OTA Broadcasts + Mac Mini as Media Server: Unplugging from Cable
This is the first post in a series about abandoning cable/satellite television in favor of HD broadcast TV combined with a web-connected computer acting as a media server. Links to the rest of the series are at the bottom of the post.
If you’re reading this page it’s because you’re interested in getting rid of your cable or satellite company and making the switch to over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts combined with a Mac or Windows-based media server connected to your television to get maximum access to content. You might be headed in this direction because you’re sick of the size of your bill. Or the cable company’s customer service may have made you angry one too many times. Whatever it is, this series of posts will detail my experience with this process over the last year: how I make sure I miss (almost) no content I want, what my new set-up cost me, what it costs to operate, the techniques I used to set up the system so my wife and children can actually use it and the problems I faced or continue to face. The series is geared toward Mac users, but all of the advice applies equally to Windows-based systems, and most of the process has nothing to do with the computer anyway.
I started this process with a $180/month cable/internet/phone bill and ended it with a $60/month internet bill plus about $15/month for a SIP-based phone system. Total savings? About $105/month after an initial investment of about $1200. This $105 figure is reduced somewhat by the fact that I am paying for some content that used to come with cable, but these expenditures are minimal in comparison to the monthly reduction in my cable bill. Your savings and what your up-front investment will be will obviously be different depending on what service you currently use for programming, what equipment you already have on hand and what you want your capabilities to be at the end of this process.
In making the decision about whether or not to move forward, you also need to factor in convenience; the system I set up is straight-forward, dependable, and a lot more flexible than cable, but it is nowhere near as easy to use. And if you are (1) a channel surfer who likes to spend time just flipping through shows, or (2) a sports junkie who subscribes to broad NFL, NBA, NHL or NCAA cable or satellite packages, or (3) a cable news hound, don’t even think about abandoning cable or satellite because there are no web-based alternatives available today (mid-2010) that can adequately support any of these pastimes. We, however, did not face this problem because we tend to follow specific shows rather than channel surfing, when we watch sports it is tennis or baseball and there are good (even superior) alternatives available over the web for both these sports, and we get our news from the radio and from newspapers.
Finally, this process is not for the faint of heart or for a household that is not tech-savvy, and this post is not designed to be terribly helpful if all you want to do is plop an antenna on top of an old TV. But if the members of your family are comfortable with a computer and remotes and have some clue how to find content on the web, read on.
The links below will take you to individual posts.
Network Hardware: Setting It All Up
Software and Remotes: Making It All Useful
Getting the Media Content You Need
On-Going Frustrations: One Year In