A DVR without a subscription or monthly fees

What if I told you that you could have a DVR without a subscription that worked with free over-the-air antenna-based TV, and it cost less than $35, saving those monthly subscription fees month after month?

It’s called the Mediasonic Homeworx HW180STB. If you want to record and time-shift television without loss of quality and without paying a fortune in subscription fees, it’s a tremendous value. You have to provide an antenna–which you can even make yourself–and USB-based storage, but it means you can get whatever capacity you want, and if you fill up a drive, just get another one.

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How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

Connecting old computers and consoles to not-as-old televisions is frequently a challenge. Sadly, the VIC-20, Commodore’s runaway bestseller from 1982, is no exception to that. Here’s how to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV.

Unfortunately, there are fewer options for connecting a VIC than there are the slightly newer and more common C-64, but I’ll walk you through the options you do have.

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The difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND

The difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND

I see people asking about the difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND (sometimes they just ask TP-Link TL-WR841N vs TL-WR841ND). Since nobody else seems to have answered, I’ll take the question.

TP-Link TL-WR841n
This is the TP-Link TL-WR841n.

Here’s how to decode TP-Link model numbers. This is true of the 841 series, which is my go-to for the moment when I need a capable yet inexpensive router, but also other TP-Link models.

“TL” stands for TP-Link. “WR” stands for wireless router. The numbers tell you where the model stands in the product line. Beefier routers have larger numbers. “N” stands for the type of networking, which, in this case, is 802.11N. “D” stands for detachable antennae.

If you don’t need to be able to detach the antennae to replace them with bigger, longer-range models, you can save some money by buying the N-model. Otherwise, the TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND are functionally identical. They both use the same DD-WRT build.

What to look for in a wireless access point

A good way to eliminate dead zones in your house where wifi doesn’t work is to add one or two wireless access points to your setup.

Access points, thankfully, are no longer stupid expensive–they used to cost twice as much as a router in spite of being nothing more than a cut-down router–but almost every access point I’ve looked at has one or more compromises built in. That said, if you want something you can plug in and configure by filling out three or four things, you might be willing to live with those compromises.

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In the city, a $6 antenna is all you need

There are a lot of good plans for DIY antennas on the web that you can make for less than $10 worth of parts, which is good considering the flood of $50 antennas on the market that are little more than hype.

A couple of years ago I made a Gray-Hoverman antenna. I had no complaints about how it worked, but it wasn’t very durable. And in St. Louis it was overkill–it picked up everything tvfool.com said I could get indoors and nothing more. No SIUC PBS station for me. A Gray-Hoverman is probably more useful along the eastern seaboard where the cities and TV stations are closer together.

Rather than fix the Gray-Howerman yet again, or build something else, I bought a basic, traditional-looking RCA ANT111F for $6. Even the simplest DIY antenna, made primarily of a cardboard box with aluminum foil, costs $3-$4 in materials to make and my time is worth more than the difference. If my kids were a bit older, a DIY antenna would be a great science experiment to do with them, but they aren’t.

I did find my reception in the basement, below ground level, was pretty abysmal. The range seemed to be less than five miles, and I could only get about five channels. But on the first floor, with the antenna about seven feet above ground level, my range is 10-12 miles, depending on the strength of the distant signal, and I could get 30 channels. To improve reception in the basement, I connected a longer cable to the antenna (using a cheap keystone jack as a coupler) so I could put it up in the ceiling, closer to ground level. When I did that, I could get 24 channels, though the signal strength wasn’t all that good.

One thing to remember when changing or repositioning an antenna: always scan for new channels afterward.

Eliminate wifi dead spots using access points

I’ve said before how to eliminate wifi dead spots, but perhaps I didn’t give it the focus it deserves. I think almost everyone has wifi dead spots in their house that they would like to eliminate. It turns out you can do it, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either.

The idea is to supplement your existing router with one or two additional access points. Read more

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