This is a guest post by SavingMentor who has been deeply passionate about saving money for the past 7 years, primarily focusing on spending less money without cutting back. After learning so much about saving money, he decided to launch HowToSaveMoney.ca to help other Canadians save money on everything they buy and do.
The old saying goes “you have to spend money to make money” and, in similar fashion, sometimes you have to spend money to save money too. Buying yourself a good home theater PC (htpc) is one of those surprising ways you can save yourself a lot of money! It seems counterintuitive at first, but having a computer hooked up to your TV can provide you with a surprising number of benefits and with compact nettop computers being sold for as little as $300-$400, getting started is quite inexpensive compared to the money you can save. So how exactly can an htpc save you money?
Replace Your Existing Cable or Satellite Service
Now before you jump to conclusions, I’m not talking about downloading pirated TV shows and movies! These days almost all of the major networks publish their full length content on their own websites and you can view it in full screen mode on your HDTV using your htpc. I’ve been doing this for several years now and I’ve slowly witnessed all of the shows I could possibly want to watch become available online for free.
Advantages Of Internet TV Over Cable Or Satellite
- It’s 100% FREE, FREE, FREE!
- Watch shows on your own schedule, not the TVs schedule.
- Pause, restart, rewind, and fast forward shows as you please.
- Sometimes watch whole seasons or past seasons of shows in their entirety.
- Much shorter and less frequent commercial breaks, sometimes only 15 or 30 seconds.
- Unfortunately, they are increasing in length as internet TV popularity increases.
- Shows are often available in 720p or 1080p HD, also free.
- No need to purchase an expensive PVR to take full control over your TV viewing experience.
- Some networks even have made for TV movies or other movies available.
List Of Canadian Television Networks
The networks are listed in alphabetical order and I’ve only included those that offer full episodes:
- Bloomberg News
- CMT *
- CTV News
- Discovery Channel
- Fashion Television
- Food Network
- Global News
- Global TV
- MTV Canada
- Outdoor Life Network
- The Comedy Network
- The Shopping Channel
- TV Tropolis
- W Network
* Full episodes are hard to find or site is hard to use.
Watching American Television
Most of the USA television networks also broadcast their shows online but typically Canadians are blocked from watching that content based on the location of the IP address. You can get around this by using a USA proxy which simply assigns you an American IP address and makes it look like you are accessing the internet from the USA. We do this all the time to watch shows on Hulu and occasionally we visit some of the American networks as well for shows that aren’t available on Canadian networks and also aren’t available on Hulu. If you are interested in doing this yourself, check out HotspotShield, a free and easy to use proxy that is funded by advertisements.
Watch Movies On The Cheap
With Netflix Canada recently being released with their $7.99/month subscription service, it is now possible to watch nearly an unlimited number of on demand movies for an extremely reasonable price. You can try the service free for 1 month to see if it is something you would use on a regular basis. If not, you can cancel the subscription without ever being charged.
Get A Free/Cheap Home Phone or Secondary Line
Home theater PCs make great always on computers for hosting a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service like Skype or magicJack, which you can use to replace your existing home phone and long distance provider for as little as $20/year, unlimited North American long distance included. These services allow you to use a regular telephone to make and receive calls just like you do today. Sometimes you don’t even need a computer to make VoIP services work, but having an always on htpc definitely gives you more and better options. For more information on available VoIP devices and services, including those that are completely free, check out my guide to VoIP devices and services.
Listen To Unlimited Free And Legal Music From Any Artist
Not only can you load your existing music library onto your htpc and listen to it through your TV speakers or through your surround sound system, which is both awesome and convenient, but you can also stream unlimited free and legal music online through sites like Grooveshark. I listen to Grooveshark all day every day and it never costs me a penny and the flash interface is better and easier to use than Windows Media Player and iTunes. You may never have to buy another CD or mp3 again! For more ways to get unlimited music online, take a look at my detailed post on free internet music available to Canadians.
Instant Access To All Your Personal Media
Having a computer attached to the back of your TV has many other advantages like being able to view all your home media on your big screen TV anytime you want. You can essentially turn your TV into a 42”+ digital photo frame by running family slideshows as often as you want. You can also watch those home movies from the comfort of your couch without ever burning them to a disc or bothering to load them on a thumb drive.
An Always On Personal Server
Having an always on computer with all of your personal media, files, and anything else you want running all of the time opens up a lot of options for remote access. You can use services like Orb to view your pictures, watch your videos, and listen to your mp3s from any computer anywhere. Your computer will stream the content real time to whatever computer you happen to be using. Knowing that you can pull up any picture or video you want when someone asks you about your new baby or recent trip is very useful! There are many more fun things you can do with remote access but they are too numerous to list.
Full Fast Internet Browsing
And of course you can do all the normal web surfing you do at your computer using a wireless keyboard and mouse right in your living room. This is much better than using all the various gaming devices, internet connected TVs, and specialized media devices that are coming out on the market because you have the power of a fully dedicated computer behind you instead of add on functionality for a device that was never intended to act a personal computer.
How To Get Started
All you need to get started is the following:
High Speed Internet Connection
This is essential to ensure fluid playback and the possibility of playing HD content. You can probably get by with a 3.0Mbps connection for most things, but I recommend 5-10Mbps for the best results, especially if you will have other computers sharing the internet connection at the same time. You will also need unlimited bandwidth or a high bandwidth cap to make sure you aren’t dinged with a lot of extra fees. If you have a bandwidth cap or a slow connection, you may be interested in my guide to saving money on your internet costs.
Home Theater PC (HTPC)
What you are aiming for here is a small and very power efficient device because you will likely want to leave it on 24/7 for convenience sake and to get the most out of it. At the same time you need something with a good dedicated graphics processor that can handle HD video and multiple cores to allow for multitasking and to avoid system slowdowns. Preferably you should also be able to mount it to the back of your TV for clean and inconspicuous installation. I highly recommend the Acer Aspire Revo or the Acer Veriton nettops for this task because they meet all of these criteria and use less power than most light bulbs. They provide exceptional value for the money.
Good HDMI Cable
You will need a good HDMI cable to hook your htpc up to your HDTV. You can easily spend $20-$100 for an HDMI cable at a local store, which is way too much. I highly recommend ordering an HDMI cable from MonoPrice.com for only a few dollars. I have ordered at least 30 cables of various types from them and they all performed flawlessly and are manufactured to the highest quality. Monoprice is a US-based company, but they ship to Canada for a reasonable price and you won’t need to pay any additional taxes or customs fees for such a small purchase.
So what about you? How much do you pay every month for television, movies, music, and phone service? After reading this post do you think that getting an htpc would be a viable option for you?