Hold on to your seat–I’m about to get all tech-geek on you and show you how we’re saving about $60 per month on TV service using our existing internet service, our TV, and a special gadget…
Sure, I may have accidentally referred to Star Trek as Space Trek more than once in my life, and I don’t care for fantasy or sci-fi (have never claimed to be a cool geek)–but I do know how to do such things as install optical drives in computers and figure out somewhat complicated hook-ups among audio, video, and computer equipment, etc–and I enjoy it. So there.
But honestly, setting this up isn’t that hard. While it may not be decorating or construction related per-se, it might give you the inspiration to save some cash on TV (so you can spend it on new windows instead! See how that works?)
This is going to be a bit text heavy since there are more than a few important details–so bear with me.
Our quest for cheaper TV service began several months ago when we nixed our satellite TV service. Every month, the bill would inch upwards, until this past June when Ev had finally had enough. He called the company to hint that he was about to end the service, expecting they would give him some sort of incentive to stay with it (he’s über responsible and always on time when it comes to paying bills–you’d think they’d want to do everything in their power to keep responsible customers. And I should mention here that we don’t mind paying for TV service in general, it just got to be too many home shopping channels and little else of value for an increasingly large price.)
But they didn’t even try. In fact, they were so completely rude about it that he has sworn to never go back to them. Ever.
After the dust settled, we weren’t left completely TV-less since we subscribe to Netflix and already owned a Wii (which is just one of the many devices capable of streaming shows and movies instantly through a TV.) This kept us satisfied for a while–but it was only a matter of time before Ev began to miss The Simpsons, and I, several HGTV shows. (None of this is available on Netflix, due at least in part to the fact that it isn’t exactly a television-focused service–but we still appreciate the endless supply of movies.)
So there are other streaming services besides Netflix, of course–and there’s a very popular one in particular called Hulu, which streams a larger selection of recent television episodes to your computer for free. (However, there are very short commercial breaks during each episode–if you can’t live with that, this isn’t for you.) It can also be streamed directly to certain televisions, or through certain Blu-ray players and game consoles to a TV for a small monthly fee–similar to Netflix. However, one major problem with these types of dedicated devices is this:
Because they are intended to specifically stream shows to a television set (for a more comfortable viewing experience than on a computer,) there is restricted or no access to certain shows–even though you are then paying the extra fee to use the service on such devices. And one of those shows just happens to be: The Simpsons. Unfortunately, that won’t work in this house.
Therefore, the way to get the most out of Hulu (or other free internet services like it) is to connect your television directly to a computer (they’ll never know you’re using a TV monitor instead of a computer monitor.)
By setting it up this way, you can still watch everything through your wonderful television set that you could watch on your computer, and it remains free (so far, anyway.) The other advantage is that computers have access to the entire internet. So if Hulu ceases to exist, or some other, better internet tv service comes along (and there are actually several different services available to choose from already: tv.com, tvland.com, individual network websites, etc) you can easily switch among them without needing to throw out a service-specific device in favor of a new one with the latest and greatest software. See what I’m getting at?
So we needed to find a computer–and for our particular situation, it absolutely had to have an HDMI output since we already had an HDMI cable connected to our TV (and it was already installed with the built-ins above the fireplace for a cordless TV area.) We planned ahead, see?!
(Not really. We used an HDMI cable there because when we were constructing the built-ins, we had an upconverting dvd player setup.)
But I quickly came to realize that, as of yet, it’s next to impossible to find an affordable off-the-shelf computer with an HDMI output (if you don’t already have dedicated wires run behind drywall that need to stay as they do in our situation, it doesn’t HAVE to have an HDMI output–but the TV and computer in question need to have at least one input/output in common. There are all sorts of converters available to make differing connections compatible–but they have an associated cost which may not be worth it. Plus, HDMI just happens to be one of the easiest connection methods since it integrates high quality audio/video into a single cable.)
Conveniently, there are PC’s specifically designed for use with televisions (referred to as HTPC’s or Home Theater Personal Computers) and they almost always do have an HDMI hookup because of their intended use with high def televisions and projectors.
They’re different from average desktop computers in that they are preloaded with less software, but they are, or can be made to be, fully functioning computers. (This was a huge plus for us since I take our only laptop with me when I travel for work in the summer–now Ev will still have access to the internet and email when I’m gone.)
Another benefit of it having less “stuff” installed on it to begin with, is that it keeps the cost down.
So I did a quick search and found one on Ebay for about the same price as a Blu-ray player with Hulu, or for about the same price as 3 months worth of Dish Network service (the bare bones package–which is what we had.)
Still with me? It arrived yesterday so here are some photos just to prove that it works :
And for me… :)
So we now get DSL wireless internet, many of our favorite TV shows (via internet based viewing services, including Hulu) and Netflix movies for a combined total of $48/month.
Any recommendations for other internet-based TV/movie services to try out with our new gadget?
Ev’s first house–his bachelor pad, if you will–had standard, builders grade oak cabinets straight from the 80′s. So when it came time to sell, we wanted to give them an upgrade–especially since they clashed pretty badly with the cherry laminate flooring we had installed a few months before.
It wasn’t a fancy house by any means and since we live in a college town (and because of its size, price point, and location,) it would most likely be bought by some college kids looking for a place to
party sleep while attending school. Therefore, we simply wanted a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to refresh the cabinets–mostly for the purpose of generating interest and to get people inside so that they would, like, buy it and let us move on to our current adventure.
I don’t recall exactly where I learned about Liquid Sandpaper, but it probably had something to do with HGTV. And I figured these cheap cabinets would be a good place to experiment–’cause there’s always paint if it didn’t work! (Oh man, I really didn’t want to have to paint them! Just wanted to be done with it already.)
Well, it did work and I’ve been a believer ever since. Though, if we had it to do over, would I still opt for staining them the exact same cherry tone as the floor? (Ev left the stain color up to me–he’s diplomatic like that.) No. I would stain them a dark mahogany with red undertones–but it doesn’t matter now. What matters is that it works! (As long as you are willing to go either darker or more red).
(Sorry that again I don’t have “before” photos…I searched for one but it was not meant to be. Just imagine very dull oak-grain cabinets that looked faded, tired, and worn. Plus, I’m not even sure they were much more than very thin veneer or even laminate on the sides.)
So if your in that place between not liking your cabinets, and not able (or willing) to shell out the cash for new ones just yet, this a quick, low mess, and inexpensive way to transform your cabinets into something that will make you happier–whether it’s a temporary fix or somehting more long term. And even though I’m more partial to painted cabinets for the long term, I’d do this again in a heartbeat with the right cabinets/right situation/ or if painting was out of the question for whatever reason.
Wanna try it?
- -Liquid Sandpaper (can be purchased at Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc. Cost: about $16 and found near the stain isle in a plastic bottle. We ended up only using about 1/4 of the bottle and there were more cabinets than what’s pictured above.)
-gel stain (because it won’t run and it penetrates better than liquid stain. I recommend General Finishes brand mostly because of the darker color selection, but it’s about $20/can–so Minwax works fine, too)
-rags and a good brush (use a good one so the bristles won’t shed! You can use whichever application you prefer, but sometimes you need a brush to really get the stain into corners.)
Before you begin:
- -If possible, test it in an inconspicious area (for instance, pull out an appliance and try it there) just to be sure you don’t have, say, an inpenetrable top-coat or some other issue going on that would prevent it from working. Plus it’s just a good idea to make sure you’ll be happy with the staining.
-Remove the doors from the cabs, as well as all hardware from the cabs and doors. The door faces are going to be the most important part so it’s better if you do those one at a time on a horizontal work surface. (Hey, I didn’t say it was going to be completely hassle-free!!)
-It’s best to work in sections so that you keep the timing consistent and won’t feel the need to rush before the top coat closes back up.
-It goes without saying, but you’ll want to protect your floors from any spills so lay down some plastic. And if your cabinets touch the ceiling, use painters tape to protect the ceiling.
Once that’s out of the way, be sure to read the directions on the Liquid Sandpaper, but it goes something like this:
- 1) Shake the bottle really well.
2) Wipe it on the cabinets using a rage and let it soak in for at least 15 minutes–though you might want to wait a little longer than that depending on the thickness of the clear coat.
3) Apply your stain.
4) Let dry for several hours. (And yes, there will be some fumes so keep the windows open and/or make arrangements to stay elsewhere for a few hours once you have finished.)
And that’s it–that’s all you need to do if the top coat on your cabinets is still in relatively good shape. (It works by opening up the top coat to allow for the stain to penetrate…and once a couple hours go by, it closes back up and encases the new stain underneath it.)
**Now, if the top coat on your cabs is thin or you just want extra protection, you can get wipe-on polyurethane and apply it with a rag once you’ve let them dry for a couple days. We love wipe-on polyurethane because it’s easy to apply and looks great (you use a rag and literally just rub it on–no application marks, just a smooth finish.)
-And don’t forget new hardware when you’re finished–whether you spray paint the existing stuff, or spring for new ones. (I’ve found overstock.com has a great selection of inexpensive quality hardware, that’s where we got our ORB knobs and cup-pulls for our current kitchen.)
Questions? Ask away.