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I Want My [Somewhat Free] MTV

February 19, 2011

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?)

(More on this in a future post...)

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:,, 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 :

This wireless keyboard/mouse is about the size of a normal TV remote...

For Ev…(he giggled like a little girl when I got it working)

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?

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