Content Providers: Be away with you

I used to think that I wanted a cable/satellite system that allowed me to subscribe only to the channels that I wanted, and not what the cable/satellite company included in a package. For years I paid the extra $15 a month to Dish Network to have FX included as part of the next-level-up package. Not to mention the extra $10 I had to fork over for HD, and $6 for DVR.

Yes, what I used to think. I am approaching the 1 year anniversary of canceling my Dish Network subscription, and I don’t miss it a bit. I don’t subscribe to cable or satellite television. I don’t subscribe to any entertainment, except for Netflix (which I am very happy to pay for). All of our content arrives via the internet or free over-the-air HDTV. Yes, we had a rather large initial investment in hardware, but what we enjoy now is a million times better than commercial ladened satellite or cable feed.

At the core of our entertainment system is a network of Macs running Snow Leopard and a myriad of applications. Each television is connected to a Mac Mini, and each store content that is accessible throughout the network. In addition to televisions, we have two iPod touches that also run apps that allow us to access our content locally, and remotely via the internet. We enjoy instant streaming of Netflix on all devices, free over-the-air high definition television, Hulu Desktop for when you really don’t know what you are in the mood for, and so much more.

I trust Plex
Before Plex/9 I made-do with Boxee. It seemed clunky, but it was really all there was in the 10-foot user interface arena. Plex is an application that runs on many platforms. I run it on Mac Minis, Mac Pros, and iPod touches. It aggregates all of my content that I have locally, and organizes them into movies, music, TV shows, etc. Within TV shows, it breaks it down into series, seasons, and episodes. It’s all controlled with a little Apple Remote. Viewing couldn’t be easier. I just pick the movie or show I want to watch, and it instantly displays on my HDTV, regardless of where it’s at on my network. And if I am right in the middle of a show, and I want to move to another TV or iPod touch, it remembers my place – across all devices.

Plex is free. You should give it a whirl:

I was really unsure about Netflix at first, but discovering TV shows that you missed from years past is really where it’s at. Sure, Netflix is known for their movies, but what’s available for instant-streaming certainly lacks. They seem to be working hard on that, but I think we watch way more television shows than movies on Netflix (especially the kids). Plex has an app that runs within its interface which accesses Netflix. It shows your online queue, allowing you to manage that list, you can browse movies and TV shows, and much more. It’s not perfect, but what can you expect for $8 a month.

Hulu Desktop
I hardly use Hulu Desktop, but it’s nice to have. It’s an application version of their website, and it’s available for many platforms. I mainly use it when I really don’t know what I want to watch. Sometimes I miss just clicking around the channels, and Hulu Desktop scratches that itch. Again, it’s not perfect, but hey, it’s free.

eyeTV is an application that allows us to watch free over-the-air HDTV through our Mac Mini. It provides DVR capabilities (to pause, rewind, fast forward, and record shows). It has basic editing controls that allow you to remove commercials, and when you are done, you can export your show and store it in Plex (or take it with you on your iPod touch).

To summerize
I think, for the most part, people are worried about using a computer as their entertainment system. They are afraid that they will be stuck with a keyboard and mouse on the couch. That’s really not the case. I think the only time I use a keyboard (wireless with a trackpad), is when I am editing shows that I recorded OTA, or when I want to use the HDTV to surf the web (the kids really like getting on Playhouse Disney with a 46″ screen).

If you have any questions about any HTPC (home theater personal computer) aspect, let me know. The more people I can move away from cable or satellite, the better I will feel.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.