Sunday, January 29, 2012

Watching Cable Online

    Around August of 2011 I dropped cable T.V. and switched to Internet streaming services exclusively, and I couldn't be happier.




Network Chart

    As you can see, I have a typical network setup. All of the devices that are "wired" to the router are also connected to my sixty five inch television and surround sound system. The XBox 360 and the Nintendo Wii are not modified in anyway so I won't go into any greater detail about them, except to show that I have them available. The two important devices are the Roku Box and the Plex Media Server



 

    At first the sound of "Plex Media Server" sounds a bit intimidating. Running a server can be a scary thing for a lot of people as it sounds rather complicated. The truth is, it isn't. In fact, it's very simple. The "Server" is actually just a regular PC running some software; the Plex Media Application. On this PC, I used a DVI to HDMI adapter so that I could use the television as a monitor. There is no audio as I have yet to hook it up, but that is O.K. as I will explain in a moment. 

    The main purpose of the "Server" is to store media. I have ripped all of my DVD Movies and T.V. shows and placed the files on the Plex PC's Hard Drive. Its not even that big of a hard drive at only 750GB, but it really hold a lot of media. I can RIP a DVD from the Plex PC directly but I choose not too. Instead it sits quietly hidden in a corner doing what its suppose to do, serve files. When I do RIP a DVD, I use my MacBook Pro then copy the file(s) to the server. It shows up in the finder (Windows Explorer for Microsoft users) as just other folder. I can drag and drop files to and from the server and my MacBook Pro just like I do from folder to folder. I only use the T.V. as a monitor when I restart the PC once a month. Not that I need too, I just do it because I probably should.

    While that's great for watching movies and such on another computer, how do I watch my movies and T.V. shows on the actual television? Roku. 


    Roku is a great device for streaming movies and shows from the internet. There is also a "Private Channel" for watching media from your Plex Server on your T.V. via your Roku box. Now I can watch all of my privately owned media on my T.V. without worrying about scratching a disk, or waiting for it to spin up. I just click play and watch. I even have a "Roku Remote Control" application on my phones. 

    Of course, as is always the way, shortly after getting my Roku, Roku 2 was released. I really don't mind at this point. This whole thing started as an experiment and it has taken me a while to "get it right". In fact, I even get an east coast feed of the major broadcasters for free thanks to a service called USTVNOW (Google it for Roku, you will find it). Too bad I live five timezones away, but still it is very nice to have the option. I watch NBC Nightly news, CNN International, BBC news and more. I even get Netflix and Hulu Plus in full HD Quality. 

    Roku has so many channels available it will take you a while to find out which ones you like, which ones are free, and what you will actually watch. I think I am finally happy with the setup and setting I am using, but I am not content. In the near future (time permitting) I plan to find a way to integrate iTunes into the Roku or the Plex Server (Wich I can access via Roku). Once that is done, I will have access to more movie and series than I can watch in a day (really that it already true). The nice thing of course, is that it is all streaming from somewhere. Either the internet, or my server, so it is all truly "On Demand". I watch what I want, and when I want to watch it. 

    So how much does all this cost? Whell, the Roku was $99 plus tax. The MacBook Pro and iMac I don't count because let's face it, if you are reading this you probably have a PC of some type already. All of the software is free. I did spend another $50 on various cables while trying different setup's and options. However, my cable bill went from $159 per month with a 10Mb/sec internet connection to $54 for 15Mb/sec internet. I save $105 every single month. That is $1,260 I save every year. In just two month's it more than paid for itself. 

    Oh yea, I almost forgot; that PC that I use as the "Server"? I put it together from a bunch of spare parts. In fact, you can get away with a fairly old PC as a server. The nice thing is, I can add a Blue Ray drive (I probably won't) to it anytime I choose, and if I get low on hard drive space I can always add another hard drive later as well. 

    All in all, I am very happy with my setup. I will not be going back to cable anytime soon. For those of you who just "has to have" something like HBO, well, that's available too. If you are willing to break some rules and you know what to look for, you can get just about anything.