PlayOn.tv

Ditching My Cable Company

Goodbye Brighthouse.  For years you have been my cable provider, my Internet provider, and my telephone provider.  I have been faithfully paying you over $2500.00 a year for these services.   I have hundreds of channels, HD packages, two HD DVRs, premium channels, high-speed internet, unlimited national calling, call waiting, and a slew of other features I don’t use.  All for the low, low, price of $220.00+ per month.

Last month, my good friend Riebo blogged about his Addiction to Pay TV and how he broke the habit.  After reading his blog, I sat down and realized that I was paying a LOT of money to Brighthouse each month.    I pay a lot and get very little value for my money.

Carey DVRs Oprah, Undercover Boss, some HGTV shows, and random stuff that catches her interest.  I record shows on SyFy, Heroes, and a few shows that capture MY interest.  The kids watch cartoon network or play XBox.  We never watch HBO, Showtime, or CineMax.  We never use the home phone.

Why am I paying all that money?  Especially when I have options.  After reading Riebo’s blog about how he broke his addiction to television, I determined to do the same.  I wanted to make my setup a little less complicated than his, because I have younger children in the house.  They needed to be able to use whatever system I created with ease.

So I found the perfect solution – by utilizing a combination of Windows Media Center, a third-party Internet streaming application, and broadcast TV I was able to completely rid myself of cable television.  I am still in-process of setting it all up, but let me describe it to you:

TELEPHONE

The entire family has cell phones through AT&T.  There’s no reason to have a home phone.  I just dropped the land line altogether.  Landlines are obsolete anyway.  I have a cell phone.  My wife has a cell phone.  All three kids have cell phones.  I never try to call them at home; I just call the cell.

INTERNET

I can get DSL from AT&T for under $50.00 a month.  With that internet connection I can take care of all my television and streaming needs.  True, Brighthouse is a 10mb connection and DSL is only 6mbs.  I worry about that a little, but we’ll see how it pans out over time.  At least DSL is is not a shared connection and I should get more consistent throughput.

TELEVISION

I have, in using only my XBox 360 and a Windows 7 Ultimate PC, the ability to watch Broadcast Television, record live TV, schedule recordings, connect to Hulu and watch my favorite episodes, connect to CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, SpikeTV, SyFy, HGTV, National Geographic, The Cartoon Network, and much, much more.

And I set it all up for under $400.00.

How did I do it?

Windows 7First, I connected a Windows 7 Ultimate PC to my home network.  If you don’t have a spare PC to use as your media server, you’ll have to get one.  I purchased a PC from Riebo – one that he wasn’t using.  This PC has one, and only one, purpose in life.  It is my HD TV DVR and my media server.  I factored the cost of this PC in my estimate above.  I bought it from Riebo for $200.00.  Because the system is running Windows 7 Ultimate, it has Media Center running on it already.   With Media Center, I can stream recorded TV from the PC to my XBox 360.  I can also save ripped DVDs to the hard drive and serve them up instantly over the network.  Not that I would ever do anything illegal like the people who download movies from the Internet.  I like to have legal backup copies of my movies ready to instantly play when I want them to.  Plus, I hate watching those stupid FBI warning on my movies.

XBOX 360Next, I made sure my XBox 360 could connect to the Windows Media Server on the network.  With the Box 360 connected, I can browse the Media Center, view my pre-recorded shows, watch movies, and even connect to Internet radio sites.  The XBox 360 connects seamlessly to a Windows Media PC on the same network.  Say what you will about Microsoft, but they knew what they were doing when they integrated the gaming console into a Media Center PC.  It’s obvious that they saw the writing on the wall.  (note: I did not factor the cost of the XBox 360 in my estimate above since I’ve had the console for 3 years already)

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HD AntennaNext, I purchased a USB TV Tuner ($69.00) that works with Windows 7 and connected it to my PC.  Add to that the HD Antenna ($26.00) pictured on the right and I can now receive TV straight to the computer.  There are lots of combination for tuners and antennas you can use, but I went with Riebo’s recommendations because he blazed the trail before me.  He is very satisfied with these choices.

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PlayOn.tvNow that I have these basic things set up, I can use my XBox to view the local channel guide, record live TV, schedule recording, and watch movies stored locally on the media server.  I hook up another HD antenna to the TV itself and I can watch TV and record TV at the same time.  But how do I get all the content I used to get from pay cable channels?  How do I get SpikeTV, HGTV, Catoon Network, Disney, and more?  The answer is simple and lies with a neat little application called PlayOn TV ($40.00).

PlayOn is an RSS aggregation tool for online video content.  It connects to Hulu, ESPN, CNN, YouTube, NetFlix, and a multitude of other online streaming sites to acquire the content and stream it to a XBox 360, a PS3, or even your Wii.  There is a a community of developers who write plugins to connect to sites – so the base of  websites hit for video is growing daily.  I added SyFy plugins, SpikeTV, NASCAR, and more.  Installing PlayOn is easy and took less than 5 minutes.

There you have it – for less than $400.00 (if you already own an XBox) I was able to replace EVERYTHING my cable provider was giving me.  My costs to implement are one-time costs (aside from the $50.00/year I pay for the XBox Live membership).  I will never have to pay them again.  There is no monthly bill and I enjoy EVERYTHING I got from Brighthouse – from documentaries to reality TV to sci-fi shows – all without paying the $220.00/month I was shelling out before.  My only real recurring cost is DSL – which is tax deductible as I work from home quite regularly.

The interface for all of this is so easy to use even my 11-year-old daughter can use it after being shown only once how it works.

I still have Brighthouse for the remainder of the month as I continue to test and refine this setup, but rest assured that this is the LAST Brighthouse bill I will ever pay.

Goodbye Brighthouse.  I won’t miss you.  I’ll leave you with a high level look at the basic setup I have configured:

My Basic Setup

My Basic Setup

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12 Responses to “Ditching My Cable Company”

  1. You dam techno hippie, this sounds really cool. I can’t wait to see how it passes the family test after a month.
    If it does I might have to copy you just for the techno fun. Nest you should automate your house.

    Have fun and thanks for the detailed post.
    JS

  2. We are using XBox 360 to stream Netflix, and I love that ability. I do think you list one thing which is a misnomer. While the cable modem is a shared resource in a neighborhood, DSL is a shared resource at the central service office. DSL is also subject to slower bandwidth during high traffic periods, but the bottleneck occurs at the central office.

    I know a lot of people have told me about problems with Brighthouse, still I have had no problems other than an incompetent install technician at my very first installtion appointment. I also consider the architecture of the cable connection much better than DSL.

    I am also thinking about dropping the cable TV service, but my savings would only be about $60/month: I only use digital TV with the DVR, no HBO, etc. I am actually more interested in the foreign language TV broadcasts (German, Russian, French) for which the Satellite TV services seriously overcharge and Cable has virtually none. The Media Center solution would solve that as well.

    Thanks for posting this. I was leaning toward a streaming solution, and I think it is about time to make a move.

    One question: in your diagram, you are feeding the media center PC through the XBox. Is that for a bridged network connection for the XBox? Wasn’t sure if there was a video signal routing through the XBox to the HDTV as well.

    FWIW: I use a Buffalo GHR-HP-54 wireless router with Tomato firmware with the cable mocdem. The XBox uses a wireless AP on the 100BaseT connection. I can stream a movie via Netflix on the XBox while others run connections to the net in parallel (even with VPN’s active), and there is no disruption in the signal.

    • Hi John

      Glad you enjoyed the post. On your DSL sharing stance; it’s not a misnomer at all. ALL connections are shared at the central office, that’s a logical conclusion. Any slowdown past my “neighborhood” is shared between cable and DSL systems alike and my speed is dependent upon the infrastructure the provider puts in place.

      With DSL I avoid the local overload phenomenon so typical with cable – where they don’t plan for peak capacity and JoeBob next door streaming his porn directly affects my ability to connect to resources I need.

      I didn’t feel the need to educate the masses on network infrastructure – but you make a very good point. We are all bound by the sophistication of the infrastructure put in place by our provider and DSL does not solve poor infrastructure issues.

  3. GREAT writeup, Ron. Thinking about dropping cable, myself. Getting closer to that day. I have wifey buy-in, and that’s the biggest hurdle!

  4. I went really simple and low tech. I just hook my boring old PC directly to my 55″ TV. I stream from Hulu and Netflix for most things and when needed from other content providers. No DVR needed for me, since all streaming content is on demand anyway.

    Plus, sometimes it’s nice to sit on the couch with my wife and surf the web together, like when we are making vacation plans, etc.

    The only “special” equipment I use is a nice all-in-one wireless keyboard with a trackball built in that I got for $35.

  5. Check out Playon as well. As long as it’s running on your PC you get access to a ton of online video sites and streams through the Xbox. I use it and it works great!

  6. I have converted my family to the Playon.tv as well. The kids love it better then cable. They get all old cartoons and the like. My 10 son is hooked on Felix the cat for some reason. We have been using playon.tv for about 2 months now.

    Hollis

  7. I love the idea of getting rid of Comcast, but haven’t sucked it up yet… you may have inspired me to try it though… keep us posted on how it goes. 🙂

  8. I have been thinking about it as well… I agree that in this day and age cable is OVER PRICED (just like cell phones and txt messaging plans!) Everything is online in the cloud anyway why not get it from the source right?

    However, how do I get LIVE shows, events like my MUST SEE Orlando Magic games NBA games?

    I wouldn’t mind paying a few dollars for subscriptions like Netflix or NBATv online or something if at the end I’ll save hundreds a month.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] may remember that last year I blogged about how I ditched my cable company.  I got rid of all cable services and watch 100% of my television streamed to my tv via the […]

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