Cutting the cable in Canada–Conclusion (Part 8)
This is the conclusion of a blog series on cutting the cable in Canada.
Back in the spring, I began to look at options for cutting the cable in Canada, including IPTV, Apple iTunes, Netflix, TV Websites, Boxee, and a brief look to see if the grass is any greener south of the border.
The ground rules were as follows:
- My family must accept the solution, this is not a geeks-only endeavour
- The content creators must be compensated, no stealing from the artists
- The quality must generally match what I get today, which means high definition
- Costs must fit within our existing budget, I’m only allowed to spend what I save elsewhere
I’ll admit that after the initial review I got somewhat dismayed because the conclusion was leaning to “not possible in Canada”. The biggest sticking point was content for my kids, six and eight year old girls who enjoy watching Teletoon and some other kid-oriented cable channels on a little TV in the basement. I decided to throw in the towel. Cable had won.
However, this summer my cable provider gave me an extra push by removing all of the kids channels from their analog tier which meant that cartoons would no longer work on the little TV downstairs without additional investment. This was the time to strike!
After a bit of trial and error, I did end up with a solution that works for my family and we are now 100% free of cable in our household. Here’s what the Near household looks like:
Over-The-Air High Definition Everywhere
A small antenna in the attic drives the majority of what we watch in the house. I ran the coax cable from my antenna down into my basement, literally unplugged the cable feed from the road and instead plugged the antenna into the splitter, and now every room in the house how has HD antenna. Plug in an HDTV, and about 35 channels come in crystal-clear.
So now I had all the TVs in the house running free and legal live TV, but what I really wanted to do is record that TV to a PVR so I can watch it anywhere in the house. To do this, I activated the free Windows Media Center program that comes with Windows 7 to turn my Windows PC into a fully functional PVR. I plugged my antenna into an HDHomerun tuner, which allowed my Windows PC to record two HDTV channels at the same time. To get everything working in the Toronto area, I simply told Media Center that I live in the United States at Zipcode 14174 (for other areas of Canada the setup is a bit more involved).
The steps above turn the PC into a PVR that’s quite frankly better than any PVR from the cable company. When you have both an XBox 360 and a Windows Media Center PC in the same house, it turns the XBox into a PVR too! Microsoft calls this a Media Center Extender, I have three extenders in my house which means that every TV in the house is a high definition PVR.
For The Kids
Surprisingly, there is very little content on broadcast television for kids these days. However, kids programming is an area where Netflix really shines. I picked up an Apple TV 2 for about one hundred dollars and plugged it in to the TV in the basement. I taught my eight-year old how to use it in about ten minutes, my six-year old still needs a bit of help getting it going.
Netflix is now the kids’ primary source of content, and since they’re using my account I can monitor everything that they watch.
So there we have it, Cable TV has been completely replaced in our household! Flush with an extra $60 per month in cash, I find myself a bit more liberal with the entertainment dollar. I spent an extra $30 to buy simple.tv, which takes everything from my PVR and syncs it to my iPod for business trips. I bought the entire Scooby Doo box set for about $60 and added it to our DVD collection. We rent HD movies on the XBox for family movie nights. My daughter watches Netflix in her room on an iPod Touch. Overall I’m spending less and getting more for my entertainment dollar. I count that as a win!
Is it right for you?
This setup works well for my family, but there’s one key difference between my house and most other Canadian households… we don’t really care too much about live sports. I get all the games I care about including the Stanley Cup, Superbowl (with US commercials!), World Series, and the Olympics. However if you spend most of your time on TSN or Sportsnet then what I’ve done probably won’t work for you. I am not aware of any legal way to get those live sports other than cable or satellite.
Where to get more information:
The Digital Home Canada forums are a great place to ask questions and dig in to some more options for cutting the cable.
The Shopping List:
While I would recommend doing a little research to see what’s best for you, I know the reality is that many will just want to know what I’ve got so they can go buy the same thing. Here’s the full list of what is involved in my setup.
- Channel Master 4221 Antenna ($50)
- Kitztech Preamp KT-100VG-COAX ($60)
- RG6 Bulk Coax Cable, cut to length at Home Depot
Windows Media Center PVR
- Any Windows 7 PC
- HDHomerun Tuner ($140)
Media Center Extenders
- Xbox 360 ($200)
- Linksys DMA-2100 (discontinued, find on Kijiji or eBay)
- Linksys DMA-2200 (discontinued, find on Kijiji or eBay)