In the recent weeks I have had many people come up to me and ask about how I get TV content without a Cable or Satellite provider. The answer is pretty simple really. I use Over The Air (OTA) for all local content and the internet for the rest. I am sure that there are many ways to do this but I will explain how I do it.
1. I use OTA for all local content. This gets me the big networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. to do this you have to have an antenna and some are cheap and work well and some are more expensive and work better in certain areas. You have to research what you need and you can do that at antennaweb.org
2. Windows Media Center – I use Windows Media Center to record all the OTA content that I am interested in. I do this by running Windows 7 Ultimate on a home PC and I have two HD USB Video cards connected to the computer. Windows Media Center will see both video cards and has the ability to record from both simultaneously. this ensures that I do not miss any of the OTA content that I am interested in. You can set up recordings just like on any DVR and have it grab shows in a series if you like. Here is a link to what I use and I have never had an issue.
Once you have that set up all you need is a device to be able to play that media back on to your TV. I will get into those devices after I cover how I get the internet content.
3. DLNA Server for internet Content- I use a product that I absolutely love called PlayOn. This is a DLNA Server that will run on your computer. I run this on the same computer that I use to record all of my TV. This is a fairly lightweight application that just runs all the time and broadcasts to your network so that any DLNA enabled device can receive the content. They do a good job of adding more “Channels” all the time and they also allow developers to create custom plugins and scripts that will allow for even more content.
4. Home Network – In my house I use all wired connections and everything is connected with a 1G router and Switch. You probably can do 100Mbs and get away with it. Just depends on the quality of the media you are serving up. I like to rip all of my Blue Rays and DVD’s so that I never have to put a disk in to watch them. I can select the movie and it just plays. Since I do Blue Ray I like that I am running on a Gig network. Plenty of internal bandwidth.
5. Devices connected to your TV in order to stream the content. Many devices are available now to be able to do this. In fact some new TVs have this built in and you do not even need another device. I do not have such a TV so I have to utilize other boxes to get the content from my PC to my TV. Here is what I use.
a. XBOX 360 – This device is great. This device is able to play all the media from Play On as it is a DLNA device but it also is MS so it has the ability to become a Media Center Extender. This is very nice because I can not only watch the shows that I have recorded, but I can also watch live TV from here streaming and this allows you to rewind, Pause, and FF. This is also nice because it includes a very nice Guide of what is on and what you have set up to record. You can also set up recordings, remove Recordings, and delete shows that are recorded but you have already wathed. Big bang for the money especially since it is a very nice gaming console.
b. PS3 – This is another great device as it is also a great gaming machine and gives me a lot of the same ability that the XBOX give me. This is also DLNA enabled so I can stream all of the Play On content. This can not be used as a Media Center Extender, but if you enable sharing on your PC in Windows Media Player then the PS3 can stream all of the recorded content. You do not have the ability to see the nice guide, stream live TV, manage recordings, or delete the recordings that you have just watched. Still a great device and this also gives you the added benefit of a BD player and the XBOX does not have that.
c. Wii – This is a great device but not as useful for the media streaming. So the Wii is a fantastic Family oriented gaming device and is a ton of fun for all, but when it comes to media streaming it has some downfalls. First is that it is not HD. The best you will get out of it is 480p video and that is only if you go out and get the connector needed for that resolution output. Second is that it is not natively a DLNA device. The guys over at Play ON have made the Wii work for them though. They have written some custom code that will allow you to open your browser on the Wii and connect to a special site that will find your Play On installation and allow you to play the content. No love for the shows that you have recorded via Media Center though.
d. Blue Ray Players – I have two that work. A Samsung and a Sony. Now both are great players and the Samsung is also a 3D BD Player. Both work great as far as streaming the Play On Content but do not have the ability to play the recorded shows from the Media Center. Video Quality is Amazing using both and I can stream BD Rips to either as well as the PS3. All have the processing power to keep up and both can handle a good amount of video formats.
So that is how I have it set up in my house and I also take advantage of Netflix Streaming as well. All devices are capable of Netflix and most have it built in as an app. So that is how I live without cable or satallite. you will need a decent internet connection. Mine is 10Mbps down and I think the minimum for PlayOn is 2Mbps. Other than that it is very inexpensive after you have all the hardware that you need. All that being said I will say that I do miss live sports but that is all I miss. Look at what you watch and do the research to see if you can get the content that matters to you online before making this jump.
Good luck and I hope that this will help.