Cutting the cord – Again!

Posted: March 28, 2016 in Technology
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I already cut the cord in 2014 and I did a lot of research for that post (Cutting the Cord – Bye Bye Cable TV Bill), but when my folks came to visit in 2015 I called the cable company back up to add TV back on to my existing internet plan for the couple of months they would be visiting.  They offered me such a good deal that I decided to just keep the TV plan for the length of the deal – one year.  Earlier this month we opened our bill to find that the year was up and the charge for TV had more than doubled.  I called on the spot to cancel.  They offered me a deal with less in it for more money.  It felt really good to tell them no thank you, just stop my TV.  This time based on past experience I did it without a real plan.  I figured I would just do it the same way.  However, it was not that easy.

In the year we had cable I had given away some of the equipment I used last time to my kids.  A quick trip to the electronics store (Fry’s is my favorite local store) solved that issue (at least most of the way).  I got an antenna (Channel Master SMARTenna) and a USB TV Tuner (WinTV-HVR-955Q USB stick) and started to set up my system.  The Channel Master HD antenna was not amplified, which I knew was not as good, but I decided to get multi-port signal amplifier (Channel Master 3414 Ultra Mini 4) so I could use the antenna for all the TV’s in the house.  I had to order that online though as Fry’s was out of stock on the 4 port model I wanted and I decided the 8 port model was major overkill.

Even without the amplifier, and from inside our master bedroom closet, the HD antenna pulled in all of the major broadcast channels.  I live on a hill in a pretty large metro area (San Diego), so it may not work as well for everyone.  The hardware was not the biggest problem though.  I had updated to Windows 10 recently so Media Center was gone.  I did a quick search and found that I could try to add it back in to Windows 10 with an unofficial/unsupported download and a bit of work.  As I tried to work through some of the issues I had using this “unofficial” Media Center in Windows 10 I found out that Microsoft has also almost eliminated support for Media Center on Windows 7 & 8.   The biggest issue was with getting guide data.  Microsoft has switched providers and the at the exact time I was setting this up the guide had stopped working for almost everyone using Media Center.

I finally gave up on getting guide data from Microsoft, and looked for other options.  I actually found one option that worked with a little tweaking – EPG Collector.  This software pulls the guide data from the Over the Air signal.  After experiencing several issues using this software I found that the only way to get it to work was to look at the logs for errors and remove any channels from the request that caused issues.  Unfortunately that left some big holes in my guide data.  I may try this again once I add the signal amplifier and have some more time to tinker.

The whole advantage of Media Center was recording a series, which you can’t do without the guide.  For now I am using the WinTV application that came with my tuner and the online TitanTV guide that allows you to schedule recordings one show at a time.  It has a “find other listings for this show” feature so I can stay ahead of the game by a week or two, but I can’t just “record the series”.  I also may go back to some of the other open source options I reviewed in my last post.  It is very likely they have improved, especially with the imminent demise of Microsoft Media Center.

It has been a few weeks since we ditched cable for the second time.  We are not missing it this time either.  We have not missed any of the shows we watch regularly that are on regular channels, and the amount of content on the online streaming services has exploded over the past year.  There are several of our favorite HGTV shows on Netflix, that were not available last time.  HBO is available without cable when Game of Thrones comes out.  We actually have more options than we have time.  The one show I was a little worried about was The Walking Dead.  Amazon Video streaming solved that.  It was $42 for the whole season in HD.   We won’t be doing that for a lot of shows, just the ones we can’t wait for them to be available for free (usually a year wait).

If I find the time to do some additional research and find a way to get the guide working for Media Center or find an open source alternative that allows me to record a series I do a follow-up post.  For now though we are very satisfied with what we have and I absolutely love not being charged over $120 a month for the few shows (or less) that I watch weekly.

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