120mm fan.  The DVD was an ASUS DRW-24B1ST drive (OEM 24x DVD burner).  The two worked together to leave just enough room to route the SATA power and data cables between the drive and the PSU.

FM2A75Pro4-M(m)For the motherboard, I picked the Asrock FM2A75 Pro4-M.  It is a mini-ATX form factor board for the AMD FM2 socket.  It has all solid state caps.  For outputs, it has VGA, DVI and HDMI.  It also has an optical sound output, and supports USB3 and eSata.  The motherboard fits nicely in the case, but the front panel header is on the front edge of the motherboard.  You’d think this wouldn’t be a problem, except that the case front panel connector is very tall.  The case has a plastic hard drive shelf that goes between the motherboard and the case front.  With the front panel header on the front edge and the case connector installed, the drive shelf won’t fit without putting a serious strain on the motherboard.  To avoid the strain, I removed the drive shelf.

Fortunately the alternate 3.5″ hard drive mount was under the DVD drive bay.  The Seagate Barracuda ST1000Dm003 (1Tb 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s) drive fit there nicely.  There are rubber grommets on the mounting holes to reduce drive noise.  The grommets work great.  I can hardly hear any drive noise.

I put 8Gb of DDR3 memory on the board (Crucial Ballistix Sport low profile DDR3 1600).  That was probably overkill, I could have gotten away with 4Gb. Continue reading “My First Media Center PC”