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Almost persuaded to drop DirecTV [updated]

April 15, 2011 1 Comment

I love it when technology converges.

The first key step was buying a Windows Home Server box last summer. It took me a while to get all the kinks out (read my review at the link), but since then it was worked pretty much trouble-free, 24/7. Not only do my various computers get backed up each night, but it’s become the standard iTunes repository for both my wife and me, and we use it to share (legally) media that we purchase separately on iTunes.

The next step was upgrading our internet access. We live in a semi-rural area outside of Denver, and when we moved here 6 years ago, our only internet access options were a dedicated T1 line (our next-door neighbor had one), satellite access, or a wide-area wireless (with dedicated dish pointing to an access point about 6 miles away). We went with the last option, which was given us roughly DSL-grade access (1.5Mb). However, about six months ago, we started getting flyers from Qwest claiming that high-speed phone line access was finally available in our area. We signed up and found ourselves with access speeds running typically from 4 to 12 Mbits/sec. Not much compared to some of the very high speed (>100 Mbits) access available in some cities now, but a major step up from what we’ve been living with.

The third step was getting a new HD large-screen TV this past week — in this case, as an astonishingly generous gift from our youngest daughter and her boyfriend. We bought our existing Sony 42″ plasma TV some 8+ years ago, and I won’t tell you what we paid for it then. Not only was it getting long in the tooth, with the display losing contrast, but the TV itself only had one (1) set of component inputs; the other four were all composite/S-video, and there were no HDMI ports at all. The new TV (a 55″ Sony LCD) has a much sharper and clearer picture as well as up-to-date ports (4 HDMI ports, an optical audio out, etc.).

The fourth step was buying an Apple TV unit today. This not only gives us Netflix streaming, it recognizes and lets us access that iTunes media share on our WHS box. [UPDATE: But wait! Not really! See below.] After getting it hooked up, I sat down and watched an episode of “Castle” that I had downloaded from iTunes (and moved onto the server) but had not yet watched.I then listened to some of the music on the server, then went out and connected to one of what appear to be at least a few hundred streaming radio stations from the ‘net. Oh, and I watched a few minutes of both a TV show and a movie from Netflix (we are long-time Netflix subscribers).

To quote the great Steverino, it all just works.  And it works beautifully, too — the video and sound quality is outstanding.

I’ll note in here that a few days ago I bought a Sony Blu-Ray player with ‘net connectivity. It actually sees more of the computer on our home network, but it does not recognize or play iTunes media. If it did, I probably wouldn’t have bought the Apple TV unit.

As per the headline, this is almost enough to persuade me to drop our DirecTV subscription. Almost, but not enough. I love college football and especially love watching it in high-def. I also watch (or at least have on in the background) a lot of local and national news. If and when I have streaming options for those that I like, then DirecTV will likely go away; it’s just not worth the cost.

I give it a year or so.  ..bruce..

UPDATE: Thought I was going crazy there for a while. After seeing the stuff on my WHS box, I went back later and found I could only see stuff on my Win7 laptop (which is where I keep all my ‘active’  iTunes media and where I sync my iPhone and my iPad). I thought maybe I misread what I was seeing, but then I disabled and then re-enabled iTunes sharing on my WHS box, then brought up iTunes on my Win7 laptop. The WHS iTunes library showed up in my laptop’s iTunes app — and now all the media files on my WHS box are showing up as well. But it will only play the files on my laptop. Any attempt to select, say, a TV show episode that’s only on the WHS box results in an error message.

So, I’ve got a couple of choices: install iTunes on my WHS box (which is not as straightforward as I would like) or move all the iTunes media on the WHS box onto Sandra’s MacPro (where her iTunes library resides and which, fortunately, has a couple of terabytes of free internal disk space). Since the Apple TV readily sees her iTunes library, and since her MacPro (unlike my laptop) is almost always on, that may be the easiest solution. Stay tuned.


About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

Comments (1)

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  1. Gary says:

    The college football package on directv is the only thing keeping me with them also.

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