Amazon Prime: Something for Everyone

Prime Channels and Philo TV integrate perfectly into the Live TV EPG

I thought I would be doing a review of the Amazon Recast by now.  I’ve been using one for more than a month.  Let this first paragraph serve as the Recast review.  It’s nothing special.  It works as advertised.  The Recast requires internet access, only supports two concurrent streams, and requires you own an Android or IOS device for initial setup.  BUT, the Amazon Prime ecosystem is growing on me and the Recast is the best DVR for the Prime ecosystem…and streams OTA to my Echo Shows.

The Prime Ecosystem is the universe of all devices and services that interact with the Prime service.  Prime is an Amazon service which includes free shipping for eligible purchases, streaming of movies, TV shows, and music, shopping deals, unlimited reading, and lots of other stuff.  You get this for $10/month if you pay annually.  Amazon also integrates premium channels into its Prime streaming media.  Cinemax ($9.99/mo), HBO ($14.99/mo), Showtime ($8.99/mo), and Starz ($8.99/mo) plus many other channels can be added to Prime.  Vue and Philo skinny cable packages can be integrated into the Fire TV grid style guide as well.  The Recast, Fire TV Stick, Echo Show, and Amazon tablets are among the devices in the Prime ecosystem.  The Prime Ecosystem extends to third party lights and smart devices which can be controlled using Alexa.

My Prime Universe includes a 1T Recast, five 4K Fire TV Sticks, and seven Echo Shows plus lights and other smart devices.  A typical evening at my home sounds like this…

  1. Alexa, turn on kitchen (or turn on stove or turn on sink)
  2. Alexa, show channel guide (for the Recast)
  3. Alexa, down (scroll the guide)
  4. Alexa watch WBZ (local news)
  5. Alexa softer (or louder)
  6. Alexa, set a Roast timer for 45 minutes
  7. Alexa, add rosemary to my shopping list

That’s the Prime Ecosystem.

The 4K Fire TV Stick is a nice streaming stick.  CEC volume and power control mean you only need one remote when watching television via a Fire TV Stick.  Integration of OTA and OTT including premium and free content plus games and other apps make the Fire TV a good choice for a TV OS.

For most hoping to cut their entertainment costs, the Fire TV is an attractive option.  Put up an antenna, install a Recast close to the antenna, plug a Fire TV Stick into each television, and start saving money.  Want premium content?  Add Amazon Prime for $10/month (three concurrent streams).  For those addicted to cable channels, Vue (five concurrent streams) or Philo (three concurrent streams) can add those channels to the Recast’s Live Channels grid style guide.  Need HBO for Game of Thrones or Cinemax or some other premium channel?  Add the Prime Channel (three concurrent streams).

The price is right, too.  The retail price of the Recast is less than the cost of a TiVo with Lifetime — about half, actually — and you can buy a house full of Fire TV Sticks for the price of a TiVo Mini.

I paid $229.99 for my 1T, 4 tuner, 150 hour Recast.  I used Staples Rewards to buy a 4K Fire TV Stick at Staples after getting two for $15 using a $25 off $75 coupon and $40 in Rewards a month earlier.  My fourth and fifth 4K Fire Sticks were $29.99 at Amazon.com.  So, five televisions for $305.  I have to have high speed internet for this to work at all and that costs me $50/month.  Prime adds $10/month.  So, $60/month.  If you want all those cable channels, add Philo for $20/month for three concurrent streams.  Philo adds a lot of programming…

  • A&E
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • BET
  • Cheddar
  • Cheddar Big News
  • CMT
  • Comedy Central
  • Discovery Channel
  • DIY Network
  • Food Network
  • FYI
  • Game Show Network
  • Hallmark Channel
  • Hallmark Drama
  • Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
  • HGTV
  • History
  • IFC
  • Investigation Discovery
  • Lifetime
  • Lifetime Movies
  • MotorTrend
  • MTV
  • MTV2
  • Nick Jr.
  • Nickelodeon
  • Oprah Winfrey Network
  • Paramount Network
  • PeopleTV
  • Science Channel
  • Sundance TV
  • Tastemade
  • TeenNick
  • TLC
  • Travel Channel
  • TV Land
  • VH1
  • Viceland
  • WE tv
  • American Heroes Channel
  • aspireTV
  • BET Her
  • Cooking Channel
  • Destination America
  • Discovery Family
  • Discovery Life
  • Law&Crime
  • Logo
  • MTV Live
  • Nicktoons
  • REVOLT
  • UPtv

Need Sports and News?  Sony’s Vue also integrates into Amazon’s Live Guide.  Vue allows five concurrent streams!  The $50/month Core package includes sports and news in addition to local channels and all the expected cable channels.

Anecdote: I have a 60″ plasma television in my living room.  It’s on an interior wall which is not near ethernet or cable/antenna.  I had a TiVo Mini attached to the television.  The Mini does not support wireless, so I used powerline adapters to connect my Mini to my router.  The Mini was $130 and the pair of powerline adapters cost $100.  I replaced both with a 4K Fire TV Stick which cost $29.99.

If you are thinking of leaving your premium entertainment provider, I recommend you consider Prime.  With its small initial investment, low monthly costs, ease of use, a la carte programming, and stellar customer support, Prime offers something for everyone.

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LOCAST: Stream Local TV

for free!  sort of…

tldr; https://www.locast.org/

Locast is a not-for-profit service offering users access to broadcast television stations over the internet.

We stream the signal over the Internet to select US cities. We are trying to help broadcasters reach people just like you over the internet.

Just a heads up that there is a new Aereo in town!  This one is free and it’s very cool.  Add the app to your Roku and get local channels and a grid guide for free without an antenna.

So far, quality seems to be very good.  If there is a downside to this app, it’s that they relentlessly solicit a $5/month donation.  If someone decides to pony up, please let me know if the ads go away.  Just the same, if your OTT service does not include local channels, give Locast a try.

Happy Streaming!

 

 

Tablo TV DVR vs Amazon Recast

UPDATE: It looks like the Recast uses about the same power as the Tablo TV DVR…

http://www.aftvnews.com/amazon-fire-tv-recast-power-usage-while-idle-recording-and-streaming/

My friend Bill has just moved to New Hampshire and found an antenna on the roof of his new home.  He replaced the pre-amp and pulled in stations from Portland Maine, Boston, and Manchester New Hampshire.  I loaned him a TiVo Roamio and a Channel Master DVR+ so he could see how good broadcast television can be.  We have been been talking about Roku TVs as well as whole house DVRs like Amazon’s Recast and the Tablo TV DVR.

The Tablo team put together a really even handed comparison of the two devices here

Tablo TV DVR vs Amazon Recast

The bottom line (according to Tablo’s blog)…

  • Tablo is an open system supporting most streamers and services while Recast is a closed system designed to work with Amazon devices and services (see table below)
  • Some Tablo products have internal storage and all support external storage to 8TB while all Amazon devices have internal storage and none [currently] support external storage
  • Tablo supports six concurrent streams while the Recast supports two
  • A Tablo DVR includes basic guide and recording functionality, but you must purchase their premium service to match (and surpass) what is included with the Recast
  • Tablo (with the premium service) provides full out-of-home viewing and control while Recast is limited to mobile device playback
  • The Tablo DVR uses less power than the Recast due to streaming architecture

This table compares client compatibility…

That’s what Bill thinks, anyway.  I’m a little suspicious of the energy efficiency claims and Amazon has promised external storage will be available sometime after launch.

One of the devices missing from the table above is the Amazon Echo Show.  I open Plex on the Show to watch recorded programs.  It’s kind of a pain since you have to open the browser and type in the plex.tv url each time you want to watch something.  So far, I have not been able to get live tv from my Extends.  I really would like to watch live TV on my Shows, so this is a big plus for the Recast as far as I am concerned.

The Tablo TV DVR scales better since adding a second DVR does not require adding a second service (and you cannot add a second Recast at all).  You can attach up to 8TB of storage to a single Tablo TV DVR

Amazon only supports one Recast per account.  For me, that is very disappointing.  Amazon has really disappointed in consumer electronics from their phones to the Echos and now the Recast.  There is no reason to assume they will eventually get it right.

The comparison really does not address cost.  Cost is very important.  If you want an appliance with no monthly fees, the Recast wins.  The retail cost of a 500GB, two tuner Recast is $229.99 and will be $179.99 on Black Friday.  Use an Amazon credit card to pay and your OOP is $171.  The 1TB, four tuner model is $279.99/$219.99/$209.  The Tablo TV two tuner DVR is $139.99 BUT you will spend another $50 on a 1TB disk and you really need to shell out another $150 for all the features the Tablo blogger was talking about.  So, $340.  Get a refurb for $119.99 and you are still talking $320.  The Tablo TV four tuner DVR is $199.96 BUT you will spend another $50 on a 1TB disk and you really need to shell out another $150 for all the features the Tablo blogger was talking about.  So, $400.  You can get the older two tuner Tablo TV DVR for $89.99 which would end up costing $290.

So, Bill, if cost is not an issue, get the Tablo TV DVR.  It is simply the better DVR.  Go ahead and get the four tuner unit, spring for the Lifetime Service, and get a really big disk.  If you are not ready to throw $500 at a DVR, then get a Recast.  Don’t bother with the four tuner model because the box is not robust enough to support four tuners.

Bienvenue au New Hampshire!

PS To DLFL who asked…

What does [‘Don’t bother with the four tuner model because the box is not robust enough to support four tuners’] mean and what is the evidence to support that statement?

It means you are limited to two streams regardless of which model you purchase. Combined with the fact that you can only have one Recast per account (also from the ARFYou can register one Fire TV Recast per Amazon account), this is very limiting…

from Amazon’s Recast FAQ

How many programs can I record at once? Can I record a program while watching another live or recorded program?

With a 2-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can either:

  • Record up to 2 programs at once,
  • Watch up to 1 live and 1 recorded program on different devices, while recording another;
  • Watch up to 2 recorded programs on different devices, while recording 2 programs in the background; OR
  • Watch up to 2 live programs on different devices at once.

With a 4-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can either:

  • Record up to 4 programs at once;
  • Watch up to 1 live and 1 recorded program on different devices, while recording up to 3 other programs in the background;
  • Watch up to 2 recorded programs on different devices, while recording up to 4 programs in the background; OR
  • Watch up to 2 live programs on different devices at once while recording up to 2 other programs in the background.

from the Tablo Blog Post

  • On-the-fly transcoding requires A LOT of processing power, so every Recast device is limited to 2 concurrent viewing streams, regardless of whether you have a 2 or 4-tuner model

Is the Best OTA DVR a TV?

When we left Comcast, we replaced their set top boxes with Dish Network DTVPal DVRs.  I liked these because they required no service and no connection except to an antenna.  When Channel Master abandoned the DVR+, the only autonomous DVRs on the market were low end digital converters that also record like the Homeworx devices.

It’s been more than a year since I bought my 55″ TCL 4K UHD Roku TV.  I paid $400 for the first one and $315 for the second.  I almost never use the Roku apps.  Here’s why I love this television…

  1. It’s inexpensive.  I was looking to trim my electric bill by weening my kid off the 60″ plasma.  My kid loves it for games.
  2. It’s pretty.  It’s not plasma and the picture fades if you are far to the left or right or far above or below the set, but from most of my living room, it looks great and I see no motion blur watching sports.  I bought the second one to replace a 43″ plasma in my bedroom.  Very satisfied.
  3. It’s smart.  Not smart like it can run apps (it runs the Roku OS).  Smart like it remembers what input you last used when powered on.  That means if you use an antenna, it comes up like a dumb television.  For some of us, that is very nice.
  4. It’s informative.  Hit the back button on the remote and you get a full screen grid style EPG (Electronic Program Guide).
  5. It’s tricky.  Plug a 16g USB 2.0 thumb drive into this television and you will be able to pause, rewind, and fast forward through 90 minutes of television.  This television does not record programs, but it does most of the things we do with a DVR.

So, for ~$350, you get a 55″ TCL 4K UHD Roku TV which is great for games and sports, remembers your preferences, has a nice EPG, and can pause a program long enough for you to answer the phone or eat dinner.  What could be better than that?

Amazon Recast: More Good, Less Bad

from https://variety.com/2018/digital/features/fire-tv-recast-amazon-1202960053

  • The company…announced last week that it would soon let consumers connect their own hard drives for additional storage.
  • Amazon wants to simplify discovery of over-the-air content with future software updates. For instance, there is currently no way to just browse upcoming movies or sports programming, but it’s on the list to be added
  • Amazon is considering to add advanced ad skipping

External storage is a big deal.  Amazon needs to announce a Roku app, remove the ‘one Recast per account’ restriction, and promulgate a privacy policy that respects its customers.

Amazon Recast In Context

Among Amazon’s next wave of connected devices is the Fire TV Recast. The Recast is a network tuner and DVR similar to the Tablo OTA DVR.  The Recast comes in two configurations: a $229.99 2 tuner, 500 GB/75 hour model and a $279.99 4 tuner, 1 TB/150 hour model.

The Good:  There’s lots to like about the Recast.  For starters, there is no monthly service fee for the program guide.  Cord cutters hate monthly fees, and Lifetime service adds $150 to the cost of a Tablo TV DVR.  The included storage is sufficient for time shifting and casual collection.   The Recast can be controlled with an Alexa device.  Alexa can search for shows, change over-the-air TV channels, control playback, plus browse, schedule, cancel, and delete recordings.

According to AFTNews.com, the Fire TV Recast supports Dolby 5.1 surround sound, both for live channel viewing and for recordings.  Again, according to AFTNews.com, the Recast stores content as unprotected raw MPEG-2 video files in their native resolution and streams the raw MPEG-2 video files transcoded to H.264 with a maximum resolution of 1440×720 at 60 frames per second.

The Bad:  This device can only be used with Amazon streamers.  If you have other devices in your home, you will need another network tuner.

Storage cannot be expanded.  For those who like to archive movies or binge watch television, 150 hours is not a long time.  One season of Chicago Fire would use a sixth of the 1TB model’s storage.

You can only have one Recaster per Amazon account and can only watch live or recoded programs on two devices simultaneously.  (note: AFTNews.com disputes this, “I explicitly asked Amazon about that exact thing and they explicitly told me that 4 recordings AND 2 pre-recorded viewing streams are possible simultaneously on the 4-tuner model (2 recordings and 2 pre-recorded viewing streams simultaneously for the 2-tuner model). Tuners are NOT used to view pre-recorded videos.”)

The Ugly:  Amazon collects information relating to your use of over-the-air TV content which may include the name of the channel watched, the name of the program watched, and the duration.

The Competition:  Recaster’s main competition is the Tablo OTA DVR.  The four tuner OTA DVR costs $219.99, but requires a usb disk for storage.  A 1TB WD Passport cost $49.99.  To enable a premium guide and remote access, you must pay for service.  Lifetime service is $149.99.  So, the 4 tuner 1TB Tablo OTA DVR with Lifetime Service will cost $419.97 — a $139.98 more than the $279.99 4 tuner 1TB Recaster.

The Lifetime subscription is per account not device, so, as you add or replace DVRs, that cost falls.  You can add as many DVRs to your network as your wallet (wife) allows.

The Tablo OTA DVR works with Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Xiaomi MiBox (Android TV), Nvidia Shield (Android TV), and Xbox One.

Tablo’s DVR supports 8TB USB disks and third party apps enable download of recordings for playback on unconnected devices.

The Verdict:  This device is perfect for someone interested in streaming OTA to a limited number of Amazon devices in and out of their home.  The plug and play approach will appeal to those who do not want to deal with the complexity of plugging in a USB disk but are comfortable managing a wireless network (assuming such a demographic exists).

That said, given the limitations of this device, I believe most people would be better served by an open box four tuner Tablo TV and a 2TB Western Digital Passbook with Lifetime service for $360 — doubling the storage and increasing  compatibility for $80.