Auto Skip Commercials

This weekend, was one of the first weekends in a long ass time that I’ve had to actually sit down, watch some tv and just be lazy. Since the wife goes to be fairly early I tend to sit on the computer and puts, and well I was catching up on some RSS feeds I came across this post: Skipping Commercials with Media Center and right away I knew it was something I had to try myself.

So I spent the remainder of the evening (Friday Night) downloading, installing and testing out this feature within my HTPC running Windows Media Center 2005. I followed the wiki: Found HERE and in no time at all I had this up and running.

Once the app was installed, and up and running correctly, I was in love! No more using the remote to fast forward for each commercial, no more rewinding if the 30 second skip went too far into the show, just plain no more holding onto the remote during the tv show. I can now just hit play, set the remote down and NOT have to touch it for the remainder of the tv show.

So for anyone using Windows MCE I highly recommend checking out this app, yes ShowAnalyer does cost some money, but after seeing what auto skip can do, I’d gladly pay for it again without blinking and eye. Now if only my Comcast HD DVR could do the same thing I’d really be in heaven then.

enjoy!

– Josh

can Internet/Broadband replace cable/Sat. TV?

How many of you out there pay a metric crap ton on your cable tv or Sat. tv service? Currently just for the tv side of my Comcast bill I pay roughly $97/month. I have no movie channels, no extra sports packages (which sucks because thats where they have the speed channel) don’t pay extra for upgraded service. I’ve got the expanded digital package which basically gets me a few more SD channels(99 – 199), the local channels in HD, and a few select HD channels like ESPN, Discovery Theater, History HD, National Geographic HD, A&E HD, and Mojo HD (some comcrap channel).

The only real reason I have the expanded package is for the so called HD channels, which I barely watch, also the select few times when the Twins or the Wild games are in HD. More and more recently I’ve been contemplating “why the fuck do I still pay all of this money for tv shows/channels I barely ever watch?” about 95% of my TV viewing between the months of September and April are spent on the local channels which I can basically get for free and on top of that they are in HD! If you’ve been reading any of my post you would know that I run a HTPC in my basement Home Theater room, which consists of 4 ATSC (OTA digital tuners) and 2 NTSC (analog cable tv tuners). I mostly record the local channels for the prime time tv shows that are on every night, so basically the major of my HD comes from OTA HD broadcasts.

There are a few tv shows I watch on basic cable tv like American Chopper, Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters, Cash Cab, and other misc shows here and there, but I start to look, are the shows I am watching really worth all that money? I have two HDTV’s in my home, first in my bedroom I have a 32″ LCD display, that has a built in ATSC tuner, and that is is, so I “rent” an HD DVR from comcrap and pay a huge monthly rental fee for that box, $13/month. Because the tv in my bedroom doesn’t have a cable tv tuner in it I have to have a cable box, and because of the way comcrap sets up their network it would cost me more a month to have a regular HD box vs. the HD DVR.

In my basement I’ve got a ceiling mount front projection setup, again which has no tuner so I need to rent a second HD DVR from comcrap to feed cable tv to my projector, which again leaves me to get the HD DVR because it ends up being cheaper than the regular HD box.

So that is two HD DVR’s I pay for a month, but thats not all, I’ve also got a SD cable box for the TV in the Dining room/Kitchen because for some weird reason the wife (Jody) likes to see the tv guide, and also frequently listens to the music channels on the tv, then she also discovered Video On Demand (VOD) so that she can pull up any of her shows at any time and doesn’t need the dvr. Yes that an awesome feature but is it honestly worth the money? So that third cable box costs me $5.99/month, so $13 + $13 + $6 = $32/month just in hardware rental fee’s.

So my cable tv just for the service is around $65/month + $32/month for hardware and thats where you come to the $97/month I pay just for TV service in my home, and frankly are shit channels compared to what I can get with DirectTV or Dish each of which have 70+ HD channels vs. the measly 10 – 15 HD channels I get with Comcrap. After really looking at my monthly expenses and seeing what I pay a month for TV I started looking at DirectTV and Dish Network to see if I could save some money and get better TV at the same time. So I did a Comparison chart showing the cost of service, hardware rental fee’s, ect… between comcrap, D* and E*. What I came up with is that in the end because I use comcrap’s cable internet service is that if I were to drop the TV side of my cable bill I would be charged $15/month extra just to keep the internet. In the end it would be a wash but I would have gained that many more HD channels and regular tv channels, however that would limit my DVRing on my HTPC as I would need two additional SD sat box’s for my two NTSC tuners. So I would have two HD sat box’s and 4 NTSC sat box’s in my home however in the end that really wouldn’t work out too well because of costs. D* and E* charge and up front fee to get their equipment, and I wasn’t willing to pay $250 – $400 just to change my tv services.

Finally I started thinking, why couldn’t I just drop cable tv all together and just use my broadband connection to get all of my tv shows. Between Bit Torrent, Newsgroups and other sources I could get a plethora of content and fill that void that cable tv filled. So I set out to do just that (well sorta) I didn’t cancel my tv service but I took my HTPC to the next step to see if I could use my HTPC 100% and never once touch the cable box for my tv addiction.

In that past I was extremely addicted to TechTV, and the shows that were on there. After comcrap bought it out, merged G4 (crappy comcrap channel) with TechTV and created G4Techtv and then disbanded all the shows I loved to see. After the disbanding of those shows, the heart of them, the hosts, started doing their own thing but online. Some started doing audio podcasts, while others started doing video podcasts. Some of those video podcasts eventually formed into an online TV network called Revision3, where you can find quite a few internet TV shows, a few of them in HD even. There are many other Video Podcasts other than just Revision3 content, I was just giving you an example of who is putting that content out there.

Now that more and more content is showing up online, I started to see if I could put together a list of the content available out there, the technology/software used to download and watch said content and the methods for getting the content easily. First thing I wanted was to be able to seamlessly download the content without manually downloading it via Bit torrent or Newsgroups. I would rather have a download start while I am sleeping and be ready to go when I sit down to watch tv the next day.

The first and simples, easy way to go about it was with iTunes. With iTunes you can easily subscribe to video and audio podcasts (for free) and haven them auto download whenever there is a new episode. With iTunes you an also purchase complete seasons of your favorite tv show. The only downside is that most podcasts and tv shows are not high quality, granted more and more are turning HD but still a majority are still low quality ipod resolution, so in the end it is not great for big screen viewing.

Next I started researching about RSS feed based torrents. and I stumbled upon this article on Cnet, Cnet Article, The article talked about using Miro to auto download RSS based torrent feeds for tv shows using www.tvrss.net which allows you to make RSS feeds based off of torrent feeds for tv shows so that when a new show is released on the torrent sites you can set Miro or any other Torrent program that supports RSS to auto download said tv shows. Now we’re getting somewhere, the only downside is the legality and slow downloads of torrents specially since comcrap is traffic shaping torrent streams.

The next, but manual process, is Newsgroups, it costs money and need the right accounts and access to newsbin sites but in the end the speeds are phenomenal, and you pretty much get what you need. Now if only you could setup an RSS based newsreader/nzb grabber. Currently I use newsgroups to download British tv as we don’t get much of British tv over here in the states. As of late I’ve been hooked on Top Gear and Fifth Gear. Both shows are great, love the cars, and the hosts are just plain funny as hell to watch and to top it off you’ve got the weird ass British humor.

After you find a way to get the content downloaded to your pc you need to find a way to play it back on your TV. First again I can use my HTPC on my projector, but what about the rest of the TV’s in my home? I really don’t feel like building PC’s for each and every tv in my home, that would be too expensive and use up way more electricity than is needed. What I first started out with was a Modded first gen xbox. With a modded xbox you pretty much can play back any content you can think of, the only down side is HD. Modded xbox’s don’t handle hd very well so I started looking at other devices. Next I was looking at the Dlink DSM-520, Netgear EVA-8000, Hacked Apple TV, and finally Divx Connected.

Right around the same time I was working on finding a solution, I was contacted by Divx corp, and some how found myself beta Testing the Divx Connected device. I’ve been using it for several months now and I have to say I am pretty impressed with it. It allows me to download high quality divx and xvid videos, mainly pod casts and downloaded tv shows, and stream them wirelessly to any tv in my home. So between the two modded xbox’s and the Divx connected device I have found a way to stream downloaded tv shows, and podcasts to pretty much any tv in my home.

Next you have video streaming software like Joost, TV Tonic, Hulu, Vuze, Veoh TV, Miro, and Bable Gum.

You also have Movie sites like Movie Link and Vongo

With all of those streaming applications your pretty much could give up live broadcast tv entirely. You can get streaming news, sports, tv, cartoons, movies, ect… but agian the down side, video and audio quality. From most of what I have tested out so far is that the audio is ok, most not that great, maybe 96 – 128k audio and the video is easily just ipod quality. The upside though is more and more video podcasts like Diggnation, and Tekzilla can be found in HD which is surprisingly good quality and definitely worth checking out.

Next if you are an Xbox 360 owner you also can download tv shows, movies, videos, music, and pictures via Xbox Live. Whats great is you can download HD tv shows, and HD movies. The only huge downside is cost. It is pretty expensive to be purchasing movie rentals and tv shows that you can’t keep. None the less I have taken advantage of Xbox Live market place and rented a few HD movies as was as watched a few HD TV shows and I have to say I am extremely impressed with it, the only other downside is hard drive space, you can get 120gig hdd, but for HD video even that 120gig hdd will fill up fast. Microsoft was also talking about launching an IPTV service and havening actual live streaming tv on the xbox similar to what ATT does with Uverse. That right there would be huge. If you could get tv on the xbox there would no longer be the need for cable or sat, just get what you watch and thats it. Also I run my HTPC with Windows Media Center 2005 and I can use my xbox 360 as a media center extender with my HTPC so I can stream live and recorded tv straight to my 360. Another cool thing that I saw coming out were a set of HP HDTV’s with the media center extender functionality built into the tv’s, thus removing the need for a STB device, more info about the HP HDTV’s.

Microsoft Also announced a partnership with ESPN to provide games, sports footage and other videos on XBL as well, see Announcement HERE. More XBL Marketplace info can be found HERE.

Netflix and Blockbuster can also replace the need for live tv. You can rent entire seasons of tv shows on dvd, so better quality and better audio, only downside is you’ll always be a year behind.

Youtube and Stage6 (can be used with Divx connected devices) are also great sources of video entertainment, may not always be what you want to watch but fills the void of tv.

In the end you honestly could get away with never having live cable tv or sat. tv and just use the internet to download and/or stream your video content into your home. The only downside is finding devices to take that video and play it back on your big screen tv, but if your like me and have a HTPC then its not really that big of a deal, but if you don’t then there are things like Divx Connected, media extenders, media steaming devices, modded first gen xbox’s, and many others. No matter what not everything is a perfect solution, and get away from the manual process of having to initiate the downloads but with programs like Miro and TVrss.net you are getting extremely close to getting way from that, now if and only if the content was better quality with 5.1 surround sound audio and live sporting events where online I would be 100% content, but until then I think I’ll be stuck taking it up the ars and paying ass loads of money to Comcrap.

Here’s a quick review of software I was talking about:

– iTunes, Miro, TVTonic, Joost, Vuze, Veoh TV, Hulu

Quick list of content:

– TVrss.net, Revsion3, Channel Flip, Mahalo, Webb Alert, Geek Brief TV, Attack of the Show, X-Play, Cheat, CommandN

Hardware:

-HTPC, Divx Connected, D-Link DSM-720 network media steamer, Linksys Media Center Extender, Xbox 360, First Gen Xbox, Apple TV