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Category: Ditch Cable!

Ditch Cable?

Posted by – 11/30/07

So I’ve been working for some time now on devising a media system for my home that could potential replace cable. It’s a pretty sweet little setup. I’ll be tracking my progress here to let people know what I’ve got in my setup and any roadblocks I run into in the process.

  1. The Mac Mini This is the big one, the center of it all. I went with the Mini for several reasons:  
    1. Media Server My Macbook Pro is great, but I got mine a year ago– back before Apple upped the storage capacity in their laptops to 250 gigs. Mine has a measly 100 gigs. (Seriously? More than doubling the capacity in just a year? Wow.) And I’d like to have a place to not only store all my music and video, it would be great to be able to play them on the big screen with the great speakers.I also want to be able to sync my laptop with the media server for everything but videos (I’ll just keep the tv shows and movies on the Mini), but I’ll show you how to do that later.
    2. Backup Server This was one of my reasons for purchasing the Mini, but for now it doesn’t look like it matters. In the months before OS X Leopard was released, Apple had advertised that the new Time Machine backup application would be able to perform backups wirelessly (as long as the drive was HFS+ formatted and communicating over the network via Apple Filing Protocol). Apple yanked that feature from Time Machine shortly before launch. There’s still the possibility that the feature will come with a future update, but there are no guarantees.Here was why the Mini was crucial: there really are only two ways to meet the requirements of both HFS+ and AFP with network attached storage. There are some NAS server solutions that allow you to format the drive HFS+, and some others that allow the Apple Filing Protocol to be used, but only one that does both. Apple’s Airport Extreme. But that’s a pretty expensive router, and I already have a solid router that’s given me very little trouble. The only other option is to just share an HFS+ drive on another Mac. Hence the Mini. (Certainly too expensive if that’s all I was buying it for, but given all the uses the Mini has, I think it’s worth it.)
    3. Print Server Basically, I hated always being in the living room when I needed to print something and having to walk into my bedroom, connect the USB hub, print one page, and then eject the three harddrives that are also attached to the hub. I just connected the printer to the Mini and shared it. Bingo.
    4. TiVo Alternative Definitely the biggest reason I got the Mini. Don’t get me wrong, I love being enslaved to Comcast’s lackluster performace and more-than-impressive monthly bill. But something about the possibility of an endless supply of storage for tv show recordings, the ability to export them to iPod/iPhone format, and the ability to watch them anywhere in the world really caught my attention. Meet elgato’s line of eyetv devices. I’ve got the EyeTV 250, the predecessor to the EyeTV 250 Plus. I can receive any of the analog channels from the standard cable package. It’s a great system, but there’s still room for improvement. I’ll review it soon in a separate post. I’ll just say that I’m impressed, I hope more features will come soon, but I’m not yet ready to ditch the DVR box we rent from Comcast.
  2. EyeTV 250 The second biggest piece to the puzzle, and I’ve already mentioned it above. I won’t go into much detail, that’s for another post. Basically mine accepts analog channels. The updated EyeTV 250 Plus also accepts over-the-air HDTV (called ATSC, the HD equivalent to the classic “rabbit ears” setup). EyeTV also packages their software with the HDHomeRun, a dual-tuner that accepts both over-the-air HDTV and cable-based HDTV (called Clear QAM).
  3. Buffalo WHR-G54S I like this router because it’s both cheap (you can find it for $30-50) and potentially powerful. I flashed it with the much more powerful DD-WRT, which allows more options in the configuration. Recently Buffalo even teamed up with DD-WRT to release an officially supported, pre-flashed version of this router. There are definitely more options for the super-user. It even pings the DynDNS server to let them know you’re current WAN IP. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. It’s definitely a nerd feature you’d just need if you wanted to watch all those TV shows anywhere with Internet access.

It seems I’m not alone. Randy over at Ditching Cable is currently involved in a very similar experiment, trying to rid himself of the over-priced, under-performance that most of the monopolistic cable companies bring to the table.