Try Out Cord Cutting – Before Cutting The Cord

When talking to people about cutting the cord, the two biggest reasons I hear cited as to why one won’t give it a shot are:

  1. Its too big an adjustment for my family
  2. Cable is just easy.

Fair enough dear readers, fair enough.  In the spirit of helping put more of your hard earned dollars back in your pocket, we respectfully present to you a surefire guide to testing out cord cutting without the risk.

Step 1 – Determine hardware requirements

This is an essential step that will ultimately determine the cost for you to truly cut the cord.  At its core, you need three things: 1) a Mac or PC, 2) storage space and 3) if you want live TV, an over-the-air HD Antenna.  For this guide, we are going to leave out #3, simply because a) all this gets you is live TV and b) other than weekend sports, fewer and fewer people actually watch live TV, opting instead for time shifting content through their DVRs.

For the ‘best’ experience, you need a Mac or PC with at least  a Core 2 Duo 2.4ghz CPU, with ideally 2 Megs of RAM.  You can identify this on your PC by clicking on your Start menu button, the right clicking on “Computer”, and selecting Properties.  For a Mac, simply click on the Apple logo on the top left corner of your screen, and select About This Mac.  Assuming your Mac or PC is no more than 3 years old, you already have the horsepower in your home to enable a fully automated home media experience…pat yourself on the back.  If not, consider purchasing a cheap Dell or HP computer with the proper specs, or a base Mac Mini.  But in all likelihood, most of you out their won’t have to purchase anything.

In addition, to have on demand all the glorious movies and TV shows you want at your fingertips, you’re going to need some sort of storage.  Again, most of you out there have some sort of USB external hard drive, hopefully being used to back up your family pictures or movies, or for other backup purchases.  Ideally, I’d recommend at least 3 TBs of storage.  This is more than enough for movies, TV shows, your music, pictures, etc.  Such an external hard drive will cost you $150 or less from Amazon or NewEgg.  But for this guide, assuming you either a) already have an external hard drive with some space or b) your Mac/PC’s internal hard drive has unused space, and given you are just trying this out, in all likelihood most of you out there shouldn’t have to purchase more storage space at this time.

Step 2 – Setup

So now you’ve got the hardware, and the storage all ready to go (you likely have all along), now setup.  First you need to chose an application to server up all this glory.  Here at HTPC we’ve written extensively on both XBMC and Plex, for this guide, we’re going to use Plex for reasons that will become apparent later.

1.  Create a folder on your designated storage location (this is either the Mac/PC hard drive or the external hard drive) and create a folder called “TV Shows”.  This is where you will store all those TV shows – both network and cable – that you are currently paying so much for.

2.  Head on over to Plex and download the Plex Media Server, either for Windows or your Mac.  Follow the installation instructions, skipping all sections except for when Plex asks you to setup your TV Shows library, when it does, point the library (following the instructions), to the folder created in 1. above.

This is what you will be welcomed with after installing your Plex Media Server for the first time.  Add a TV Shows section.

3.  Sign up for myPlex.  This is part of the Plex Media Server setup, and it enables you to watch your media on the go, on Android, iOS and a number of other mobile devices.  The mobile apps that connect to myPlex typically cost around $5.  Once you are done signing up for myPlex, you will be asked to sign your Plex Media Server into your myPlex account.

4.  Set up your free, easy to use internet-based DVR in under 10 minutes.  Fortunately we’ve already written than guide, you can find it here.  It’s a pretty good read (although I’m biased).  You can also follow our guide on using Usenet groups, although that will cost some cabbage, around $10/month.  You can find that guide here, but give our focus on ‘risk free’ that’s for another time.

Step 3 – Playback

So here’s the tricky part, because admittedly, this may eliminate the ‘risk free’ part of this guide.  If you already own:

  • A Roku box
  • A Samsung TV on this list
  • An LG TV with Media Link functionality
  • A piece of hardware that supports DNLA (like a blu-ray player, TV, XBOX, Playstation)
…then you already have the hardware in-house to watch all that glorious media – for free.  For the Roku, simply add the Plex channel, log into myPlex and you will automatically see your Plex Media Server on your Roku.  If you have one of the listed Samsung TVs, go to the App Store on your TV and add Plex and you too will see your downloaded TV Shows.  LG TVs with Media Link already have the Plex interface built in.  If you have hardware that supports DNLA, the Plex Media Server has a DNLA server built in, so going into your DNLA player on your XBOX or Playstation for example, you’ll see your Plex media there too.  On the other hand if you have:
  • An Apple TV (and an iOS device of any kind)
  • A Google TV Device

you’ll have to spend $5 to purchase either the iOS or Andoid app to view your content.  With the AppleTV setup, simply use Airplay to sling your media from your iOS Plex app to your AppleTV.

Step 4 – Enjoy

Once you have this setup, give it a try, and if you are so bold, unplug your cable box for a couple days.  The setup can be enhanced with a Netflix streaming-only account ($8/mo).  Want live TV, follow our guide by adding an OTA HD antenna.  My house is going on three years without cable, and my family doesn’t miss it at all.  Plus its pretty sweet saving the roughly $1,200 per year, especially around this time of the year.

So give it a try, and let us know how it goes.  Happy cutting…

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