Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Ditch Cable and Save Money

If I think back really hard, I can remember being very excited when we finally got cable as a child. I don't actually remember life before it, but I do remember the ugly cable box with red numbers on it. Ever since then, I have been a cable customer. I've used Comcast, Charter, and Bellsouth Cable (yes, they had/have cable. They do offer a dish of some sort, but certain areas can actually get their cable service). As much as I have enjoyed cable, my bill was just getting to be too much, so a month ago I finally got brave enough and I canceled it.

So, now that you've canceled cable, what are your options? The most popular option, which almost everyone knows about, is the new digital converter boxes that are now required to receive the basic free channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc). These are available at drug stores, electronic stores, department stores, etc. These boxes do require an antenna that have to purchased separately. With one of these set ups, you should be able to receive the basic channels in HD and much clearer than with rabbit ears. Before purchasing one of these set ups, I would recommend visiting AntennaWeb. This web site allows you to put in your address and it will tell you what channels you will be able to receive with what kind of antenna.
NOTE: If you have a newer TV, you may not need the converter box, as a lot of the newer models come "Digital TV Ready."

I do have one of the previously mentioned setups, but my favorite option is the HTPC. HTPC stands for home theater PC. This is when you set up a computer with your television and use it instead of/in conjunction with a monitor. Combine this with Windows Media Center, Hulu Desktop, Boxee, a PC Remote, and possibly a wireless keyboard/mouse, and anything and everything you could ever want to watch is at your finger tips.

What you need:

-A PC with outputs that will go to a TV. This could be S-Video, Video Composite, or HDMI. To read more about these kinds of outputs, read this article.
-An active internet connection
-Wireless Keyboard/Mouse
-A WMC Remote
-Hulu Desktop

How to do it:

The set up is very simple. I bought an HP Slimline PC from Woot.com for around $500, and it came with all of the cables I needed and a remote control. If you aren't great with computers, I recommend finding a setup like this that will have everything you need and instructions on how to set it up. But if you know a little bit about computers, you could always buy the pieces separately. I am also using an old Gateway laptop in the bedroom and had to get the pieces separately. But the hook up of the PC to the TV is similar to that of settings up a DVD player. You plug all the cables into the back of the computer, and then into the TV.

Once you have everything plugged in, you could stop here. You can watch most of the popular TV shows directly on the broadcaster's website. These are normally available online the day after the show originally aired. Here is a list of some of those sites:


If you have a PC running Windows Vista or Windows XP Media Center Edition, then you have Windows Media Center running on your PC. It also has access to certain Internet TV stations. You could also add the Secondrun.tv plug-in to expand that selection. You can also use the program to navigate through your music, pictures, and videos. If you have a TV Tuner in your computer, you can use it as a DVR.

If you want to take it one step further, you can download and install Hulu Desktop. Hulu has TV shows and movies from numerous sources. You can subscribe to your favorite shows and they will automatically be added to your queue. The best part is you can completely operate the program with a WMC remote. This program has completely replaced my DVR.

The last piece of software I'd recommend is Boxee. Boxee calls itself a social media center. You can access several pre-loaded apps including YouTube and CBS. You can also add any RSS Feed you want. My favorite feature is that you can also watch local media on your PC as well as access media on your home network. This way, I can access all the music and videos I have on any one of my computers with the touch of a button, while never having to leave the couch (this can also be done with WMC if you have it, but if not, this is a nice, free alternative).

There are many other programs out there and a lot of more detailed information on how to do something like this. Hopefully, this will be an worth-while starting point for anyone interested in doing something like this!


Jimmy said...

You forgot the QAM tuner that comes with a lot of newer TVs. It picks up unencrypted cable channels, which combined with the the OTA tuner can not only get you locals in HD but if you're lucky maybe HBO, Showtime, etc. Hopefully sometime soon i can put to use the RAM and wireless keyboard i have lined up for my HTPC. Good heads up on the software!

jezghani said...

No, I didn't. There's a note at the bottom of the second paragraph. I just didn't go into detail about it because I haven't used one yet so I don't have a lot of input! (:

jezghani said...

NM, I just skimmed what you said and now I see that you're right, I didn't mention QAM, just the ATSC. My Slimline has an ATSC I've been meaning to switch over to.