Trimming the Cord – Segment Zero


Have you been reading about everyone is cutting the cord these days? It seems like every tech site out there has some story about how you can take back your life and money by giving your evil cable provider the boot and saying “Sayonara!” to your cable bill. Granted, there are a massive amount of options these days for streaming video content to the television that we’re not going to get into at the moment. We get the odd feeling that most of the stories that we’ve read seem to either forget or fail to consider one thing: the solutions they provide aren’t girlfriend/wife friendly.

Let’s be serious for a moment. Unless you’re a sports guy and need to follow every season of all your teams, the only reason that you’re probably paying for cable is because of the other (sometimes better) half. She (or he) probably watches a cluster of shows  that aren’t available via proper streaming sources, aka there’s a lot of reality TV being watched.

So what can be done about that overly high bill? The solution that we’re going to focus on deals with two problems at once. It’ll have you saving money within about a year and a half and will get you hardware that’s better than the crap the cable provider will rent you.

That’s right, we’ll be building a media center and walking you through all the steps to get you enjoying Television on your own terms.  We’re going to do this in segments with the start centering on part selection, then moving on to the build, and finishing up with setup. We’ll let you know of any tips that we come across and any snafus that rear their heads.

Since this is Segment Zero, let’s  have a bit of a preliminary discussion about some overall concepts, like a what exactly defines a media center. There are 2 general names given to a computer that gets connected to a large-format display for media playback, either media center or HTPC (home theater personal computer). Depending on where you cite your knowledge, opinions in what constitutes each vary. The general consensus says that they’re different names for the same thing. There are some people think that they’re fundamentally different things. For us, we consider them similar things, but the inclusion of one main component – a TV tuner.

For us, a HTPC doesn’t have a TV tuner while a Media Center PC does. Think about it like this – do you go to the movie theater to watch tv? Doubtful, and if you wanted to bring that theather experience home would you watch tv? Probably not, but we do recognize that most people just don’t have the space to keep a separate theater in their house so combining the theater and media center makes sense.

The type of media center you will build wil be determined mostly by the kind of media you’ll want to enjoy and how you have it. We have roughly 2TB of videos and music, so XBMC is a must for us as it’s easily the most stunning and most powerful media playback program available. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also free. And since we want to watch and record cable TV, we’re going to be using Windows Media Center in conjunction. We’re honestly not the biggest fans of Media Center, but it’s easy to setup and we want this to be Better-Half Friendly, so we’ll deal with it. If you’re local media is not a huge mass of files, skipping the XMBC is an option and the hardware options open up a bit more as smaller form-factors come into play. All of which we’ll discuss when we get into parts.

That’s it for the first installment, make sure to check back soon as we’re going to discuss part selection and show you what we picked up for our build.