Archive for the 'How To' Category
I decided to spend some time fixing up Seansense this weekend. I’ve you’re into geeky WordPress website stuff like me, read on! If not, check out one of those other posts.
In addition to fixing broken links and general maintenance, I also thought it would be a good idea to make Seansense 100% iPhone and iPad compatible. Previously the site was a bit of a mess when viewed on an iPhone, with broken Flash video all over the place and formatting issues everywhere. I fixed all this by playing with CSS style sheets and HTML5 video. Keep reading after the break to learn more.No comments
My cable company recently raised their rates. Suddenly the variety of services they’d managed to sell us was costing almost $150/month! Sure, that got us a lot (digital high-definition (HD) cable with HD digital video recorder (DVR), high-speed internet, and telephone) but $1800/year is an outrageous amount of money to be forking over. In the name of frugality, we decided to take a good hard look at what services we actually use and cut out what we didn’t. Here’s our requirements:
- DVR – We really enjoy being able to watch TV on our schedule, not the networks’.
- “Basic Cable” – All those extra channels occasionally had interesting programs, but we seldom watched them.
- Netflix Watch Instantly – This is a great way to catch up on older shows and movies without waiting for DVDs in the mail. We actually purchased the $99 Roku Netflix Player and loved it, but it would be nice not to have the extra box in the TV stand.
- Internet TV – There are a bunch of ways to watch stuff online, including Hulu (which is great if you don’t mind short commercials), Youtube, podcasts, etc. (I’m sure astute readers can think of some other good ways that I won’t mention here.)
So here we have $150/mo. and $99 invested to watch TV with no quick way to watch the last category. So what to do? There are a variety of “Media Extender” solutions out there (IE Apple TV), but they don’t meet all of our requirements. In order to do all this stuff, we need an all-out Media Center PC with TV tuner card. While I do like Apple products, part of the goal here is “cheap”. A decent refurbished Mac Mini costs $500, which is too much for this project. Plus in order to watch Netflix Instant programming you need Windows. This means Windows Media Center.
So here’s the goal: Build a Windows Media Center PC that will pay for itself in less than a year. By canceling unnecessary cable services and returning the Roku Netflix player, we’ll have saved $579 in that time. If we come in under this goal, that’s money in our pockets. So did we do it? Hells yes! Here’s how:
- Computer – Dell Inspiron 530s. This is Dell’s “economy” model in a slim case that’s perfect for our TV stand. By going to the Dell Outlet and using a 15% off coupon, we managed to snag a refurbished model for $289 (+$44 for tax/shipping) that included Windows Vista Home Premium SP1, an Intel Pentium Dual-Core E2200 (2.2 GHz) processor, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard-drive, and a DVD burner. This same system would have cost $579 new.
- TV Tuner – AverMedia AverTV Combo PCI-E. This is a low-profile PCI-Express 1x TV tuner that fits in the Inspiron 530s’ slim case. It it capable of receiving analog cable/TV as well as ATSC (over-the-air) and QAM (cable) HDTV. It includes a nice IR receiver and remote that has buttons for all of Windows Media Center’s primary functions. I paid $94.99 with free shipping on Amazon. (Note that the card has TWO cable inputs, and if you want to receive both analog and QAM cable you’ll need a splitter to hook up both.)
- Wireless Keyboard/Mouse – Adesso 2.4 GHz RF Wireless Mini Keyboard with Optical Trackball. Finding a keyboard and mouse that works well from the sofa isn’t easy, but this Adesso model is awesome. The ergonomics are perfect for holding it in your lap, and I love the layout of the trackball, scroll wheel, and buttons. Once you grab hold it makes perfect sense. Also nice is that wireless reception is excellent even with the receiver plugged into the back of the computer. I paid $64.24 with free shipping on Amazon.
So there you have it! $333 + $94.99 + $64.24 = $492.23, well under the $579 budget. We also used some Amazon gift cards on the keyboard and TV tuner, which brought our out-of-pocket cost down quite a bit. Of course there were some extras, like an DVI to VGA cable, 3.5mm audio cable, and Cable TV splitter, but I had this stuff already.
So what does all of this allow us to do? Everything we’d hoped for! Windows Vista Media Center with the TV Pack works like a champ. For a Microsoft product, the software is intuitive, full-featured, and easy to use. It has a built-in cable guide with search, great DVR functionality, and the network HD channels look great. I also installed MyNetflix, which is a really nice plugin for Windows Media Center that does everything the Roku box did and more. We can also surf the web and play PC games from the comfort of our sofa. I’m quite pleased with the setup; it’s better than what we previously had and our monthly expenditures have dropped. What more can you ask for?
So maybe all this isn’t ultra-frugal. It’s a bit like saving money by buying caviar in bulk. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and we are saving some money, especially if this setup works well for a few years. So grab yer popcorn and head on over to my place for some “frugal” TV bliss!No comments
As you may have noticed, I’ve made a few videos with my Sony DCR-HC48 camcorder. This model is a middle of the road Standard-Definition (SD) unit that records to Mini-DV tapes. I chose this model because the High-Definition (HD) versions are pricey, and at the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a huge investment in videography. After spending some time with it, I can safely say that the little Sony is a perfectly good camcorder, but I’ve been completely spoiled by watching HD movies and TV. Although the videos look decent at the resolution shown on this site (500 x 281), they look blurry and pixelated on an HDTV or full-screen on a computer monitor. Video can convey a lot more information than a still photo, but (to me) a good photo from a nice digital camera still has a lot more visual impact than an SD video clip.
So photography wins? No way! I really enjoy videography; it adds new dimensions to all the things I like about photography. Add that to the fact that latest HD camcorders produce stunning footage at resolutions higher than a typical computer monitor (1920 x 1080), and videography in HD starts to become pretty darned compelling.
But making the leap to filming in HD raises a lot of big questions. So what’s involved? Here’s what I’ve found out.6 comments