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Want in on the ground floor? This is probably the article you should start with.

Friday, April 02, 2010

I can eliminate my cable bill? Where do I sign up?!

Most non-geeks' ears only perk up when I finally get to the 'cost' of our setup. In a world with 'triple-play packages', most people find themselves paying well over $100 a month to their cable/phone company. While our current setup doesn't have any phone capabilities, nor quite competes with TIVO's level of functionality, it covers the basics. Still, it's not for everyone.

What's the easiest way to see if it's for you? Simple. Take it for a test drive.

Assuming you've got an HDTV and a computer (a laptop would work well), taking a system like this for a test spin is simple.

First, get the right video cable. Check your TV's manual (or just take a look at the back, if you know what you're looking for) and see what types of inputs it accepts. Most LCDs these days have either VGA or DVI, and almost all of them have HDMI. Adapters are available if your TV has VGA, but your computer has DVI. A local computer store should be able to sell you one inexpensively. HDMI to VGA (or DVI) conversion is also possible, but it gets a little tricky. Don't get fooled into buying some pricey fancy HDMI cable. Cheap cables work just as well as expensive. I promise you.

Most LCD monitors allow you to remove the cable from the back of them, so you can typically just use the cable between your desktop and its monitor. If you're using a laptop, first make sure it has a VGA output (or HDMI output if it's new enough), then find a local computer store (avoid BestBuy/Target type stores if possible, they charge too much for these) and buy the cable you need. If you're using VGA you'll also need a 3.5mm stereo audio cable. HDMI will carry both your audio and video signal. Make sure the cables are male on both ends and 6 feet should be plenty for each of these cables, assuming you've got room around your TV for your computer.

Once you've got the cables connected to your monitor, make sure your inputs and resolutions are set properly, and you should be seeing your computer's desktop on your TV screen. You'll need to make sure your PC has a network connection, either wired or wireless. This may be ugly, but it's just for a short period.

Once you're online, congratulations, you're done!

From here, simply launch/view whatever media you wish. Using a keyboard and mouse may not be terribly convenient, but remember that you're just testing the waters here to see if the media selection available will mesh with your desires before you begin to sink money in fancy remote controls and/or wireless mice.

Below are the websites that we frequent when watching content:


Want to take it up a notch? Disconnect your cable or satellite box from the TV. Now you're actually simulating what it would be like if you didn't have cable (except the bill still shows up). Not having the ability to just 'switch over to watch the game' will really force you to feel out the setup's limitations.

If you're like us, you will also very quickly find one of the biggest bonuses of this type of setup: no more zombie-like "I'm just going to watch whatever is on." style of watching TV. Now you're watching a show because you want to watch THIS show, not just because you're bored and can't think of anything else to do. In the beginning, being forced to get up and try to find another show I wanted to watch was usually enough motivation to do something else entirely.

I encourage you to stick with this "test setup" for at least two weeks, to give you a chance to get over the honeymoon period, and to really begin to cope with what the system both offers and lacks. If you wind up hating it you can disconnect it all and put the computer back in the den. If you love it, you can then start thinking about what kinds of functionality you want to add, as well as begin working on a more permanent (and easier on the eyes) setup.

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