Cut the Cable and Enjoy HDTV Anywhere

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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. 


The Discussion

  • User profile image

    Between Netflix, Amazon Video on demand, and the Zune Marketplace I'm really convinced I don't need our cable subscription. I'm not sure of the exact amount we'll save to drop back to internet access only, but I'm sure it will be enough to offset the purchase of a Roku HD to provide content to the TV that doesn't have a 360 hooked up to it.

  • User profile image

    I agree, network based tuners are the way to go.  With this, even that portable netbook can watch Live TV around the home.  If you need digital cable, SiliconDust is working on a 3-tuner cablecard solution they plan on releasing this year.  Also, it was suggested at CES that AT&T's U-Verse, based on MediaRoom will be accessible from within XBox and Windows Media Center.

    @Duncanma:  I think Microsoft should approach Roku for a possible acquistion or workout a partnership to make Silverlight the primary app and on of the supported media delivery mechanism for their devices.

  • User profile image

    I really wish the UK would sort out the cable system the same way the US cable card seems to be doing.  I would love to move to a network based tuner system, but until I can find a system that works with Sky or Virgin without going the digital->analogue->digital I'm kind of stuck.

    Well actuall I only really want a couple of premium changes, other than that I have a US point of presences I can VPN to so I can use Amazon, Hulu and the like, but it really shouldn't be this hard should it?


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