Cable Free, the continuing saga.

May 22nd, 2011 by Chris

Since my last post on cable-free TV watching, we’ve made a few additional adjustments.

As promised, we ditched the cable box/DVR. As expected, the Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote is a dream. I recommend using the downloadable PC-based configuration software vs. the web based software, because you get access to more features. Trade-off: It’s a bit less user friendly.

Somewhat unexpectedly, K decided to subscribe to PlayOn for Hulu and CBS show access. ($39.99 for one year). As always happens, two days later the service ran a sale. I received the sale notice via email on the account we had used to initially register the trial. The lesson here is, if you’re considering PlayOn, wait for them to send you the sale flyer!
For $20 more, we could’ve had the ‘permanent’ service at the sale price of $59.99. I contacted PlayOn customer service and although they could not change the license they had already distributed, they were willing to refund us the money once we subscribed under the sale terms. We did so, and they promptly refunded the original subscription. Nice! I honestly wasn’t planning to buy the service out-right, since ‘permanent’ in the world of e-commerce is really only as good as the company persists… or upgrades to some other capability that will inevitably require an upgrade. We also figure that Hulu will be available directly from our WDTVLiveHub any day now. In any case, the break even on the ‘permanent’ versus the yearly subscription is about two years. In any case, it’s barely even one cable bill.

We are, of course, still getting our broadband from Timely-Warning, but it was nice to see our online balance go from over $100 to negative $63. Annoyingly, the PDF version of our statement is not available online right now so I can’t post a clip of it for extra gloating. Suffice it to say they won’t be getting a check for a few months.

Another addition to the household electronics was this USB TV Stick from KWorld for $25 (sale price). This little gem is a digital decoder for on-air or unencrypted cable-TV that is Windows Media Center compatible. Plug it in, hook up the provided cheesy TV antenna,[1] install the driver and fire up WMC. WMC requires a small amount of setup, but is pretty straightforward. At this point you’ll have a fully capable single channel live TV on your PC. The reception is not as good as our TV with rabbit ears, but pretty close. WMC provides an internet-based ‘guide’ with search, category and other nice features. You can easily click a show and select ‘record this series’ like we would have on our TW provided cable box/DVR.

The bad news is that Microsquish saves the recorded files in a format (.wtv) that our Hub won’t play. The good news is that Win7 provides a converter to another M$ format (.dvr-ms) that our Hub WILL play. I’ve been working some scheduled-task batch file madness to automatically convert these and move the files to a share the Hub can see. This looks like it’s working, but since most shows have just finished their seasons, I’m not sure how much testing it will get.[2]

Again, our total outlay is $180 for the WDTVLiveHub, $5 for an HDMI cable, $41 for the universal remote (ebay), $25 for the USB TV Stick for a total of $251. We’re paying Netflix $7.99/month. Assuming we save $40 a month, on a cash only basis, we’ll break even in 6 months. Stay tuned.

  1. A small telescoping jobber that looks like it belongs on a 25 year old transistor radio. []
  2. If this works I’ll share the script in case others find it useful. []

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