The Dangers of Building Your Own HTPC and Living Without Cable TV

As I reported earlier in FYI: DIY-FIY (Do-It-Yourself, Fix-It-Youself), my HTPC started crashing intermittently, the worse kind of electronic failure to troubleshoot.  I tried everything to fix it.  Eventually I decided it must be something wrong with the motherboard, so I bought a new motherboard and new CPU, one of those new AMD A6-3500 CPU/GPU combos.  For a few weeks it worked beautifully, much better than the old machine, but then it started acting up.  This time something different, it just wouldn’t boot.  In the rebuild I used a new, but old hard drive for the boot drive so I could save my recordings off the old boot drive, and use it as a second drive.  The only parts from the original machine was the case, 2nd power supply and the original memory.  I had two theories.  One, the used hard drive was bad, or two, the original memory was my problem all along and it had gotten worse.

Now all of this is very aggravating.  I had gotten used to having a home theater PC connected to my den television and now I’m making do with off the air broadcasts, Netflix discs and streaming, and a Roku box.  This still provides more TV than I have time to watch, but it doesn’t let me record shows.  However, this time around I have a backup DVR.

I bought a HD HomeRun Dual network TV tuner.  It was a snap to install.  Just plug in the over-the-air antenna, Ethernet cable and power cable and run a small install program on each of my PCs.  Now I can bring up Windows Media Center on any computer in my house and watch live TV, or record TV from two tuners.  Very slick.  So I can still record shows while my HTPC is broken but now I have to watch them on this computer.  This also simplifies my HTPC setup because it no longer has a TV tuner card in it.  And because I bought the new A6 with Radeon HD 6530D graphics it doesn’t have a video card either.  The new HTPC worked much better and drew less power.  Great until it started crashing.

I was so happy when I got the HTPC going again.  I thought I’d have years of worry free service, but dang, I must have jinxed myself, because the new HTPC is completely dead now.

The other day I ordered some new memory and just tried it out, but it wasn’t the fix.  I’m now hoping it’s the old hard drive, and not other bad motherboard.  So sometime in the future I’ll have to take everything apart again and start troubleshooting all over again.  Another troubling idea is the HTPC is being damaged by electrical spikes.  But this is a long shot.  However, the 2nd hard drive went out just before the machine started crashing.  I’ve bought a UPS to protect it in the future.  It already had a good APC surge protector.   

But I’m putting off fixing the HTPC off for awhile.  I want to get some other things done this weekend.

This is a real lesson in building your own computers.  Normally you buy a computer and it comes with a 1 year warranty.  You can even buy extended warranties.  If something goes wrong you take it back and someone else fixes the machine or gives you another one.  When you build your own machine and it stops working you’re the one that’s got to fix it.

More than that, this whole affair of giving up cable TV has taught me a number of things.  Comcast got me addicted to DVRs, so giving up cable means learning to live with live TV or building your own DVRs.  I’ve starting to wonder if DRVs are worth all the trouble.  I love the simplicity of only having 5 channels I care about, instead of over 200.  But even then, how much do I even care about those 5 channels?  The absolute gem is PBS. 

When my HTPC died I had 200 documentaries I had recorded from PBS that I wanted to watch.  This is very revealing.  Why hadn’t I just watched those shows when they aired?  TV documentaries are like the books I buy but don’t read.  I keep thinking I’m going to watch those shows or read those books, but my to-be-watch and to-be-read lists just get longer and longer.

Last night my friend Janis was over and we were just going through the Netflix menu on my Roku.  I’ve got 196 shows in my queue waiting to be watched, and we found dozens of foreign movies we wanted to watch in the suggestion lists.  There is no shortage of TV to watch.  Then why do I want to hoard TV shows on a DVR?   Isn’t this like going to a restaurant and buying a meal with the intention of eating sometime in the future?

I have a hang-up about controlling time.  My DVR infected me with a time control disease.  I think hoarding books is a time control disease.

I am tempted to simplify my TV watching yet again and give up the DRV and HTPC.  I’d miss playing Rdio and Rhapsody through the den stereo, but I’ve also rediscovered the greatness of just listening to a CD again.  CDs sound so much better than streaming music and MP3s.  I’ve been going retro in the last several weeks.  I’ve been buying DVDs of old westerns and watching one every night before I go to bed.  It shows I can live without cable TV, or even HTPC TV, or even broadcast TV or even Netflix.

Which makes me ask:  Does it matter what’s on TV?

JWH – 7/21/12

One Response

  1. I read maybe 1 book for every 20 I download. Is your PSU sufficiant? Also I’ve had computers stop booting from dead network cards or cd drives.

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