Done with Cable

In what could be described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” I decided yesterday to never, ever pay for cable TV again.
Unfortunately, Primus isn’t working out good enough as our telephone service, so, loathe to pay the phone company, we’re going with Rogers digital home phone service. Its marginally cheaper than a normal landline, and won’t mess with my dry-loop DSL. While on the phone with Rogers, I decided to inquire about getting PBS for Benjamin. He actually pays attention to the TV now, and our selection of kids movies may not be boring him, but Nic has all of Finding Nemo memorized, and if I have to watch Flushed Away one more time…

I was frustrated to find that you can’t select “basic cable” from the automated system, but was even more so when I got through to a person and found out that the cheapest cable you can buy (and remember we only want 1 channel) was $30 a month. Apparently basic cable has been abolished in Canada, and paying $9 for channels 1-20 isn’t something you can do.

So we bought an AppleTV.

It was a gamble, predicated on the knowledge that iTunes would let us buy U.S. content while in Canada, because our billing address and credit card are both U.S. This frees us from the crappily small Canadian catalogue of video, and means we don’t have to rely on any of the crippled-but-allowed-in-Canada digital distribution systems that over-charge for their tiny library of content.

Here’s a shot of the AppleTV at work, using only its manufacturer’s intended features:

Through the power of the Internets, and a bit of hacking by yours truly, it also does what the XBox 360 can do (and more elegantly) in allowing us to access our own library of content in various media types. All our digitally stored movies, TV series, music and 7 years worth of photos can be viewed on our TV. Our favortie TV Shows are downloaded over the Internet and available immediately on the AppleTV. And if there’s a show we want to check out, we just order it from our remote control.

We will be buying a couple shows as well. If we budget $10 a month for purchased TV, thats a third what we’d pay for cable, and it lets each of us (including Abi) subscribe to one full season of a show each year. Plus I can take my show with me on my iPhone, and watch it anywhere I want.

On top of that, there’s a wonderful array of free content on the store. National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, TEDTV, and many other educational shows are available in High Definition at the touch of a button. And if you want something a little more low-brow, there’s YouTube. You can spend hours “surfing” the TV, and not have to pay a cent to any monopolistic media conglomerate, or watch a single commercial — not even on fast forward.

It was not particularly easy to find an AppleTV in Canada, and for now, our set-up requires us to maintain a U.S. credit card, but that’s something we’d intended on doing anyway. Eventually the Canadian tech industry will be forced to grow up and catch up. Hopefully our little loop-hole remains open until then.

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Restart TwonkyMedia after scheduled sleep

In our house, a Mac Mini serves at the content library host. It runs iTunes and shares other media files. At night it runs a number of scheduled tasks to keep things orderly and fresh, and when its done (at about 4:00am) it goes to sleep until 8:00am when my wife will want to use it again.

TwonkyMedia server, which is delivering our non-iTunes content onto the AppleTV (via the MediaCloud uPnP client) has a problem with this. It doesn’t recover well from sleep.

The solution is to run an AppleScript every morning at 8:01 to re-start TwonkyMedia. This little AppleScript will access Twonky’s built-in shell script to shut down any running instances, and start-up a fresh one:

do shell script "/Applications/MediaServer.app/Contents/MacOS/twonkymedia.sh &> /dev/null &"

The “&> /dev/null &” sends the shell script’s output to oblivion so that AppleScript doesn’t hang waiting for the server to start-up.

The only annoying part about this is that every time TwonkyMedia starts up, it wants to take you to its home page in your browser. Follow these directions to make TwonkyMedia start-up silently (last post on the page.)