Goodbye Brighthouse. For years you have been my cable provider, my Internet provider, and my telephone provider. I have been faithfully paying you over $2500.00 a year for these services. I have hundreds of channels, HD packages, two HD DVRs, premium channels, high-speed internet, unlimited national calling, call waiting, and a slew of other features I don’t use. All for the low, low, price of $220.00+ per month.
Last month, my good friend Riebo blogged about his Addiction to Pay TV and how he broke the habit. After reading his blog, I sat down and realized that I was paying a LOT of money to Brighthouse each month. I pay a lot and get very little value for my money.
Carey DVRs Oprah, Undercover Boss, some HGTV shows, and random stuff that catches her interest. I record shows on SyFy, Heroes, and a few shows that capture MY interest. The kids watch cartoon network or play XBox. We never watch HBO, Showtime, or CineMax. We never use the home phone.
Why am I paying all that money? Especially when I have options. After reading Riebo’s blog about how he broke his addiction to television, I determined to do the same. I wanted to make my setup a little less complicated than his, because I have younger children in the house. They needed to be able to use whatever system I created with ease.
So I found the perfect solution – by utilizing a combination of Windows Media Center, a third-party Internet streaming application, and broadcast TV I was able to completely rid myself of cable television. I am still in-process of setting it all up, but let me describe it to you:
The entire family has cell phones through AT&T. There’s no reason to have a home phone. I just dropped the land line altogether. Landlines are obsolete anyway. I have a cell phone. My wife has a cell phone. All three kids have cell phones. I never try to call them at home; I just call the cell.
I can get DSL from AT&T for under $50.00 a month. With that internet connection I can take care of all my television and streaming needs. True, Brighthouse is a 10mb connection and DSL is only 6mbs. I worry about that a little, but we’ll see how it pans out over time. At least DSL is is not a shared connection and I should get more consistent throughput.
I have, in using only my XBox 360 and a Windows 7 Ultimate PC, the ability to watch Broadcast Television, record live TV, schedule recordings, connect to Hulu and watch my favorite episodes, connect to CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, SpikeTV, SyFy, HGTV, National Geographic, The Cartoon Network, and much, much more.
And I set it all up for under $400.00.
How did I do it?
First, I connected a Windows 7 Ultimate PC to my home network. If you don’t have a spare PC to use as your media server, you’ll have to get one. I purchased a PC from Riebo – one that he wasn’t using. This PC has one, and only one, purpose in life. It is my HD TV DVR and my media server. I factored the cost of this PC in my estimate above. I bought it from Riebo for $200.00. Because the system is running Windows 7 Ultimate, it has Media Center running on it already. With Media Center, I can stream recorded TV from the PC to my XBox 360. I can also save ripped DVDs to the hard drive and serve them up instantly over the network. Not that I would ever do anything illegal like the people who download movies from the Internet. I like to have legal backup copies of my movies ready to instantly play when I want them to. Plus, I hate watching those stupid FBI warning on my movies.
Next, I made sure my XBox 360 could connect to the Windows Media Server on the network. With the Box 360 connected, I can browse the Media Center, view my pre-recorded shows, watch movies, and even connect to Internet radio sites. The XBox 360 connects seamlessly to a Windows Media PC on the same network. Say what you will about Microsoft, but they knew what they were doing when they integrated the gaming console into a Media Center PC. It’s obvious that they saw the writing on the wall. (note: I did not factor the cost of the XBox 360 in my estimate above since I’ve had the console for 3 years already)
Next, I purchased a USB TV Tuner ($69.00) that works with Windows 7 and connected it to my PC. Add to that the HD Antenna ($26.00) pictured on the right and I can now receive TV straight to the computer. There are lots of combination for tuners and antennas you can use, but I went with Riebo’s recommendations because he blazed the trail before me. He is very satisfied with these choices.
Now that I have these basic things set up, I can use my XBox to view the local channel guide, record live TV, schedule recording, and watch movies stored locally on the media server. I hook up another HD antenna to the TV itself and I can watch TV and record TV at the same time. But how do I get all the content I used to get from pay cable channels? How do I get SpikeTV, HGTV, Catoon Network, Disney, and more? The answer is simple and lies with a neat little application called PlayOn TV ($40.00).
PlayOn is an RSS aggregation tool for online video content. It connects to Hulu, ESPN, CNN, YouTube, NetFlix, and a multitude of other online streaming sites to acquire the content and stream it to a XBox 360, a PS3, or even your Wii. There is a a community of developers who write plugins to connect to sites – so the base of websites hit for video is growing daily. I added SyFy plugins, SpikeTV, NASCAR, and more. Installing PlayOn is easy and took less than 5 minutes.
There you have it – for less than $400.00 (if you already own an XBox) I was able to replace EVERYTHING my cable provider was giving me. My costs to implement are one-time costs (aside from the $50.00/year I pay for the XBox Live membership). I will never have to pay them again. There is no monthly bill and I enjoy EVERYTHING I got from Brighthouse – from documentaries to reality TV to sci-fi shows – all without paying the $220.00/month I was shelling out before. My only real recurring cost is DSL – which is tax deductible as I work from home quite regularly.
The interface for all of this is so easy to use even my 11-year-old daughter can use it after being shown only once how it works.
I still have Brighthouse for the remainder of the month as I continue to test and refine this setup, but rest assured that this is the LAST Brighthouse bill I will ever pay.
Goodbye Brighthouse. I won’t miss you. I’ll leave you with a high level look at the basic setup I have configured: