Cord Cutting Part 3: The Hardware – Get Up And Running for Less Than The Cost of 1 Year of Cable

You’ve read Part 1, on the economics of cord cutting (if not, what are you waiting for?!), and certainly you’ve read Part 2 on getting LiveTV (if not WTF?!), well we figured it was about time for Part 3 on the hardware, after all we here at HTPC are all about helping our dear readers cut the cord.  Why? Well for one, we’re all about freedom – the freedom to consume your media how you wish, when you wish, wherever you wish.  Second, cable’s expensive!  Recall our article at an assumed $100/mo, you are paying $1,200 per year for the privilege of watching only a handful of the channels you are paying for.  In that spirit, we offer Part 3 of our Cord Cutting expose.  So let’s dive right in…

Our requirements are:

  1. Media server capable of supporting simultaneous viewing to more than one client
  2. Mobile support for mobile viewing
  3. Support to at least 2 TVs in your home
  4. Cost breakeven vs cable (assuming $100/mo) is less than one year.

In addition to those basic requirements, nice-to-haves are:

  1. Automated backup of media
  2. Easy remote access to media server for remote management
  3. Compatibility with multiple operating systems
  4. Ability to easily share your media with others

Now dear readers, the caveats:

  1. There is no one solution, there are multiple permutations of both hardware and software that can fulfill the goals outlined in this article
  2. We are not claiming this is the ‘best’ or ‘cheapest’ solution, but one we think is pretty damn good.  Its a killer setup day one out of the box, and easily upgradable.
  3. We are not being paid by any hardware or software provider for this ‘endorsement’

And with that dear reader, we are off….the first and most important part of any home media center setup is the media server – the brains of the operation.  The two 800-lb gorillas are XBMC and Plex.  The staff here at TotalHTPC is split here, almost down the middle.  However, for purposes of this article, we are going to go with Plex for one very simple reason – the Plex Media Server is a standalone media server application that supports a single centralized media library without any user customization required out-of-the-box.  Yes, XBMC can support a centralized library supporting multiple clients, but it requires the user to be familiar with SQL, and isn’t out-of-the-box functionality.  The addition of its myPlex service adds automated remote access and sharing further extends the reach of your media content.

The second most important part of the server setup is hardware.  It must be able to:

  1. Powerful enough to server media to multiple clients
  2. Powerful to transcode media on the fly if client is unable to play native file
  3. Be easily upgradable

For that, we are recommending the Synology DS712+$499 along with 2 Seagate Barracuda Green ST1500DL003 1.5TB 5900 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive $200.  Plex has released its Plex Media Server package for Intel-based Synology NAS devices, which provides all the features and functionality of the Windows and Mac-based PMS software.  The use of the NAS as the server eliminates the need for a dedicated HTPC and separate storage, and integrates RAID1 backup redundancy all in a very small package.  Add on top of it Synology’s tremendous DSM software which includes free CloudStation, easty to setup remote access, iTunes server support and a bevy of other terrific features, and its a terrific route to go for one’s media server.  While we would suggest utilizing Synology’s superb hybrid RAID technology, gaining 1.2 terabytes of fully redunandant, plug-and-play storage, users can opt to maxmize the storage capacity of the two drives and get not quite 3 terabytes of storage with this setup (given the space requirements of the Synology DSM software).  We opted to go with 1.5 terabyte drives given our inability to find new, non-refurbished 1TB drives for any less than these.  The downside of going with a NAS as the server is the inability to directly connect it to a TV, but a solution for that next.

Synology DS712+ NAS, a killer media server as well

Now that we’ve set up our server we need to consume our media.  With the recent release of the PlexBeta channel for Roku players, at $50 each, the 2 Roku 2 LTs  for $98 connected by 2 10Ft HDMI Cord $10 (actually $4.81 per if ordering 2 or more) will fully connect all that Plex goodness to your big screen TVs.  Add the Plex app for iOS or Anroid $5 for what we are assuming is your already-owned Apple or Android mobile device and you’ve got three screens on which to consume your media, including on the go.  Add an over-the-air Antenna for live HD TV at  $50 – $150 and you’ve pretty much covered your bases.

Total Cost : $970(rounding up) and assuming 8% sales tax, $1048.  Break even vs $100/mo cable bill, 10.5months ($1048 / $1200 *12).

So there you have it.  A totally aweseome, fully upgradable, easily remotely accessible home media center setup for less than the cost of one year of cable.

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