About a year ago, my wife and I sat down to work through our family finances. With a baby on the way,(and the parents amongst you will know how muchthey cost) it was an opportune time to figure out where we could save a little money each month.
Going through the finances line by line was revealing – one of our major outgoings was our TV satellite service. I love sport and movies, so we had the full package from our provider, but when we talked about it, we were no longer watching as much TV as we used to – and the programmes we both loved were available free to air. So we took the decision to cut the cord, and swap our satellite service for Freeview (the UK’s free to air digital TV service).
Of course, that meant losing our DVR, so picked up a relatively cheap ASRock Nettop (the Intel Atom/NVIDIA ION powered ION 330) which could handle 1080p high definition video and came with HDMI out, so it was a cinch to hook up to the TV. All of our Live and Recorded TV (as well as music, video and photo streaming) goes through Windows Media Center, which is a truly fantastic entertainment platform.
These new breed of nettops offer all the power you need for HDTV, and their tiny footprint means that you can slot them easily into your TV cabinet. But that small form factor isn’t great for slotting in PCI TV Tuner cards, and the ION 330 doesn’t ship with an integrated tuner. So, I could have tried a USB tuner, which is a convenient option, but instead I went for a network tuner.
A network tuner is a small, standalone box that you connect to your TV source, but also has an Ethernet connection that plugs into your router. The premise is simple – rather than be limited to wherever your antenna is located, with a network tuner, your TV signal is now available wherever you have a network connection. That means you can now view Live TV on any PC or compatible device on the network.
If you’re lucky enough to have your house fully wired with Ethernet sockets, you’re set. Use a Powerline network adaptor and again, you’ll have a TV signal waiting for you wherever you have a power socket. The latest network tuners are now offering 802.11n Wi-Fi connections and Live TV streaming to remote devices, so there’s definitely no excuse to miss your favourite programmes – wherever you are.
There’s an increasing number of network tuners hitting the market, that work with a wide variety of TV standards. Check outSilicon Dust’s HDHomeRun, which kicked off the category a couple of years ago, AverMedia’s HD HomeFree Duet and PCTV’s newly announced Broadway which will be on the market soon.
One year later, not only are we saving our monthly TV subscriptions, but the combination of Windows Media Center, a mini-HTPC and dual Network Tuners has improved our TV viewing and lets us watch what we want, wherever we want.
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