Home Entertainment on a Budget

Home Entertainment Center

Home Entertainment on a Budget

Home entertainment is not cheap.  There’s the hardware that is always changing but really it’s the services that adds up and kills your pocket book.  Over the last eight years, I’ve spent over $10,000  in DirecTV alone.  Granted, they are the Ferrari of cable TV services, but nothing is worth that kind of money. Plus, AT&T bought them, and ever since, their customer service has declined. There comes a point when you need to re-evaluate what’s important to you regarding your entertainment.

For me, it’s CBS Evening News, PBS News Hour, Charlie Rose, Frontline, 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, NFL on Sunday mornings, Fareed Zakaria on CNN, Pardon the Interruption on ESPN, Warriors basketball on NBA League Pass, and maybe some other sitcoms.  When I break it down, I can get all these shows, with the exception of ESPN, CNN, and NBA, on some HD rabbit ears.

Alternative Solutions

If you download the app called Stitcher on your mobile device, you can go on a walk or run and listen to the podcast version of Fareed, PTI, and some other cable talk shows.   Roku offers an app for the NBA package, which you can also get through some alternative mean.  The downside to this is the video on demand, pause, and quirky play back features.  However,  I’m willing to forgo this option because my Warriors are boring this year.  Plus, all of the games of any interest are on national TV.  Kevin Durant really needs to be traded to make the league interesting again, but I digress.

Finally, the best value of live TV seems to be Sling TV not Sling Box.   At $20, there’s no better deal to get a 100 plus channels including ESPN and TNT for watching live sports.  However, I’m not aware of any feature for recording live TV with Sling.  Hulu and Youtube Red have gone this route but I have not formed an opinion on whether they are ok.

Hardware and Service Essentials

  • Fiber finally arrived in my neighborhood. I can finally ditch my $60mo  AT&T Universe at 5 meg download for Time Warner Cable promo rate of $45 for up to 200 megabits of download speed.  AT&T apparently stepped their game a year after Spectrum did.  AT&T speeds are up to 100 megabits.   Stability is my main concern not so much speed and Spectrum has been flawless in that department since the neighborhood line was replaced with fiber.
  • HD Antenna
  • Smart TVs.
    • They may have all the apps you need integrated into the TV.  ie. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Plex, etc.  The processing power or load times on the integrated apps is pretty slow.  External hardware tends to be a lot faster.
  • Buy digital media players.  I wanted more flexibility even though I had a smart TV (Make sure you bought a TV with enough HDMI ports)
    • The FireTV is awesome, fast, flexible, and you can speak to it. It also allows for some fun extras.  Sling TV can integrate here
    • Chromecast is another player that runs off your phone and is great for allowing friends and family to blast their own music and shows from their phones.  PS – Microsoft now makes their own casting device.  I have yet to find a good one but it would be nice to have for work presentations.
    • Tivo was supposed to be an all one.  This is where all your favorite streaming entertainment apps and your HD antenna reside in one location.   It hasn’t quite worked as advertised.  More on this later.

Don’t Rent Equipment

It will infuriate anyone who sees those sneaky fees from the cable companies when they charge you for their equipment on top of the standard services they provide.

  • Buy a Motorola Modem for your internet and buy a separate router. There are a slew of new router/WiFi access points coming out in April that improve wireless significantly.
  • Buy the beautifully designed TIVO Bolt to replace your cable box. The Tivo Box is great for several reasons.
    • It records your HD Antenna shows in beautiful HD
    • It records your basic package TV shows if you decide to purchase an internet and TV channels combo pack. NOTE:  Order a cable card from your cable (You can’t do this DirecTV) provider to pop in the Bolt for full integration.
    • The channel guide is elegant and seamlessly integrates web apps like Netflix into the TIVO interface. This may sound ho hum feature but people like to zone out when watching TV.   They have tweaked it so the shows you on your basic TV also instantly loads seasons that are on the Netflix app.  NOTE – I’m waiting for the day sling agrees to work with TIVO.  A channel guide that streams live shows with an intuitive interface would be a huge break through in the living room.
    • It acts as your master remote for turning off the TV, adjusting volume on your stereo, and switching inputs for other home entertainment HDMI devices

Tivo Bolt Setup

Make sure you redo the guided setup from OTA to cable if you make the switch.  Our Spectrum requires a tuner too in addition to rented out $3mo cable card that you need to insert into the bottom of the cable card unit.  Both the Sprectrum Tuner and the Cable Card need to be paired with TWC – Spectrum or whoever your cable company is.

Fun Extras

Look into purchasing a NAS and Boxee Box for viewing your ripped movies that you hopefully purchased.  NOTE:  Do not buy j series Synology NAS (Below) if you plan to use the Plex for streaming your movie collection.  The ARM processing power is a joke for streaming.  That’s why I recommend a Boxee Box to do the heavy lifting so your cheap little Synology NAS does not have to.  The new hip alternative to Boxee Box is Plex.  We provide Plex support for your current crop of movies to steam and Plex support for live/recorded TV further down this page.

 

Plex Support

Grabbing your media library on the Synology is easy once you configure your Synology server with Plex.   Problem is there can be some serious difficulty if you don’t know what you are doing.  We offer some basic Plex support here to help you get going.

 

Install the latest Plex package (latest version can be downloaded through Plex site) to your Synology NAS and make sure you configures things under the local IP address.  ie http://YourSynologyIPAddress:32400/web/index.html

Are You Lost?

Login to your Synology Diskstation Manager and open the Plex package.  Plex should see your Synology server if the service is working correctly.   Otherwise, proceed to more troubleshooting below if Plex says “Looking for Server”

More Plex Troubleshooting…

Check DNS settings.   Ping your Synology from your workstation.  Open Plex in your browser and go to settings->devices and delete everything except for the current browser session. Then close Plex and stop it from running.

Next, go to https://plex.tv and sign in, if not already signed in, and click on ‘launch’ (top right of screen). Go to settings->devices again, and delete everything except for the current browser session. Sign out of plex.tv and close the tab and then restart PMS (Plex Media Server) on the NAS and open it in your browser.

Make sure you sign in, both in settings->server->general and by clicking on the ‘head’ icon (top right of screen).

ProTip!  I would delete all cache, password credentials, and browser history from your web browser. Maybe delete the Synology Plex install file itself to get Plex App to recognize the Plex NAS server.  Also, sometimes the latest version has bugs.  Make sure you have a proven version that all Plex functionality works.

Hopefully, you will now be able to see your server.

Note: if you have any Plex apps installed on your devices, you will need to sign out and then sign back in on those devices. You may also need to re-enter the pin number at https://plex.tv/pin.

Make sure you add the playlist path that contains all your movie content.  I placed all my content in “video” share.

 

Error message fixed by deleting and reinstalling the app…

“No soup for you!
The server you’re trying to access doesn’t want to let you in. Make sure you’re signed in as a user with access to this server.”

 

Setting up Over the Air (OTA) Television from scratch

 

Here are the basic material necessary to complete OTA and have Plex TV and DVR viewing capability from anywhere.  In more simple terms,  we are mounting an antenna plus running the 50 or 100′ of coax cable for completing termination at the tuner inside the house.  Our Plex IT support can assist the mounting, cable management, and network settings so you can view your Plex DVR on your phone, locally or remotely if you on the go with your laptop.

 

Plex Subscription Features:

Plex DVR
Plex Live TV

Hardware:

$100  HD HomeRun

$15   Cat 5e 1000′ (this varies on how many drop locations)

$30   100′ RG6 Coax Cable

$42   Antenna

$40   Amplifier

$7    Surge Protector

Alternative Antenna Solution (Not required if HD Homerun and Synology setup performed)

*********

Tools:

*pack of 4 F type connectors,

*crimping tool,

*cable cutting tool,

*plastic bushings for coax cable,

*coax nail-in clips for securing the cable to the wall,  ( May not apply)

*6 x #10 1 5/8″ wood screws,

*cordless drill with 1/8″ bit for pilot holes and screwdriver bit,

*3/8″ wood boring auger bit 15″ long for drilling through wall,

*3 heavy duty zip ties to secure coax cable to mast,

*nut drivers or ratchet wrench with sockets,

*wire cutters,

*a straight piece of plastic the same diameter as the coax cable (a cut coat hanger worked well) and some duct tape to fish the coax through the wall,

*a ladder,

*gloves,

Need to Fix you TV?

Here are some resources:

Home Entertainment on a Budget Summary

Here’s a quick summary of hardware necessary for you confidently cut the cord and not look back.  While Plex software can be fickle at time, our Plex support we provide should help you out in most cases.

 

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