Weekend Project – Bye Bye Cable TV

Last Thursday my Hauppauge Dual Hybrid HDTV Tuner card came for my computer.  Until then I’d been using another dual tuner card to record and watch cable TV through Windows Media Center.  It was cool and all, but in that time we’ve gotten Netflix, and found out about Hulu.com, and I got a job working at bringing video and video search to the web from major studios and content producters.  So there’s a ton of digital media out there on the web (stuff you might actually want to watch…..stuff that you might normall have to have cable TV for).

Netflix On Demand is damn cool – I was watching HBO series and new movies through a nice Windows Media Center interface called MyNetflix.

Not only that – but the digital content from online looked a lot better than my cable signal did (I still have a normal non-HDTV by the way).  I think that they compress the content digitally before it comes through the cable wires – and then of course Windows Media Center compresses it again in a different way….and thats no good when you compress the same digital video twice under two different compression standards.

So – thus begins my experiment:  Bringing HDTV to my computer even if my TV doesn’t really support it.

Saturday morning, I installed the card.  I was sorta hoping that it would just magically pick up HDTV from the air without plugging in any antennas or anything.  Well that was a big fat no.

Then I went to Best Buy – I got an multidirectional amplified indoor antenna.  Basically, a big flat sqaure, probably with some wires inside, and you plug it into the wall.  So – I hooked that up….in my finished basement…where we watch TV.  OK, a big fat no.

“This is discouraging” I thought – but thought I’d keep trying, since I was in the basement after all.  I grabbed a roll of coax wire and ran the indoor antenna outside to my raised porch.  I tried again.  This time it was more promising.  I scanned through the channels, it said there were a few digital channels available – so I started flipping through.

It looked good but not great.  It was a little snowy, some bad pictures, definitely not looking like what I expected out of HD.   Oh but what’s this………there’s a WRAL-DT?  Umm….hey a whole bunch of DT channels in the low 1000’s.  So apparently, I wasn’t looking at HD, Windows Media Center just threw in the Analog channels into my guide for good measure at the beginning of my guide.  OK, lets flip to the HD stuff…….daaaaaaaaaamn.  It looked awesome.  Very crisp and clean on my computer monitor, I hadn’t even hooked it back into my TV yet.

So, I set out to see what channels I could get…….

ABC, check….NBC….check, CW….check, PBS….check, FOX….check, CBS…….where’s CBS?

I went to my local CBS affiliates website, and found that I’m about 15 miles outside of their range using an indoor antenna.

Sunday morning, I set out to the hardware store to see what else I could buy in antennas.  I sorta wanted an outdoor one, but the thought of me going up on the roof with my non-existent ladder and installing something – somewhere, somehow on my house seemed hazardous to my health.

I got to Lowes, saw they had rabbit ears and outdoor antennas.  Thats it.  But I picked up a 4 foot long outdoor antenna box and looked at the packaging – “Can be used in your attic”.  Hey!  Awesome, I hadn’t thought of that!  I can put this huge freaking thing in my attic and run a wire down 2 stories to my basement….somehow.

So I bought it at $60 – and a 100 foot roll of coax cabling.

I got it home, brought it into my attic, started unfurling it – and I won’t lie – its very unweildly.  Picture me, in an attic with no floor, standing on beams trying to shift around a 5 foot wide, 4 foot long antenna.  I dropped it in place eventually – didn’t bother bracketing it to anything, and connected the coax cable, and searched for a way to get it out of the attic.

And look….a vent, with a screen over it thats slightly unhinged at the bottom.  Perfect place to drop cable out.  So the cable was unreeled, and unreeled, and unreeled.  I brought it in around the window entrance for the cats into the basement and over to the TV.

At long last, I have all the channels I need!  CBS included, so now it’s just a matter of returning the indoor antenna to Best Buy and setting things back up on Windows Media Center.   Media Center tells me I have 21 channels – most don’t come in, but as I look up the call letters on the internet, I find that those are pretty far away like in Wilmington, Winston Salem, Greensboro, etc.

I settle on 8 channels – WUNC (PBS), WRAL (CBS), WTVD (ABC), WNCN (NBC), WRDC (CW), WUVC (Univision), and WRAZ (Fox).

Now the tricky part….for the short time I’m actually paying for cable still, I want to make use of it, and Windows Media Center (as far as I know) won’t let you have both over the air and cable channels together set up at the same time.  So, I’m installing Beyond TV as I write this (a different DVR software solution), and I plan to use that to record cable, and Media Center to record over the air.  But that’s just till we cancel cable.  I mean – I’ll record Battlestar as long as I can until I have to go to SciFi.com (or someone elses house) to watch it.

But at last count – the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are free at Comedy Central.com.  Monk and Psych are free at Hulu.com, my wife watches Ghost Hunters and both of us Battlestar which is free at Scifi.com.  I just can’t think of any other cable shows we watch really.  And if miss something, we’ll wait and get it on Netflix.  And hopefully I’ll get an invite for Boxee TV on Windows (please please please) since I filled out the request form on their website last week.

So now, I’m just waiting for Beyond TV to install, and then go hit a superbowl party even though I hate football.