How I cut the cord for cable TV and went with HTPC

Recently I got a mail from Dish Network saying they are increasing my international channel price and its effective from last month itself. I was getting tired of bills increasing every now and then and this mail. This is it. Needed to do something.

First step is to figure out which channels my family is watching. We mostly watch prime time news and shows and kids programs.  I searched for alternative ways of watching them. Free to Air local channels is the answer. And in addition DVR is a must.

All I had to do is get a DVR with Free to Air (ATSC) channel tuner and I could not find any. Moxi is the closest that came without subscription but its very expensive and not flexible to do other things. Didn’t want to get the new Tivo HD DVRs because of the upfront cost plus they too needed subscription. Researched online and concluded that HTPC is the answer. This gives me flexibilty to use Hulu, Netflix or watch internet channels, and international streaming channels (YUPPTV).

I already have a desktop that was assembled two years ago and is not used any more. It does not need to be powerful. It just needs a good graphics card and ATSC Tuner. So I added the following

  1. HIS ATI 5550 Graphics card with HDMI out  (this has hardware acceleration)
  2. Hauppauge 2250 dual HDTV Tuner card
  3. Windows 7 Vista XP Media Center MCE PC Remote Control by CE Compass  ( its a remote with mouse)
  4. WDC AV-GP 1.5 TB hard drive ( AV-GP hard drive are good for DVRs). Anything above 500GB is fine.
  5. Logitech Bluetooth wireless keyboard+touch pad   (optional)
  6. Channel Master HDTV Antenna ( got it free from local broadcast station).

Plugged all of them in and Windows 7 Media Center worked perfectly out of the box. Media Center automatically gets the EPG (electronic programming channel guide data) from the Microsoft servers. I was pleasantly surprised on how beautiful it is. The interface is lot richer and better than Dish or DirecTV or TWC.

Windows Media Center comes with DVR. Its very good. Because its connected to the internet you get more information about the program. The MCE remote is very much like the Dish remote and easy to use.

In the area I live I get all the prime time channels and are aired in HD by the local broadcast stations. HD content aired in MPEG 2 (720p) and is passed straight to my graphics card. As the graphics card has hardware decoder there is no load on the CPU and runs cool. Yeah you don’t get discovery channels or TBS or TNT etc. You just get prime time channels and local channels.

If you don’t have a desktop then there are many options.  Dell has Inspiron ZinoHD, all you have to attach a USB Tuner like WinTV-HVR-950Q USB stick. Or if the desktop has empty pci-x slot, get pci card tuner.

MSI released Wind Box DE520, an entertainment oriented nettop box. Need to check if this has an empty pci x1 slot to fit a tuner card, then this could be a simple compact solution. If it does not then Hauppauge has a USB tuner card, so that could work.

Channel Master has Over the Air Dual Tuner HD-DVR for local channels. But you can not do other things like internet channels or hulu etc. Here is a good video explaining about it. Another video

HTPC Reviews is good site for HTPC related news and reviews.

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One Response to How I cut the cord for cable TV and went with HTPC

  1. bhano says:

    I also disconnected the dish long back, its gets a problem, I call them they ask money to come and take a look. Then I got TW, they interface is really bad. Compare to TW, Dish interface is a quite a lot better to search and record functionality. I hated TW, then cancelled in couple of days.

    Interesting, I knew this is possible. Never got a chance to spend time on it. But I was always skeptical about the quality and performance implications.

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