Archive for July, 2011

Diary of a Cable-Cutter

Starting last Friday(7/22), our household has joined the TV cable-cutter movement. Some background:

A little over a year ago I was looking to get some kind of media player so I could watch my DVD collection without having to fumble around with discs. I also didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money, and I didn’t have tons of time to spend tweaking the thing.

After looking over my options(WDTV, Popcorn Hour, Patriot Box Office, Cinematube, HTPC) I decided to go with an Asus O!Play and a 2TB external hard drive to store DVD rips. The O!Play box itself was very cheap($80 after rebate), and I knew even if it didn’t work out I could plug the external HD into whatever the next thing was. As it turned out it worked very well–the picture is beautiful, it displays all the DVD menus, and overall it’s been trouble free. The UI is pretty clunky but it gets the job done.

Fast forward to about a month ago. Maybe 90% of our household TV diet is coming from either the O!Play or Netflix Instant Streaming via the Xbox 360, so why should we pay an extra $86 a month for Comcast HDTV with DVR? I had already tried out(and purchased) PlayOn, but without a dedicated box to run it on, streaming shows was just too slow. One day thanks to a well-timed marketing email I took the leap and purchased PlayOn Premium, so the die had now been cast. I was going to go the full HTPC route, but it had to be as user-friendly as possible. This led me to try going with Windows Media Center on Windows 7, but XBMC may be an option as well.

In short, this is what I want to do with it when it’s all configured:

  • watch Netflix Streaming
  • watch DVD rips
  • watch live HD TV
  • DVR live TV with Windows Media Center
  • watch commercial-free streaming TV shows w/PlayOn & plugins(TV Links, Ice Films)
  • stream content to 2nd TV with Xbox 360 via Media Extender

So, time to get started.

Step 1: Basic Hardware

I decided to go with a refurbished Acer AspireRevo AR3700-U3002. There’s even a site someone made for using the Revo as an HTPC. This thing is by far the quietest PC, desktop or notebook, that I’ve ever owned.

I re-installed Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit(it was pre-installed with 64-bit, but from what I read 32-bit was just as fast and had more compatible codecs). It took forever but I managed to accept all available Required and Optional updates. I also installed the latest ION Graphics and HDMI Audio drivers from nVidia, as well as Flash and Silverlight. I was disturbed to discover the wired ethernet driver wasn’t working, but I managed to find the drivers on the Acer site(absolutely buried there under Desktop -> Aspire -> Aspire R3700). So far I’ve just used Netflix on Windows Media Center; the performance is okay but not as good as the Xbox 360.

Also tried ordering my first on-demand movie via the Xbox 360 yesterday–except for all that Microsoft Points nonsense it worked great in HD.

Next up: PlayOn premium!