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Life After Cable – 5 Months and Counting

May 11, 2009

It’s been about five months since we cancelled cable. Overall, I don’t regret the decision, but I must admit it hasn’t worked out exactly as well as I’d hoped, and I fear that, as Nolan gets older, we’ll probably have to go back to the great sucking beast that is Time Warner, if only for Nikolodeon and its ilk.

So what has worked, and what hasn’t?

The Antenna – For the most part, antenna reception has been solid. HD programming on ABC, NBC, and CBS is freakishly sharp. Fox looks mighty pretty, too, but the signal tends to break up in less-than-perfect weather. Supposedly this will be fixed when the local affiliate makes the jump to all digital broadcasts, but it can really suck, especially since most of the shows we follow happen to be on Fox (24, Fringe, Lie to Me, Bones, Terminator, Dollhouse).

The TiVo HD – Infinitely superior navigation to the craptastic Time Warner DVR. The ability to grab shows off the TiVo and archive them on the network is a huge win, but sadly some of the extra features have proven less than useful. The biggest letdown – Netflix. I think Netflix has a winning formula with its Watch Instantly setup, but there’s just not enough content there to justify then $10/month, unless you REALLY like BBC miniseries from the 80’s.

Boxee on the AppleTVBoxee has been a mixed bag. Hulu is awesome, and watching Hulu on the big screen is even awesomer. But a few months back some of Hulu’s content providers got all pissy about what Boxee was doing and forced them to remove Hulu support. It’s back now…but the bizarre workarounds to make it possible also make it buggy beyond all belief…and basically useless.

On top of that, Boxee itself has been growing increasingly slow and buggy. I suspect the AppleTV‘s modest hardware just isn’t up to the task of running it properly. Setting up a Mac Mini as a home theater PC (HTPC) would probably be the better option, but it would also be a $600 option, so no.

Rather that continue fighting with Boxee, I recently used the excellent ATV USB creator software to create a USB patchstick and, through various fiddling, managed to install Perian, thereby allowing me to play non-iTunes video directly through the slick AppleTV interface. The result? I can now play back shows ported off the TiVo or obtained by other means right through the AppleTV. 

The Network – Granted, I built my network from what I had on hand, but I really hate the tedium of futzing with a hybrid Mac/Linux network. If I had my druthers (and $1300), I’d get a straight-up MacBook for day-to-day computing. This would free up the MacBook Pro for server and dedicated photo/video editing duty. It’d also make it feasible to connect the external drives – and printers – directly, rather than rely on less-than-reliable network sharing (iTunes, for example, “forgets” where videos are whenever the drives disconnect, and iPhoto still can’t find its library).

Continuing in the “if money were no object” vein, I would also invest in a new Airport Extreme base station. The newer models support dual-band Wi-Fi, which would allow the computers and AppleTV to stream stuff at 802.11n speeds but still accomodate 802.11g-based devices like iPhones and my work PC. That would also let me move the existing Airport Extreme downstairs where I could hook it up to the TiVo and transfer DVR-ed shows in something almost resembling a timely manner.

Overall, I still dig the antenna, the AppleTV, and the whole “not paying an ridiculous monthly fees for cable” aspect of this enterprise, but we’ll see how well that holds up as we move into the television wasteland that it summer network programming…

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