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Has anyone cast away Cable/Sat for a Media Center PC?

Last response: in Home Theatre
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May 3, 2012 1:41:58 PM

Hey everyone.

My DirecTV has been going up in cost since we first signed up in 2009, from $50.88/mo (July 2008) to $103/mo (Now). The bad thing is my wife and I seldom watch TV, and the shows we do watch could be found on Netflix (Streaming or DVD) or Hulu Plus. For that reason, paying $20-30/mo for streaming services is a better deal for us than paying for DirecTV.

Is this an easy transition to make - from Sat/Cable to being disconnected from the traditional television channels? My wife said she could survive on just shows from streamed services, and I seldom watch TV for anything other than NFL games or occasionally the debates/news.

I figured TV shows and Movies can be enjoyed via Netflix, Hulu Plus and/or Redbox, in addition to buying out own boxed sets of shows (which could get expensive.) News, I guess I'd just continue to read that online. The only big thing we'd be missing is Football but we know people with NFL Ticket on DirecTV, so we could always just watch the games with them if it really matters that much. Also, I hope as time goes on, more options come forward for streaming.

Which leads me to my big concern - what do I need to know when building a Media Center PC? Is there a certain Windows OS that works best? All four computers in my house are networked via Windows 7, as is the XBox 360, so I figured a Windows OS would integrate best. Also, do I need a large Hard Drive and, with it, can I burn movies to it so I don't have to shuffle discs? Are there other websites which allow for premium streaming? Can the computer still function as a computer, enabling gaming on the 50" TV?

If anyone knows a good guide or a trusted thread, or if you have your own opinions on this matter, then I'd love to hear them! Thanks.

Edit: I wasn't sure which forum to post this in, so if someone can move it to the appropriate location, I'd appreciate it.
May 3, 2012 4:45:13 PM

While I haven't tossed cable to the wind, I do use an HTPC for watching/recording cable TV as well as stream video from Netflix.

Depending on how you want to use it, an HTPC can be a very low-powered, high-storage machine with minimal graphic requirements or a very high-powered, high-storage gaming system. Since the device tends to be located in the living room, most people prefer it to be extremely quiet; which, to me, precludes using the system as a gaming machine. BTW, you can see the specs of my HTPC in my signature below.

Aside from the stream services, if you live where you can receive over the air television, you may want to consider adding a TV Tuner Card with at least one ATSC digital tuner. You can go to http://www.antennaweb.org/default.aspx to find out if you can receive any local channels. This would also provide you with local football games and news/weather coverage.

As for your questions:

Quote:
what do I need to know when building a Media Center PC?

Building a Media Center PC is just like building any other system. About the only exceptions would be

a) What style of case do you want? Are you happy with standard vertical tower cases or do you want an HTPC style case? Which way you go is going to determine what all you can do with your system. Also, do you have room for it in your entertainment system?

b) HTPC systems take a bit more planning. If you're intending to add a TV Tuner card, you need to make sure the motherboard you use has an available slot for the card. Many Micro-ATX boards have the lone PCI-Ex1 slot directly below the PCI-Ex16 slot. A double wide graphics card would cover that slot (which I would use for the TV Tuner card). HTPC style cases often have limited expansion bays (mine only has two internal hard drive bays). Additionally, how well ventilated is the area around the system's location? Are you going to need to account for extra cooling?

Quote:
Is there a certain Windows OS that works best?

Having used both Windows XP 2005 MCE Edition and Windows 7 (never gave Vista a try), I'd say both were about the same. Personally, I'd just stick with Windows 7 Home Premium (no need for Ultimate).

Quote:
Also, do I need a large Hard Drive and, with it, can I burn movies to it so I don't have to shuffle discs?

You'll only need a large hard drive if you intend to record a lot of TV or store your own videos onto it. I would note that if you decide to store all of your videos onto a hard drive, you REALLY want to make sure you have a backup of those files (I know from experience).

Quote:
Are there other websites which allow for premium streaming?

I'm sure there are, but aside from Netflix, Hulu, and InternetTV, I don't know of any. Each of these do have plug-ins for Windows 7 Media Center (small programs that launch each program from within Media Center).

Quote:
Can the computer still function as a computer, enabling gaming on the 50" TV?

Yes. The question is, do you really want it to?


Hope this helps you get started. If you have other questions, feel free to ask.
-Wolf sends
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May 3, 2012 5:03:24 PM

we haven't had any subscription television for 8 or 9 years now and are doing perfectly fine. instead i've started collecting movies and rely on that for nightly entertainment. personally i consider subscription television a complete waste of money as there isnt anything on to watch even when you do use it.

as far as what you will need to set it up....at minimum it could be nothing. if you use one computer as the dedicated htpc all you will need is whatever software the streaming service requires. if you plan on copying an excessive amount of shows to a hard disk you might need to invest in a few more hard drives. this can amount to as little as investing in a few more internal hard drives, to mounting internal hard drives in external enclosures to creating a storage server depending on your needs. personally what i do is burn all of my disks to .nrg files (equivalent of .iso files) which are disk images (100% replicas of disk) for use. i then use a virtual dvd drive to mount them and play. there are other options (and ways to conserve drive space) but i've found this works best for me.

all of your other devices will function the same even with htpc use.
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May 4, 2012 5:27:59 PM

For your off air viewing, you can easily pick up an ATSC dual tuner card for your HTPC. This allows all of your local HDTV channels to be viewed inside windows MCE. I recently picked up a Centon InfiniTV4. I still kept cable, but my bill is now just over 50 bucks, and i don't have to mess with their fees + fees + fees for all the different boxes, and services. Cable card is freee!

This off air solution should cover most football games, except ESPN. A lot of the debates are on local channels as well.
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May 31, 2012 3:52:13 AM

Hey Eturnal, I didn’t pay for Direct TV since few years now. We do watch TV programme but seldom can make it on time, so we record them using our media center PC with TV tuner. I think it's brilliant to have one of this in your living room plus they are really small. I brought mine few years ago and it's getting quite slow and old. My husband and I decided we get a new one with a faster processor and we wanted to have 3D and HD. We are deciding between the Mac Mini and ARCTIC MC101. Although Mac mini is a big brand but it’s much more pricy with less than twice powerful of the MC101. I saw that the MC101 is using the newest processor of AMD called trinity A10…has 3D HD and good for gaming , meaning it must have great graphic….has a TV tuner installed too… you can think about buying one of these entertainment center, it’s really useful!

Here are the links for mac mini and the MC101 if you are interested:

ARCTIC MC101
http://www.arctic.ac/en/p/living/entertainment-center/5...

Mac Mini
http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_mac/family/m...

cheers!
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