Saving Money with Media Center
Building a home theater PC definitely brings with it some up-front costs, but depending on the content that you watch it can also be used to help save you money in the long-run. Whether you watch broadcast television, movies, kids shows, or even sports, they are all accessible through a Windows Media Center computer for free or for a very low cost.
Recording television, and providing an extremely simple to use, but still very powerful, user interface, is perhaps Windows Media Center’s strongest feature. With an ATSC television tuner card for your PC you can watch and record live television for free simply by plugging it into an antennae. If you don’t live in an area that receives clear reception from the television towers, then you may also be able to subscribe to your local cable provider’s cheapest cable TV package and get the same channels you would Over the Air (OTA) using a technology called ClearQAM. Fortunately most TV tuners cards that are capable of receiving ATSC signals can also accept ClearQAM signals. If going the ClearQAM cable route you’ll want to check with your cable provider to verify what channels are available to you. Two excellent choices for TV tuner cards are the Avermedia Duet and SiliconDust HD HomeRun. The Duet is an internal PCI-Express card that can record two shows at a time. The HD HomeRun is an external device that connects to your computer through your network. You simply plug it into your network router. It is also a dual tuner, meaning that it can record two things at once. Both are capable of ATSC and ClearQAM.
More Television and Movies
If you’re looking for even more television content, including some cable television shows, you might be able to find them on Hulu.com. If so, you have a couple of options for watching Hulu easily from your couch through your Windows Media Center PC. The first option is to install Hulu Desktop. Once that is installed you can install Hulu Desktop Windows 7 Media Center Integration 2.0 to make accessing Hulu from within Media Center one simple click!
Another fantastic option for watching movies and television shows is Netflix Instant Streaming. A Netflix subscription that provides unlimited streaming is currently only $8 per month, and it provides a very large catalog of movies, television shows, documentaries, and a gigantic collection of content suitable for children! Netflix is also built right into Windows 7 Media Center, and it provides one of the nicest, most full-featured, interfaces for accessing Netflix that you’ll find on any device.
Sports is one area that used to be almost completely unavailable via online streaming services, but even that has changed recently. ESPN3 provides coverage of many college football and basketball games as well as other sports. If you’re into motorsports, SPEED2 has coverage of many of the most popular European racing series. Unfortunately SPEED2 is currently only available to Time Warner and Bright House cable subscribers. While neither of these services on their own can be directly accessed from the Media Center interface, you can install Kylo to access them. Kylo is a free web browser built specifically for accessing streaming content from a Home Theater PC.
So while it’s still not possible to freely watch everything that is on premium cable via online streaming, the quantity of content that is available is growing by leaps and bounds.