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Replace the cable box.

For those of you looking to do a Home Theater PC to take advantage of streaming content on your TV to make up for not having cable TV? A voluminous tome could be spent on this subject alone, but for the sake of brevity (ha!), let’s keep it simple. Any old beater desktop or laptop you have kicking around that you can connect to your TV is fine. If it can run Windows, Mythbuntu, or XBMCbuntu and full screen SD (480p or lower) Flash video without acting like it will crap itself, you’re fine. Install a front end like XBMC, buy a cheap media center remote, install Flash, work a little configuration magic, and you’re good to go. You can even chuck in a small ATSC/QAM tuner and turn it into a DVR if you have enough drive space. Just be sure to turn it off when you’re done to save electricity.

If you’re starting from scratch, buy a cheap little Intel Atom based machine with an Nvidia ION GPU (or a used 1st generation AppleTV) and load up OpenELEC. Quick and easy. Even cheaper, if you don’t mind losing Flash video sources, buy a $35 Raspberry Pi and load XBMC on it.

Alternately, if you like mucking around with cheap, headless, HDMI out, Android-based ARM systems like the G-Box Midnight MX2 or Pivos XIOS DS, you can load XBMC on one of those and go nuts between it and the plethora of streaming media apps on the Google Play store. This method might actually be the best one if more restricted and paid content is desired (Netflix, pro sports, etc.) and details on how to do this can be had at the next link.

Of course, we should also discuss antennas, as any cable cutting measures done without taking full advantage of over the air (OTA) broadcasts where available isn’t a complete solution. It’s a topic that a guy like me could waste hours on talking about building your own directional antennas and that sort of wonderful thing, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. First, find out the sort of antenna you’ll need for reception over at TV Fool, then shop or build accordingly.

If you have an older analog NTSC television or DVR (like the TiVo Series 2), you can still keep the old equipment running with a cheap ATSC tuner like the incredibly cheap and readily accessible Magnavox TB100MW9 and the RCA DTA800 DTV tuners off Ebay, amongst other makes and models at various flea markets, thrift shops, and yard sales. No need to retire that old tube set just yet.

Recommended Reading: Ask Daley: Entertainment on the Cheap

Some people will buy things like a Roku box or AppleTV or the like to stream media to their televisions, but there’s a bit of a downside to these devices… they’re specifically designed and set up to bleed you for more money and get you hooked on al-la-carte content purchasing. Hulu Plus is a good example of this as you can’t use Hulu at all on a Roku box without subscribing to Hulu Plus. Using a proper computer will not preclude you from still purchasing and subscribing to content if you want it, but far more content is available for free if you don’t use one of these cheap little dedicated boxes. By simply putting in a bit more money and a little effort on a more open device (even Android), you can access far more content (both free and paid) than you could have otherwise being at the mercy of a media outlet supporting your device and/or the manufacturer dictating how you can use it and with what content to begin with.

This said, there is nothing cheaper and more rewarding than to cut the idiot box out of your life entirely. Your imagination will flourish, your family time will be more interactive and meaningful, you won’t be subjected to advertising, and you won’t lose scads of hours of your life to having other people think for you. If you have the opportunity, get a copy of Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television from your local library and give it a read before you decide exactly how you plan to cut back on your cable or satellite bill.

Replace the newspaper, magazines and smartphone.

There’s considerable research growing that staring into and using all these smartphones and tablets are not only bad for our emotional health and attention spans, but can be disruptive to our sleep patterns as well.

Anyone who is tired of reading news by staring into a lightbulb on their smart phones, tablets, or with their desktops just to catch up with the world, are looking to simplify and return back a more printed sort of news and media consumption format, but still would like the advantages of networked technology and the freedom of a more open media device… might I suggest the following: an Android-based eInk tablet like the Onyx BOOX (not available in the US outside of Ebay) which are fully open Android tablets, or the Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch, which runs Android. Although due to DMCA changes, it is now illegal to root tablets, there’s still a massive community dedicated to doing just that with the latter mentioned device.

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Daley’s Legal Ape would like to point out that no information on this page condones the violation of US Copyright Law or the DMCA by rooting the B&N Nook ST within the United States.

It may seem a bit extravagant buying a $200 eInk tablet gizmo, but when I did this myself back when hacking the Nook ST was still legal, this small extravagant purchase made for a more positive change in my life that had resulted in less unproductive farting around on the internet saving electricity and time better spent elsewhere. It helped me plow through the daily news updates and comic strip reading frivolity quicker, and given the passively lit screen aping paper, I didn’t find reading the news in the evening before heading to bed quite as disruptive to my sleep patterns. I could also have it double as a regular e-book reader as it was originally intended, provide quick access weather forecasts, act as a TV guide, and be usable as a Google Voice dialer and address book for the home phone. It’s not an incredible investment, but it could be if you are one of the few remaining newspaper subscribers on the planet and hate staring into a blue light to be informed of the latest happenings or just find yourself getting itchy from spending too much time online.

Since there’s already been one blurb about the negative side of media consumption with television, we might as well carry that forward with internet usage as well and mention Marie Winn’s The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life as another book you should pick up and give a good read. As always, stepping back from one’s habits and re-evaluating them from a fresh perspective will always illuminate ways to help improve your life and reduce your budget. Anything spending that falls into this category should definitely be examined with a critical eye.

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