Thursday, October 14, 2010

ExiTiVo

I have made my decision:  The TiVo is going away.  I have thought a lot about this, and feel that there is no reason to continue with TiVo.

In addition to the issues I have with TiVo (explained in the previous posting), I found out something about the TiVo Premere that, if true, is equally disturbing.  Woot was selling a refurbished TiVo Premere and there was some talk about the device on Woot's discussion forum.   Coming into question was the stability of the unit, and that TiVo had disabled one of the CPUs due to stability issues.  The disabling of the CPU caused the unit to be sluggish.  It sounds like an all-around bad deal in general.

Here's my plan that has already begun to be implemented:
  1. Add a signal distribution amplifier to the antenna (the reason will be understood in #2) - I have purchased and installed a Channel Master 3414 (aka PCT model PCT-MA2-4P) 4-port antenna distribution amplifier.  This is a good-quality distribution amplifier that provides 4 outputs with 8dB gain per port.  I also purchased a power injector so that I could provide power to the amp from inside the house where the UPS-protected power is located.  I installed this today and it works great.  The signal quality has remained constant as measured on my TV sets, but I am receiving a few more channels and adding additional splitters has not degraded the signal (exactly what I was looking to do).  Remember that an amplifier does not improve signal quality - if you have a bad signal, it will only amplify the same bad signal.
  2. Purchase a SiliconDust HDHomeRun dual TV tuner - The HDHomeRun is a network-based TV tuner.  That is, there are two coax antenna connections coming in, and a network connection going out.  I have heard good things about this tuner from other people, and SiliconDust has kept the network protocol used to access the HDHomeRun non-proprietary.  There is software for Windows, Mac, and Linux alike, and great support for all three platforms.  Better still, having the TV tuner as a network device means no weird TV cards installed into the computer that require special drivers.  I will write more about this when I get to play with it a little.  I was very impressed with what I saw.  The fact that there are two coax inputs (one for each tuner) means I will need to use a splitter to provide two antenna connections.  This is the reason I bought the distribution amp.  Finally, having the tuner as a network device means that I can access the tuner from any of the computers on my network.  This will be useful while I'm testing.
  3. Implement MythTV as the DVR replacement for the TiVo.  MythTV is an open source TiVo-like DVR program that runs on a Linux-based PC. Because it is open source, I have the source code and can modify it and fix problems if necessary.  It is free, as in I don't have any software to purchase.  There is a group that provides TV guide data for $20/year (yes, per year) that provides the TV schedules that you'd use to see what's on, or to program the DVR software to record a show.  While MythTV looks really good, I have not looked extensively at it yet.  I do plan on getting more serious about this when I come back from vacation.
  4. Purchase a Roku XD|S box to view streaming online programming.  The Roku is ordered, and I should have it before I leave for vacation (will be taking it with me to show my parents).  My reservation about Roku is their terms-of-service (I also discussed this in an earlier entry).  However, they are more universally compatible with streaming media services like Netflix, Amazon, and (soon) Hulu+, as well as others, than any other device.  People are generally happy with what Roku provides, and while I am grumbling a bit about the price, I feel it is likely to provide satisfaction that I don't currently see with TiVo.  While I see that Windows 7 and Windows Media Center could potentially fill this role, I see the Roku as being much more polished and dedicated to the task.  Time will tell.  I tried Windows 7 and the WMC at work and while I saw some positives, overall it felt clunky to use.
  5. Purchase a new Netgear GS108T v1 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switch with web-based management capabilities.  The switch is both for the increased number of devices being connected to the network, and to help solve an unrelated problem that has recently come to my attention.  I have been having spotty wireless network problems since I moved the WAP back to the "study" (aka. the mad computer science laboratory).  As I was brushing my teeth the other night I realized why:  The WAP is on the wall opposite the big mirror in the master bathroom.  It is also behind the big flue pipe for the fireplace.  That poor WAP has no chance of being able to provide good service to the side of the house where I need it most (on the other side of the mirror and fireplace flue).  So the WAP will need to go back to the living room, and I would like to move to all Gigabit Ethernet-capable networking throughout the house, as much as possible.  This Netgear switch also supports multiple virtual LAN (VLAN) capabilities and 802.1q trunking that I am used to using at work.  There are some ideas I have been throwing around about having some of my devices on a more secure network, and this would allow me to do that.
The TV tuner and switch should arrive tomorrow, and the Roku sometime next week.  The first thing is to get familiar with the hardware and make sure it will do what I want.  Next will be to integrate everything together.  The final phase of doing MythTV is a bit up-in-the-air at the moment.  I can either move my main server back into the living room and hook it to the TV and use my server as a DVR as well, or I can purchase a small Intel Atom-based mini-system and use it as a DVR front-end at the TV (and leave the server where it is).

You may have already deduced that all this costs more than an annual TiVo subscription (and maybe even a TiVo Premere).  I am not doing this to save money overall - I am doing it because TiVo is charging me money and disappointing me at the same time.  What I hope to accomplish here is to regain control over my home entertainment choices, and to avoid paying for services that are clearly not providing appropriate value for their cost.  I also see the TV tuner (definitely) and Roku box (questionably)  as being good long-term investments with no ongoing subscription costs.

If TiVo had fulfilled its promises for the device I purchased to do all that they claimed, then most of what I am doing would be unnecessary.  On the other hand, once I have all this new stuff in place and working, it could be a showcase for what could be done as an alternative to cable TV and TiVo with ongoing costs and frustrating customer support.

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