I have posted previously about how we use the internet to watch shows for free. Recently I've been adding polish to that setup by setting up a computer in the living room with MythTV. The computer hooks up to the TV, can be controlled with a Wiimote and is completely free.
What Do We Watch?
The longer term goal is to get all of our home videos and photos easily accessible. We want our kids favorite movies to be our family movies, which means it needs to be as easy to start "Our Family at the Beach, 2005" as it does Finding Nemo.
We only have a couple of our home videos ripped from VHS so far, but we'll be doing more shortly.
We use Miro to subscribe to video podcasts we are interested in. Although they are called a subscriptions, they are all free. Miro has over 2,500 channels covering almost any subject.
If you've looked at video podcasts in the past, you might want to look again. It's not just independent content anymore. We subscribe to shows from Nick Jr., Seasame Street, CNN and PBS to name a few.
All of these shows are automatically downloaded when there are updates, and we can pick which videos to watch when we choose. While Miro doesn't have all the mainstream shows your local cable provider does, Miro does have the advantages of being free, allowing us to choose exactly which programs to subscribe to and allowing us to watch them on our schedule.
I'll post the full list of shows we subscribe to in a comment.
Most TV companies have already realized that people want to watch shows online. While most won't let you download their shows, nearly all of the popular networks have some way streaming their shows to your computer.
Hulu.com is probably the best known location for watching commercial TV online ondemand. They typically have the last two weeks of a show available for your viewing pleasure. While owned by NBS and News Corp, they carry shows from "
Hulu carries shows from other networks such as Comedy Central, PBS, USA Network, Bravo, Fuel TV, FX, SPEED Channel, Sci Fi, Style, Sundance, E!, G4, Versus and Oxygen." (according to Wikipedia). The Simpsons, House, Psych, The Office...yeah, they're all there.
Cartoon Network's site is less refined, but still usable. We use it to get Powerpuff girls, Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory.
Both Hulu's and Cartoon Network's sites allow you to make the video player fullscreen. Remember that this is being played on our TV (through the computer). Once we start the show, it's almost exactly the same as watching regular TV...except that there aren't as many ads.
More Features of MythTV
MythTV has some other neat features. It's got a dedicated weather 'channel' where we can see the 1, 3 and 7 day forcasts for our area. A decent built in jukebox with visual effects for playing music, and an image gallery / slideshow program for viewing family photos.
There are lots of other plugins available (Net Phone, TV recording, Recipe manager, Games, more...) which we don't use, but which you might be interested in.
Getting MythTV up and running smoothly has cost us about $150 so far. Our wireless wasn't fast enough to play the videos, so that required a network upgrade. I wanted to be able to use the Wiimote to control MythTV so we needed a Bluetooth adapter, and the machine doesn't have enough RAM to play high-def videos smoothly (it only had 384M of RAM).
The computer we used was one that we acquired two or three years ago and were using as our 2 year old's kid-computer. He still gets to use it, but now his screen is the TV. Before I ordered the extra parts, I set up MythTV and ran some tests to make sure that the system would be capable of doing the things we wanted it to.
The $150 or so that we spent getting MythTV set up will quickly be recouped compared to the alternative of Cable TV. It will be even more quickly recouped when compared to a full out commercial media center that can do slideshows, be a jukebox etc.
MythTV takes a bit of tinkering to get set up correctly, but if you have the skills and the time, it can be a financially good decision, and a fun one too.