I have been working diligently here in Charlotte to replace my DirecTV satellite service with an OTA/Internet solution and will post details in the hope others may benefit. First, let me say I got pretty good service from D* - I did this to save $85/month, not because of problems with them. They did offer me $20/month off for a year, but I prefer $85/month off indefinitely, so canceled anyway.
My solution consists of 4 parts - Improve OTA reception, set up Windows (7) Media Center for OTA DVR capability, get cable channel shows off the Internet, and sign up with Netflix for streaming and rental of Blu-ray disks.
1) Improve OTA - For several years I've had a fairly large ChannelMaster VHF/UHF antenna with rotor at a height of about 15 ft., usually pointed northwest toward GR (Gun Lake). I had good reception on 3,8, and 41, but nothing on 17 and (usually) nothing on 43, even though 43's tower is less than 20 miles away. Pointing the antenna toward Lansing/Eaton Rapids would give me 6, 10, 47, and 53, with nothing on 23. I found there is a hill between my location and 23's tower, which I assumed was the problem. I decided to replace the lead-in cable to the ChannelMaster and keep it pointed toward GR, then add another much smaller UHF antenna (Antenna Direct DB2), permanently positioned toward Lansing/Eaton Rapids, mainly to get 47, 10 and 53. When replacing the cable, I found the UHF reflector hadn't been deployed when the antenna was originally put up 5 years ago. Deploying the reflector along with replacing the badly worn cable brought in 17 (no more Lions blackouts) and 23 when the antenna is positioned correctly. Adding the second smaller antenna gets 10, 31, 47, and 53, and the reception is very stable on all channels.
2) Windows 7 Media Center - First, I needed to add a tuner to my HTPC. Tales of buggy drivers, BSODs and general mayhem convinced me I didn't want to use a tuner card. Research led to the Silicondust HDHomerun dual networked tuner (details here
). Although more expensive than a card, this unit allows me to have a separate tuner per antenna, has been outstandingly stable, and integrates very well with Win7 MC, allowing me to specify which antenna on a per-channel basis. The HDHomerun also allows me access from any Windows machine on my home network, not just my HTPC.(Certain Linux HTPC programs also supported). Secondly, I found Win7 MC very easy to configure, the details being too lengthy for this narrative. Adding a 1.5 TB hard drive to the HTPC gave me plenty of storage space.
3) Find cable channel shows on the internet - It's the usual suspects here - Hulu, individual channel websites, assorted others. Fancast.com has a lot of TLC shows, which seem hard to find elsewhere. Although the picture quality is not usually HD, the price makes up for it. My 6 meg ATT DSL connection is getting a good workout.
4) Netflix - I signed up for the 1 Disk/Unlimited Streaming option plus Blu-ray for $11/month and installed the Netflix plug-in for W7MC. Netflix just starting adding HD capability to their PC platform, and it works very well for me. Very large selection of TV shows released on DVD, as well as current and classic movies. Again, the DSL connection is busy.
This whole process has been highly educational for me, and has come together remarkably trouble-free. I'd recommend it for anyone, but caution it is not ideal for fans of live sporting events that are not on broadcast channels. Feel free to contact me if any questions.