My wife and I love to watch TV. Currently there are a few shows that we tune in for every week: Castle, The Mentalist, Last Man Standing, Grimm, Community, The Big Bang Theory, Bones, Modern Family, and Psych! Yeah, we spend a lot of time watching TV, and that doesn’t include all the great shows that we like to re-watch like Doctor Who, Warehouse 13, Sherlock, Stargate SG-1 / Atlantis, Chuck, and Eureka!
We have every episode of our favorite shows, all high-def and commercial free. The best part is that the entire process is entirely automatic, with the shows getting downloaded, stored, indexed, and made available without any interaction from a human being. Then all my wife has to do is turn on the TV, or her iPhone, or the iPad, or a Computer, or almost any device we own when she feels like watching a show. Even when we are not at home, we can pick up our closest smart phone and stream the latest episode right from our home media server, and even pick up right where we left off in the middle of an episode or movie.
If this sounds like something you would like to have, look no further as I will explain everything in this article. After this you will have your own custom Netflix / Hulu.
The tools you will need are:
- A Computer – Windows, Mac, or Linux — doesn’t matter
- Plex Media Server for your computer.
Now at this point there is a moral question you will have to face: to “pirate” or “not to pirate”… If you truly want to do everything for FREE without worrying about any gray areas of legality, skip to the next section.
If you want to make things easier and stray into the shadier side of the internet, I recommend buying a subscription to a usenet provider (my recommendation is UsenetServer), and installing SickBeard (or SickRage, or Sonarr) and SabNZBd onto the same computer as Plex. Once you have configured SickBeard, everything is ready to go, no more work is needed. However, for the sake of this article, I will be explaining how to do the same thing without having to rely on downloading the episodes via Usenet or Torrents.
Free (and 100% legal) HD TV
So if you have skipped the last paragraph, I salute you for your moral integrity. If you have made it this far then you must know that your choices of TV Shows / Movies will be limited to the stations being broadcasted in your area. Remember how you used to be able to pick up over the air tv stations, like ABC, NBC, PBS, etc. on TV when you were little? Well those are still being broadcasted, they have just been updated to digital (and usually HD) streams that need a new antenna. To see what stations are available in your area, where the towers are located, and what type of antenna you need: check out the address lookup tool on Antennaweb.org.
Sorry for anybody reading this from another Country other than the U.S., I’m not sure how to lookup the stations in your area, luckily (said sarcastically) we have an FCC which regulates all of our airwaves and frequencies so its well documented in America.
Get the Right Tools
- An Antenna (I use Amazon Basics Ultra Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna with 50 mile range)
- A Capture Card for your computer (I use SiliconDust’s brilliant HDHomerun Extend, it connects to your home network, has 2 tuners, and has apps for Android, FireTV, Windows, and more to watch live TV on most devices over your wifi.)
- MCEBuddy – *Optional* Automatically remove commercials and rename and organize the shows.
- Some DVR software (if you have Windows 7, Windows Media Center is built in, otherwise SiliconDust has their own DVR Software which integrates with Plex!)
Once you have the required equipment and software it is pretty straightforward to get them all playing nice with each other.
- Setup your Capture Card and Antenna in a location that gets good signal, and is easy to get a network cable to. If you didn’t go with a network capture card like the HDHomeRun, then you will need to put the computer next to the antenna.
- Install the Capture Card software on the computer and make sure you are getting the channels you expect.
- Install and setup your DVR software to automatically record shows you want to watch.
- Optional – Configure MCEBuddy to monitor the DVR software’s output folder for new media, and rename and move the files to your Plex library following the naming conventions for TV Shows (i.e. Modern Family/Season 05/Modern Family – S05E09 – The Big Game.mkv). You can also have MCEBuddy re-encode the video and strip commercials if desired (sometimes local commercials are just as entertaining / hilarious)
- Install Plex Server on the computer, and use the plex client on your devices to watch your shows at any time you want. Also, as an added bonus if you use an HDHomeRun, you can install the HDHomeRun View Channel and watch Live TV through Plex anywhere in the world. The Plex client is available on most TVs, Blue Ray Players, and streaming devices (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV 4, Google TV, etc.) as well.
Now after you have gone through all this work and are enjoying your handy work, you might notice that managing a home media server can be tedious and expensive. For example, in Fairbanks Alaska we pay about 0.19 per KiloWatt. With my Home Media Server running 24 hours a day it is costing about $15 a month. At that point its cheaper, and easier, to pay for Hulu Plus and Netflix. Luckily for me my home server also serves other purposes so it’s on all the time anyways. Also, Netflix and Hulu do not have the Sports, News, and Events like the Olympics covered like the networks do.