Cutting the Cord: Part 3 – HTPC and Living Room Setup

Our living room is our main TV-watching area. This is where we watch our movies in surround sound and right now it’s the only place (besides our computers) where we can actually watch live TV.


When we cancelled our satellite dish subscription, we knew that we wanted some way to record our favorite TV shows. With kids it’s hard to watch TV on a schedule (like if our favorite show is on Thursday nights at the same time our kids go to bed, for example).

The first thing that we bought after cancelling satellite was a little computer (it’s an Acer Aspire Revo). It’s powerful enough to do almost everything we want it to (it’s not very good for watching Netflix streaming).

Although the computer came with a wireless keyboard and mouse, we knew we needed a remote control. We bought the Gyration Air Music Remote, which was $40 after a rebate. Lots of remotes would do, but we’ve liked this one pretty good since it can also act as a mouse (you use it kind of like a Wii Remote) for those times when the computer just isn’t acting right.

Windows Media Center

Windows Media Center comes built-in with recent versions of Windows. It does a pretty good job when we want to watch TV, schedule recordings, or play back shows it has recorded. We haven’t got this to work very well over the network yet, but the little Acer Aspire Revo has no problems recording two HD shows at once, even if it’s playing back another. Windows Media Center is pretty easy to use with a good remote – just press the big green button to get it running!


XBMC is a great, free program for playing media from local or network sources. It’s similar to Plex (which was actually split off from XBMC a few years back) in that it shows all your media with posters and other artwork. Using it with the Media Center remote has worked pretty well, but there’s a little more learning curve to the interface than Media Center, in my opinion. To run XBMC, we have a little launcher app that opens it from inside Media Center. We could do some more fiddling with the remote to make this easier, but that’s been a bit tricky to figure out.

Hulu Desktop

Hulu Desktop is the best way to watch Hulu. It’s pretty easy to navigate, especially if you’ve set up an account with your favorite shows to watch. We’ve done a free trial of Hulu Plus, and while that works great with Hulu Desktop and also allows you to access the Roku Channel or view on other streaming media players, we came back to Hulu Desktop after we found that almost all of what we watch was here, as long as we don’t get too far behind in watching new series that come out. Psych is one of our favorite shows, and it was easy to watch here. We definitely don’t mind the few commercials that we have to watch to get TV that we can’t watch in other places.

TV w/ Built-in Streaming

Lots of TVs these days have built-in Netflix streaming (and other channels, too), and that’s how we watch Netflix in our living room. Our Sony TV doesn’t seem to be able to provide a consistent stream all the time (sometimes during the day it has to buffer quite a bit), but the quality is pretty good, and it’s pretty easy to navigate. If we have too many problems streaming Netflix through the TV, we usually watch it through the Wii’s Netflix player.


  • Play back our media collection – Check. It’s not as easy jumping around between things, but it works great once you’re in XBMC.
  • Ability to watch and record TV – Check. It’s the only way to do that with our current setup.
  • Watch Netflix from – Check. It works great about 75% of the time, and it works pretty good the rest of the time if you let it buffer the show you want to watch before you sit down.

Other Parts of Cutting the Cord:

Cutting the Cord: Introduction
Backend: Desktop Computer (acting as file server) and TV Tuner
Master Bedroom: Roku streaming
Living Room: HTPC and TV w/ built-in Netflix
Basement: Original Xbox with XBMC