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Saving with a Home Media Server

IT Simplified

Saving with a Home Media Server

Canadians are being strangled by the ‘big 3’ telecommunications giants through price gouging. North America is facing the largest technological shift in the modern digital age. Consumer Electronics and home technology in general, have become far cheaper than ever. Contrasted strongly with the rising costs of services to your home, especially TV, internet and phone services. It’s a widely known fact that Canada pays some of the highest prices in the world for broadband home internet, particularly for what you get for that price. We ranked 25th out of 30 countries ranked by Harvard University in 2009, and 20th for speed.

This is my suggestion on how we can save our hard earned money, from the black hole of the big 3:

  • Build or buy a home media server (HMS)
  • Cancel, or minimize cable tv subscription (Cord cutting)
  • Digitize our homes through online media services such as Netflix and live streaming

‘Cord cutting’ is a newer buzz word that has terrified the large cable and internet service providers as it’s now become a trend as evidenced by the 2 million pay-tv subscription cancellations during 2013. 2013 was the first year in cable-TV’s history that there have been more subscription cancellations than enrollment.

People are continually looking for ways to save money and be efficient as our society is busier than ever. Traditional cable television’s inefficiency has been minimized by the introduction of DVR/PVR technology. For a cost, you can own or rent these digital cable recording boxes and record your favorite TV and movies as broadcasted by your provider. Although it’s an effective method to fit time constraints of your lifestyle, it comes with a high, now unnecessary cost. Furthermore, when you watch your pre-recorded shows, you’re still stuck watching the commercials, or try and fast-forward through them; another unnecessary inconvenience. When cable television and the cost of equipment can easily be in the $60-$150 a month range, more families are looking to alternatives and cord cutting.

How to Save Your Money

Let’s say you have an average cable subscription of $75 a month, that’s $900 a year before tax. Never mind the cable ‘box’ rental which is usually around $20 a month on top of that. You’re quickly up to over $1000 a year on a cable service! Now let’s say you have a computer at home that you could use as a ‘server’.

You install some free software on it, like Plex Media Server (Free!). You can now store all your DVD/Blu-Ray and other media on that one machine and feed it to any devices you have. Free of charge other than what you’re already spending for your internet service. Regardless of how you’re obtaining new media, which isn’t the topic of this post…

Even if you had to spend $500 to build or buy a computer for this purpose, it’s paid for itself in a very short period of time. You’ll also enjoy skipping commercials, watching only what you want to watch WHEN you want to watch it. With a home media server and a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, even Amazon, you don’t need cable.

How Home Media Servers and Media Players Simplify your life.

If you’re looking for something simpler, maybe an Android streaming box would serve your needs!

Now that you see the financial advantages of cord cutting, you should understand the features you will gain. If you had cable service you probably had a DVR. Maybe even a newer ‘Whole Home DVR’. This device lets you record a show, start watching it, pause and then go to a different TV/room and pick up where you left off. So long as you have the associated cable box to play too. These usually cost at least  $30/month to rent from a large provider like Cogeco. If you’re running a home media server (HMS), it provides that functionality automatically for free. This is built into the free software that would run on a typical HMS.

Advantages of running an HMS:

  • Show tracking, it will keep track of all your TV shows & Movies automatically. You can also stop watching half-way through and pick up later at the exact spot you left off.
  • Once configured, it automatically downloads your favorite TV shows, movies and other media with no user interaction. It’s like having an automated PVR!
  • Centralized backup & file storage location on a safer system. Any HMS should be running a Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID). This ensures the safety of your data since multiple hard drives can fail and no data will be lost.
  • Remote access to your home network when you’re away from home.

There are more advantages and uses, depending on what your needs are. Here’s a screenshot of a modern free home media server. It depicts how simplistic and graphical the interface is. Fairly easy to use and implement.

In all fairness, to implement a home media server and digitize the way you do entertainment in the home does take some knowledge. It’s far easier now than ever before with a plethora of information on the internet on how to do any part of the process. The work involved and time to invest can seem daunting to the uninitiated at first and would flow in this pattern:

  • Build/buy a computer to use as a server. Or repurpose an existing computer
  • Determine which Operating System to run (Windows, Linux, Mac OHS?)
  • Determine how you will connect everything and how you will play your media? (Smart TVs, WiFi, Powerline, Run CAT cable, Roku, Amazon Fire TV etc…)
  • Research how you will obtain media (Pay for private site access, torrents, newsgroups etc…)
  • Do the work to get it all up and running!

Again a simplistic look at what takes multiple steps and anywhere from four to twelve hours of work. Knowledge is the key factor that has limited people’s jump to the digital home. You would have to possess a medium knowledge of technology to implement this setup by knowing how to install and configure home routers for wired or wireless, build computers with advanced storage options and/or network attached storage devices, run ethernet (CAT5E or CAT6) cable or power line network adapters plus install and configure all associated software. It sounds terrifying to people who don’t know what a ‘server’ really is but in all reality it’s far easier than you would expect. With some time and Google, you can do it! If you don’t want too or care too, I can do it for you as well!

News and big cable providers say if everyone cancels cable TV subscriptions, there will be no more TV shows produced to watch. I point to Netflix as an example, they are producing their own series now, which have won awards such as multiple Emmy awards and Golden Globe nominations. The big 3 telecoms in Canada and other cable companies need to adapt, change and overcome their own legacy doctrine and stream.

Modernization and knowledge will be our savior.

In the end, you will gain knowledge, learn and grow as a person, save thousands of dollars over the years you’ll enjoy your new digital setup, and be the envy of your family, co-workers, and friends as you dazzle them with your mastery of digital media.

My next blog post will focus on what software I run on my own HMS that allows me to have a completely automated experience! My server searches, downloads, sorts & stores and then streams my TV shows and movies anywhere I need. I could even stream it to friends and family over the internet! For. FREE.

In the meantime, if you want to know more, leave a note or get in touch!

 

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