Friday, January 25, 2013

Mighty Text - Text from your PC

If you're like me you get a lot of text messages in a day.  I almost never look at my phone at work and see that someone sent me a message like "Can we eat the bagel bites in the freezer".  My friend Kevin introducted me to Mighty Text which allows you to link your phone to your PC and send text messages from a web browser.   It works very well.  It's also great to be able to text what you mean vs. the shorter "Im in a hurry" text like "c u l8r @ da game".  :)  Give it a shot.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

See ya DirecTV! Hello Windows Media Center and Online Media.

I have had it with DirecTV.  I have been a customer for 8 years and they are again raising the price of my service.  This time 8 dollars.  I understand there are costs involved with contract negotiations and DirecTV is so nice to absorb part of that fee.  The latest bill from DirecTV told me this:
"Each year the owners of television channels increase the programming fees they charge to DIRECTV for the right to broadcast their movies, shows and sporting events to you. As a result, DIRECTV must periodically adjust the pricing and channel lineups of our programming packages so we can continue to deliver these channels to you. In 2013, the programming fees we pay to the owners of these television channels will increase about 8.0%, but DIRECTV is adjusting the prices our customers pay on average about 4.5%. By holding firm in programming negotiations, we have been able to keep price increases below our cable competitors’. New prices take effect February 7, 2013, and will appear on billing statements issued after that date. See the detailed information below as it relates to your service."
I feel so good that they are absorbing 3.5% of the increase but makes me wonder why it's not 100% given I see 20 DirecTV commercials a day on TV!  Seriously guys?  Do you think I'm an idiot and think these advertisements during prime time TV are cheap?  Nope, its just their way of screwing the consumer and making it sound like it's the bad old networks.  Well I have had enough.  I pay over $100/mo to watch TV maybe 8 hours a week?  I just can't justify that cost anymore. 

Just for grins I called Mediacom who I have my internet through.  They couldn't do any better than direct TV.  They told me I could take "Advantage" of the offer to have Internet and Cable TV for $94 a month.  I told the woman it's only an "Advantage" if it's saving me money and it's an offering that is to my advantage.  The humor of that was lost on her.  In any case Cable was not a viable alternative.

So now what?  How do you leave DirecTV, Dish Network and Cable companies in the dust?  Sure, you can watch TV over the air but you miss out on so much.  Or do you?

Sit down and really analyze your usage on TV.  First, I found out I really only watch maybe 1-2 hours a night.  When I do, I watch shows like Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Two Broke Girls and NOVA.  All of those shows are available with an HD antenna.  The rest of the TV I might watch is either movies (Netflix, Redbox, VUDU) or shows like Pawn Stars or some other show.  My kids watch Nick and Disney.  So when I think about it, I'm not watching 98% of the stations I'm paying for.

So I have decided that I am no longer paying for any of this and I'll get my media elsewhere.  I have been a long time Netflix customer and my kids watch that a lot.  I have Amazon prime and love the free shipping and I get Prime Videos for free.  I decided that for $8 a month I will add Hulu and now can watch virtually everything I want.  I did however have one hole and that was regular network TV.  So I have decided to build a Home Theatre PC running Windows Media Center to solve that final problem.  It's an investment that will pay off in less than 6 months and won't have any costs associated with it month to month.

Before I proceed in how to do this I want to say I sat down and had a family meeting with the kids.  I explained that we would no longer have the Dish, but we would have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Over   the Air (OTA) shows through a new DVR.  I said lets try it out and if we dont like it, then we can keep the dish.  I also said though they have to tell me why whatever they want to watch is worth $100/mo.  I also told them that for $70 I can get them a DVD player in their room to give them full access to everything.  All but one was in favor of this.  I am sure though she will come around.

So now how do I fill in the OTA broadcasts in my house.  The rest of this is How To Build A Home Theatre PC quickly and easily.

I was shocked to find that there is so little information about building a windows media center PC out there. Being in IT I deal with hardware and software every day but I wanted to get a Windows Media Center PC up and running with minimal effort. While I could have built it myself and put all the components together I wanted something that looked nice in my cabinet vs. a PC. This is a rather economical setup and you get a lot of bang for the buck.

First of all you'll need to have a PC to run windows media center. This affects the cost a lot and if you buy something like a Zotac box Zotac ZBOX-ID80-PLUS-U ZBOX Intel Atom D2700 2.13 GHz (Google Affiliate Ad) you'll find it doesn't come with windows 7. This is a real downer because you'll need to spend around $100 on Windows 7 which brings the cost up to nearly $400. This device also has a 250GB hard drive in it. The reviews also highlight people had issues with getting the video resolution right.

After a lot of searching on Amazon I found the perfect box for Windows Media Center. Asus US EB1503-B008E Atom D2700 Nettop (Google Affiliate Ad) the ASUS EB1503 EeeBox Compact Desktop comes with a 500GB hard drive, NVIDIA graphics (NVIDIA Rocks!), HDMI port and comes preinstalled with Windows 7 Home Premium. This has everything you need to get your own Personal Video Recorder for OTA HDTV. Not only will you be able to record TV, you can surf the web. What it doesn't say in the product description is that this also comes with a Remote, Wireless Keyboard and mouse! I almost bought a $27 remote but did not need to with this purchase. It's an excellent value.

Now, you'll need to order two ATSC tuners so you can record HDTV. These are certified to work with windows 7 and as you can se from the reviews people just plug it in and it works.Avermedia MTVHVMXSK TV Tuner Kit For Windows 7 (Google Affiliate Ad) two of these allow you to record two shows at once. Then you'll be ready to turn this PC into a high performance PVR!

So how do you drop cable and satellite? Easy, with Services like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video you can watch all of them with this box. Most of what you want to watch is available online! I was able to drop my Satellite provider and save over $115 dollars a month. This means this box paid for itself in the first 6 months and I no longer pay to watch TV. You can do it too!

I realize this wont work for everyone.  Some people are really in areas where they can't receive over the air HD.  If you can though here is the cost breakdown.

DirecTV Choice Ultimate with 3 Boxes (2 being DVR's), DVR service all came to $114.98.  

Dropping DirecTV, adding HULU is 7.99.  So the savings there $106.99.  I was already a Netflix customer but clearly the savings here are huge.  The PVR setup cost me around $550 but in 6 months, it paid for itself AND I can do so much more with the media center than I can with the DirecTV Box.