For some time I've been writing about ending my cable box rental fees, but I haven't been able to pull the trigger. For those who haven't read those articles, there are a few hardware gadgets on the market that now allow you to plug a CableCard into them, hook them to a computer and get all your cable channels with full DVR capabilities. A few months back I bought a Dell Zino, a small computer that allows me to store all my media and access it through my television.
So all I needed to do was buy the hardware gadget and set it up. I ran into a couple of snags there. The companies that make them missed their deadlines and shipped them months after they were expected to be launched. I also had a mental block... I didn't want to spend another $300 for the hardware to make it possible. Finally, there is the usability aspect of the solution. I wasn't sure if the Microsoft Media Center was going to be as good and easy to use as the Comcast box. If it's something that I have to explain to my wife how to use, it's likely to be a failure.
This past weekend I gave them another look. Since most have been on the market for a couple of months, reviews are starting to trickle in. The reviews are generally positive, but it seems like that it takes a day with a few calls to the cable company to get it set up properly. I've overcome the block of paying $300, because I'll be saving $16 a month when I return my DVR cable box to Comcast. I've had a DVR for years now and I don't see myself giving it up any time soon. This way I'll start saving money in 19 months. Each year after that, I'll save nearly $200 - enough to pay for the Dell Zino in a couple of years. Finally, I found this video of Windows 7 Media Center's Cable TV Guide with a CableCARD Tuner:
That blows the Comcast software out of the water, doesn't it?
I was sold! The only thing left was to decide which hardware to get. There's a Hauppauge WinTV DCR-2650 model with 2 tuners for $128, a SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME model with 3 tuners for $230, and a Ceton InfiniTV model with 4 tuners for $299. Each tuner allows you to process a stream of cable. With a dual tuner you can record two shows at the same time or record one show and watch something live. With three you can record three or two while watching one. With four, you can record 4 or record 3 while watching one. Hopefully you get the idea.
If you've been reading carefully, you know I went with the Ceton InfiniTV. All the reviews I found were very good and one website that seems to review these kinds of things, Missing Remote seemed to come to the conclusion that you should buy the one that suits your television watching habits. This is why I went for 4 tuners. My wife likes singing and dancing reality shows, while I prefer sitcoms and sports. There are times when the X Factor or The Sing-Off is on at the same time as How I Met Your Mother, and Monday Night Football. That requires three tuners, so the Hauppauge is out for us (but since it's cheap compared to the others, I think others may find this a great value paying for itself in only 8 months). It was between the SiliconDust and the Ceton. I liked the look of the Ceton (no blinking lights, more compact box) model better. However, the big thing was that if we buy a Microsoft Media Center Extender (Xbox's seem to be the only ones still on the market), we can access tuners from different rooms. So we'll finally have cable box functionality from other televisions. If your household has multiple cable boxes, the savings will double and triple.
The Ceton InfiniTV arrived this morning via Amazon Prime (I'm trying it for a month for free). After I finish this post I will dig into it and try to set it up before all the Comcast employees leave for Thanksgiving. Let's hope it works as well as it billed.
Update (11/25/2011): I was able to get the Ceton InfiniTV working for only only 5 minute spans. After that I'd get a message that Windows couldn't detect the hardware. Ceton's customer support is very good and attentive, but they want me to send it back to them for replace. However, I noticed that for the next few days, the Silicon HDHomeRun Prime is on sale at NewEgg for $169 (plus shipping and applicable tax) when you use a coupon code. I'm out the door for a few pennies under $190. With my existing cable box costing 16, it'll start saving me $16/mo in 12 months.
Update 2: I forgot to mention that a DVR Cable box uses more power than a refrigerator. Many have tested it at 50-60 watts an hour. Missing Remote has the HDHomerun Prime at about 6 watts an hour (on average). One commenter in an Amazon review said it will save him about $9 a month in electricity. I am too Lazy to do the math to figure out the exact savings in my area, but I think it's noticeable difference. If the reviewer is correct, I'll stand to save around $25 a month. That means I'll start saving money in 8 only months... and saving $25 a month after that.
I predict within the next three years, someone will make an all-in-one box like a Roku or AppleTV that integrates Windows Media Center (or similar guide) with this hardware, so the consumer simply just has to plug the CableCard in the back and not worry about getting a computer and setting it up to work this hardware. When that happens at a $200 price point, expect it to be the holiday gift of the year - especially if it combines the features of Roku's and AppleTV that exist today. People will want their cable TV to play nice with Netflix and their iTunes (or other music-management software).
(Final Note: Some cable companies charge for CableCards. With Comcast the first is free, so it is truly a full $16 I'll save each month.)
Buying my own Cable Modem
While I was eliminating bills, it made sense to finally buy my own cable modem. Why am I paying $7 to rent year after year, when you can own it for $40-80? I'll save money in the first year. Unlike eliminating the cable box which requires a little technical expertise, a bigger outlay of money, and an adjustment to new software, switching out your cable modem is simple.
I did a little research and I found out that there's a standard called DOCSIS that essentially covers the capabilities of a cable modem. This is a very poor explanation, but we don't need to be DOCSIS experts here. It seems with newer versions come faster cable speeds. I have a version DOCSIS 1.0 version that I'm renting from my cable company. So I stepped it up and got a Motorola SB6121 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem. The reviews are good and many have seen increased speed from their provider which switching to it. Faster and cheaper Internet? How can you beat that?
When you combine the two purchases together, I'll be saving $23 and gaining more a lot functionality (ability to record more shows, faster guide, faster Internet).
Time to get started putting it all together.
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