The Ruffled Crow

Animation, Art, and Other Shiny Things

My Digital Evolution – Killing the Cable – Part 1

[This is the first of a series on my move from cable tv to online content]

Part 1 – The Idea

I’ve had cable television longer than I’ve had cable internet, though not by a huge margin. There were a few years thrown in there that I had to choose between the two and went with the intertubes. I was playing alot of an online game, bringing home videos from the library, and watching what I could find on the internet. About exhausted PBS’s site during that time.

Well, it’s getting time to do that again, not because I have to make a choice again, but because I’m tired of paying for alot of stuff I don’t use. It’s not like I’m averse to the concept of getting what you pay for, I own a Cadillac for gawd’s sake, and I certainly am getting a decent enough deal from my local cable tv provider; hundreds of channels on twenty-four hours a day, premium movie channels, on-demand content, dvr. That’s alotta stuff.

Like a lot of folks, though, I come home, flop on the couch or in my computer chair (with a good view of the tv), and proceed to browse to find something even vaguely interesting to watch or let babble in the background while life goes on around it. There’s perhaps a handful of tv shows we like to tune into over the week, other shows that we’ll watch if we browse across them, and the occasional movie if it’s particularly good (or suitably bad, as our tastes go) or we’re just in the mood.

Lots of dvr’ed stuff goes unwatched. The on-demand content is marginal and smallish. I bet I only watch a dozen channels – tops.

I pay about 130 bucks for the privilege.

That’s going to change…

Last week I began looking into software that serves up content over the internet and was blown away by what I found. All the tv shows (delayed a day usually), news, massive amounts of movies spanning decades and every genre (popular and obscure), access to YouTube and other original content.

All free…

If you want new movies, that’s 9 bucks a month for Netflix. Live sports? The major leagues will sell you a season of it for 50 to 150 dollars or so. Many of the big-time live events are still shown on network tv so an over-the-air antenna does the trick there. You may have to go to a friend’s house for the MTV music awards show or the like, or you could wait twenty-four hours for MTV to post it online.

All of it waiting to be watched on your schedule, pausable in case life intrudes. In other words; you can watch the crap you want to watch when you want to watch it.

Oh! And there’s your local library that carries massive amounts of excellent documentaries and popular films. Learn how to use it’s online reserve list and you can get a steady stream of great video.

So, since the NBA season hasn’t started yet, I can get everything I want to watch, plus new movies, for 9 bucks a month. I don’t even need to open a calculator to figure that that saves me $121 per month. A savings of 93 percent. (yes, I got out the calc. it’s actually 93.1%) To put it in more budgetary terms; cable = about $1,500 per year vs online + Netflix = $108.

Um…. Wow….

Ok, so how do I pull this off? We’re not just dealing with my skinny pale and nerdly ass here – Aunt Bee has to be able and use this too, and without accidentally crashing every computer in the neighborhood or, more importantly, not deleting our local media library. This also has to scale up to a 50 inch plasma hdtv and do 5.1 surround sound.

Well, it can, and damn easily too. Computer-based Media Centers (MC) have been around for quite a while already. I played around with digital tuner cards probably twenty years ago. Microsoft began bundling a full MC in Windows ages ago (in computer years), Macintosh is basically the definitive media machine, and there pretty much isn’t anything Linux can’t do, including media.

In conjunction with them intertubes, the massive advances in computer processing, not to mention graphics processing, are really paying dividends and will allow me to build a dedicated media machine to handle the online content, DVDs, local video, local music, and eventually serve it all up to all the computers (or The Z’s xbox) in the house.

If I wanted to scrimp I could probably get away with spending 400 dollars. On the other end I could trick it out to the tune of 2,000. I’m figuring to split the difference and spend the equivalent of 6 months of cable tv, or about 750 bucks. That’s for hardware only; all the media software I’m evaluating is freeware. I have a copy of Windows 7 I could use, but I’m hoping to get a bundle that includes the OS. (and I keep promising myself that I’ll upgrade this Vista machine with that exact W7 copy, but I just got this machine comfortable a couple years ago… I’ve always hated OS installs anyways. but I digress..)

So that’s the deal, dear reader. Over the next while I’ll be building a media center computer for the household. I’ll look the hardware and software, trials and tribulations of set-up, and how it get’s integrated into the household.

[part 2 – the software][part 3 – the hardware][Part 4 – the build][part 5 – epilogue]

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