Over the air broadcasts

Back in October of 2010 I decided to try to see if I could cancel my cable and switch to Netfix and over the air broadcasts.  Believe it or not my wife was the one who first proposed the idea.  I did some research and started by buying a digital antenna.  I did my research and where I’m located I was going to have a hard time getting reception so I thought I’d buy an inexpensive indoor antenna and see how that went.

I ended up going with the Terk HDTVa HDTV antenna, it got high marks on a lot of review sites and wasn’t that expensive.  None of the TVs in my house have a digital tuner and I never got the rebate the government was giving out during the digital switch over.  So instead I decided to buy a TV Tuner card since I was going to need a DVR anyways.  Since this was an experiment I went with a WinTV-HVR-950Q.

My initial tests were mixed.  From my house I was able to get all the channels, but I needed to adjust the antenna for a select group of stations and adjusted it again to get the remaining stations.  I hoped that putting it up in the attic might solve that issue.  I ended up putting the project on hold until December because of Grad school.  I figured I was going to need to do some major re-working of the wiring in my house to get the antenna up into the attic.

Because I still wanted to keep AT&T U-Verse internet and just ditch the cable portion of the plan, it meant I was going to have to move the Residential Gate way from one location of the house to another.  Because it was coming in to the house through the coax, I was going to need to have some coax going to the U-verse connection on the side of the house and the rest of the coax in the house would need to go to the TVs.  The plan ended up being to have the front bedroom have the coax going to U-verse and then adding a wired network to move that through the rest of the house.  So I decided I was going to need to run some Category 6 cable through the attic that would connect the internet to the TVs as well.

Networking the house ended up being a project just by itself, but it was worth it.  I needed to run two cables from each location: two in the from bedroom with the U-verse gateway, two in the living room and two to the master bedroom.  All the lines terminated in the master bedroom’s walk-in-closet.  From there I used an old 10/100 switch I had lying around from my LAN party days to link it all together.   One bonus to this setup is that it allowed me to centralize my wireless router.  Once the network was in place I needed to move the antenna to the attic and run coax from the antenna to the cable box on the side of the house.  I did this because I hate going up in the attic and if I need to switch the wires I’d rather just go to one place.

I found the compass directions from AntennaWeb and TVFool on where to point my antenna.  TVFool ended up being the more accurate source, but I did make one mistake.  I lined up the antenna with a compass but used the true north instead of the magnetic north.  After a couple of days of fiddling with the antenna and I finally got every station I wanted in.  The only thing left was to decided what I was going to use as a DVR.  I looked at purchasing a DVR, Avsforums was a good resource for information on DVRs.  But since I was trying to do this entire project for as cheap as I could get it, I decided on recycling my old desktop and using it as a DVR.

I tried using the Hauppauge software with Windows XP initially but it was far to slow and choppy when recording.  Since I didn’t have a license for Windows XP with media center and I wasn’t about to use one of my windows 7 laptops as a full time DVR, I decided to go with Ubuntu and putting MythTV on it.  It was a pain to configure and setup, but once it was done it worked very well.  After about one and a half weeks running tests my 5 year old hard drive died.  I pulled out a external backup drive that I was no longer using and through that in instead.  Instead of installing and reconfiguring from scratch I decided to go with Mythbuntu instead.  It still look almost as long to configure but it left me with a much better environment.

The plan was to leave the system running in parallel with U-verse cable for a month and see how it goes, but after two weeks my wife said let’s make the switch.  So far we’ve been off of cable since the end of January without a single complaint.  I never really watched much TV and the shows we couldn’t get through broadcast we got from a combination of Amazon Video on demand and Netflix.  So far I’d say the project has been a success and has almost payed for itself in the savings from not having to pay for cable.  It was a lot of work but in the end I believe it was worth it.

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