One box to rule them all?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by magillagorilla, Nov 4, 2010.

  1. magillagorilla macrumors member

    Feb 18, 2008
    My frustration with DirecTV’s failure to add AMC HD has really come to a head with the Walking Dead. While I am an avid SundayTicket watcher (and will have DTV service Sept-December as long as they control that service), seriously considering cutting the cord for the remaining eight months of the year. I can’t believe that I’m paying this much $$ to DTV and still can’t watch the few cable shows that I want to watch (Mad Men, Rubicon, and now WD) in HD.

    Leaving aside the 4 months that I will activate DTV and leaving Sunday Ticket out of the equation, I’m paying aproximatley $67/month to DTV for my basic package, added HD channels, and DVR functionality. That roughs out to $531 a year in savings if I suspend DTV for 8 months of the year.

    We have a 60” plasma, can definitely see the difference between 1080p and 720p on the set at our seating distance (9’), live in an area where all of the locals broadcast well in HD, and the majority of our viewing consists of network shows that we receive OTA and record via our DTV DVR (we probably watch a total of 7 OTA shows and 3 shows that are only available via DTV). We also watch aproximatley 3 more shows available through DTV and would like to watch the 3 additional AMC shows noted above in HD. Wife and kids are not tech savvy, meaning that we would likely need any replacement box to access all of our content (OTA, streams, online rentals, etc.) through a single, easy to use interface. Given our appreciation for 1080p and the fact that most of what we watch comes in OTA, an OTA DVR is preferred. Just discontinued my Netflix service, as there is a redbox kiosk a couple of blocks from my house and we’re getting our blueray releases from redbox moving forward. Open to renting/streaming shows from Itunes or Amazon if that makes the most sense from a PQ/$ perspective.

    The question is how best to replicate our viewing experience (all content routed through a single box) with the $531 in play (or a little more) and access AMC HD. I’ve done some basic reading and I’m looking for some advice on available options. Getting the feeling that my hope (a single box that does most things well) isn’t quite there.

    Mac Mini + eyetv:

    Pros: Potential single interface that will do everything that I’m asking, including DVR functionality and access to online media not available through the other options without having to incur additional fees (Hulu).

    Cons: Cost of a decently configured system and eyetv appears likely to exceed my budget ($700+?). Seems to do everything OK but nothing great. Somewhat of a hodgepodge interface that appears to give wives/kids headaches. Will require a fair amount of setup and maintenance.

    Conclusion: Possible replacement but seems unlikely do to cost/hassle factor


    Pros: Cheap, simple box ($99) and UI, will stream 720p fairly easily, great UI that will work for both the wife and kids, ability to rent just about everything that we currently watch OTA via Itunes, cheaper rentals, ability to watch AMC HD shows, roughs out to within budget ($99 for the unit plus another $250 in season passes – see below).

    Cons: No direct access to OTA shows through the UI, no ability to record OTA through a DVR, increased cost for rentals (meaning that I will have to purchase season passes for the 7 shows we now watch OTA), which I’m roughing out to aproximatley $250/season. No current ability to view 1080p content.

    Conclusion: Possible replacement, especially if there is some type of hack that will either allow DVR functionality and/or 1080p playback (that would make it a slam dunk).


    Pros: Will allow us to access streamed content, a combined interface.

    Cons: More expensive box ($200+), no current DVR function, increased cost for rentals instead of OTA recordings, 1080p playback.

    Conclusion: Initial reaction is that it doesn’t seem geared towards my situation right now (a little harder to deal with the APTV2), so probably a no-go for the time being unless there is an integrated DVR function on the horizon (which seems doubtful).

    Tivo Premiere:

    Pros: Great UI that will definitely work for the family, DVR functionality for OTA recordings, cost seems within budget ($165-200 for the entry-level unit + $300 for lifetime subscription).

    Cons: Not entirely clear on how easy/cheap it is to rent shows through amazon, especially compared to Itunes' seamless experience.

    In a fight between the APTV2 and the Tivo, leaning slightly towards the Tivo due to 1080p and OTA/DVR functionality. Any thoughts/comments, especially about the ability/quality of the HD show rentals via Itunes and Amazon and how they compare on the Tivo/APTV2?

  2. spice weasel macrumors 65816

    Jul 25, 2003
    In my opinion, when cutting out a cable or satellite provider, you can't really think about it in terms of replacing that service completely. Instead, you need to think about it in terms of what you really want, things you might like to have but aren't necessary, and then things you don't care about much at all. This will help you decide on whether cutting your subscription is a viable option.

    If having DVR functionality is important to you, then you are going to have to either get a TiVo or an EyeTV or something similar. However, depending on what shows you like to watch, you might be able to get away with Hulu, or with using the CBS web player, etc. In that case, then maybe a Mac mini or an old laptop connected to your TV will suffice as your DVR of sorts (let someone else store the shows for you). This is what I do.

    You might also want to rethink canceling your Netflix subscription, since their library of streaming video has gotten much better as of late and they now stream in "HD" with 5.1 audio on supported devices. I know it works on the PS3, which is what I tend to use. It's not Blu-ray by any means, but I think it looks really good. I'm not all that picky though. But if you aren't into Netflix streaming, then Redbox for discs is certainly just as good.

    The last thing I'll add is that you might very well find that your viewing habits change when you cut the cord. It's what happened with me. I never watched that much television to begin with, but quickly found that I watch even less now that I cut my Comcast subscription. Because I watch less, I don't mind going back to the old way of actually watching some shows live. Gasp! But if I miss them, I just watch them on Hulu the next day, using a MacBook Pro connected to my LCD screen. I use my PS3 for Blu-rays from Netflix and for streaming, and my Apple TV for Netflix streaming and for streaming my media collection from my iMac to my screen and my receiver (I mostly use my Apple TV for music).

    Just my two cents. If you are really into your programming, then your needs are likely going to be very different than mine.
  3. From A Buick 8 macrumors 68040

    From A Buick 8

    Sep 16, 2010
    Ky Close to CinCinnati
    I think your biggest hold up is the same as mine, the wife and kids and comming up with something that can can use easily. If it was just me i would go with a mac Mini, PLEX, eyeTV and be done with it.

    What computer do you have now. I have an EYETV that i am using on the iMac and that work very well as a DVR, it can export the recorded programs to iTunes and then we have access to them from our ATV. Work s very nice.

    The ATV and all of the DVD movie/TV shows that i have ripped and moved into iTunes, plus netflix, and the EYETV DVR material and we have a system that is easy to use and give everyone enough material to watch.
  4. magillagorilla thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 18, 2008
    Thanks for the replies.

    We have a Mac Pro tower that we use as our primary computer, so eyetv streaming out to APT is definitely an option that I'll look into further. Unclear on how that compares in terms of usability with a "normal" DVR like Tivo.

    Yes, the biggest issue is UI usability for the wife and kids. Needs to be integrated, needs to be simple, and just needs to work without explanation (otherwise I'd be going with a mini and plex as well).
  5. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    I think the only solution to cover all of your requirements is Windows Media Center. $531 is a little tight, but possible.

    Basically this:
    Inexpensive PC with Windows 7 Home Premium or better.
    Install iTunes.
    Add an ATSC tuner.

    This will result in a 1080p-capable OTA DVR with unlimited space (add hard drives as needed), support for of your feature requests, all in a single interface.

    AMC HD would have to be solved in one of two (legal) ways: purchase/rent on iTunes/Redbox/Amazon/Netflix/etc., or add a cablecard (assuming you can get AMC HD over cable in your area).
  6. Tilpots macrumors 601


    Apr 19, 2006
    Carolina Beach, NC
    Mac Mini+EyeTV+Plex. Get a late 2009 Mini to save some cash. The set up requires some effort and the wife and kid will need some time to get used to it. Just the way it is. It's new and different, but it's well worth the savings. And for the NFL, DirecTV just offered the NFL online with a year's pass for like $350 or so. You don't need to be a DTV subscriber to sign up. Good Luck.
  7. hoopster macrumors member

    Apr 17, 2010
    One big flaw with your plan you can't just cancel and start your service when ever you want you have to sign a new 2 year contract every time you start your service and then pay a early cancellation fee of up to somewhere around 300 bucks IIRC if you cancel your service within the 2 years.
  8. magillagorilla thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 18, 2008
    Not exactly. I'm well outside of my contract with DTV and, yes, you can suspend your service with DTV and restart it at a later time without penalty.
  9. From A Buick 8 macrumors 68040

    From A Buick 8

    Sep 16, 2010
    Ky Close to CinCinnati
    Well the ATV has passed the Wife and kid test hands down, they all love it and find it very intuitive to use. I have the the EyeTV hybrid and it works well as a DVR. You use the guide and just tick off the shows you want to record. Like i had said before you can set it up so it will export to iTunes when the show is done so that you can easily watch it with the ATV.

    If you want to use it with basic cable or OTA with an antenna then it works very well, if you want to use it with a cable box or a direct TV box then you will need the EyeTV HD.

    I have a gateway laptop with windows 7 and run windows media center, that can be a nice setup but it turned out to be need more attention then the wife was willing to give it.
  10. newagemac macrumors 68020

    Mar 31, 2010
    If you're willing to wait until midnight eastern time to watch NFL games, the NFL gives you access to the whole current season plus the previous seasons for $49. Halfway through the season they drop that price in half. I signed up last week for $24.99. Quality is good enough and the commercials are stripped out so you can get through the games quicker.
  11. magillagorilla thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 18, 2008
    Thanks for all the responses and providing plenty for me to mull over this weekend.

    Three more questions:

    1. HD rentals in the mini: Is it correct that I won't be able to rent HD shows/movies on the mini (via Itunes at least)? If so, that might cross it off the list.

    2. What is the approximate PQ of streaming Hulu via the mini? Less than 720p?

    3. Is there a pricing differential between shows/movies purchased in Itunes on AplTV and the mini (not discounting for the pricing difference between SD/HD on the same piece of content)?
  12. bohbot16 macrumors 6502a


    Mar 22, 2009
    The TiVo is great as far as DVR ease-of-use goes. Renting from Amazon using the TiVo is OK, but isn't as good of an interface as iTunes on the Apple TV. Sometimes there's a lag of 5-10 minutes between when you pay for an Amazon purchase/rental and when the download begins on the TiVo vs the instant start on the Apple TV. Amazon uses progressive downloads on the Tivo just like Apple does on the Apple TV. I can't tell any difference between the picture quality of the purchases/rentals between the two.
  13. magillagorilla thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 18, 2008
    Yes, beginning to think that I might just go with a cheap Tivo premier box for OTA and a cheap appletv for AMC HD rentals to hold us over for a few years until product maturity brings about the inevitable winner in this race. An APTV2 with an OTA tuner, a good PVR interface, and some disk space would have it for me.

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