Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to get Free HD TV

I hinted in my previous post that I made Hulu obsolete at our house at the time that I installed my Apple TV.  I didn't perform any real magic, but I do want to explain how I did it in case anyone out there is looking to do the magic that I do.

I normally only watch Hulu for ABC shows since I don't get good reception on our TV for the ABC affiliate here in Houston.  Let me explain.  Before I added the Apple TV to the mix, I used an antenna mounted in my attic which fed a signal to a pair of USB HDTV tuners connected to a pc connected to my TV.  I used Windows Media Center (WMC: a free piece of software included in every version of Windows Vista and Windows7) to watch and record TV.  WMC has a free guide built in and since I used two tuners, I could record/watch up to two shows at one time.  It was great.  I could pause live TV, I could schedule my favorite shows to record, and since it was a full blown PC, I could watch Netflix and use Hulu Desktop for online content.  I could even watch general conference via the internet browser.

All of this was great, except that the position of the antenna didn't give me great reception on ABC and I only got fair reception on some channels, missing out on the secondary channels altogether in some cases.  So, at the same time that I installed the Apple TV, I chose to get one other piece of hardware to alleviate the need of having a PC connected to the TV.  After all, I had to have the PC turned on all the time in order to ensure that all my shows would get recorded.  That combined with a big external hard drive that I had hooked up for TV show storage added to the power and heat inside my little entertainment cabinet.  I knew that I could use my XBOX as a media center extender, so I knew I could shift the load from the TV PC to my office PC.  The only problem was that I would have to run coax cable from the antenna down to my office and then plug in the two USB HDTV tuners.  I didn't want to have to run more cable through the wall.

The solution was to get a SiliconDust HD HomeRun Dual.  I found it used on the internet (thank you Amazon) for around $75.  The advantage of this device is that it combines the two tuners into one device and it uses Ethernet as opposed to USB for connectivity to the Windows Media Center PC.  This means that instead of running a coax cable from the antenna through the walls to my office PC, I could just run an Ethernet cable from the antenna/HomeRun Dual to my home router.  Since this is much easier due to the placement of my router, this became the optimum solution.

So, I installed the HomeRun Dual in the attic and connected it to the antenna.  I ran an Ethernet cable from there down to my punch-down and from there patched it into my router.  I installed the little utility on my office PC and fired up WMC.  WMC found the tuner on the network without any real work and before I knew it, I was watching TV on my office PC.  As it turns out, any other PC on my network can use one or both of the tuners as long as another PC isn't using them.  They are a pool of tuners available to everyone on the network.  Awesome!

The only problems was that the reception had changed.  I wasn't getting all the channels I was getting before or I was getting them, but not well enough to watch.  This wasn't unexpected since any time you change wiring in regards to an antenna, things can change.  I decided I needed to get my antenna higher so it would get better reception for those channels.  I mounted the antenna on the chimney and checked things out.  Lo and behold, I got wonderful reception on all the channels I used to get and I also now get very good reception on ABC and the affiliates.  I even now get 3 sub-channels to PBS!

Now that I get ABC, I don't really need Hulu.  If there is something I want to watch that I don't get through Netflix, over the air HDTV, or isn't in my collection of DVDs, I can always check Hulu.  If all else fails, Amazon and gohastings.com are always there to help with a used DVD.