CES 2018 Is Over…

…and nobody won!

It literally rained on their parade as generally sunny Nevada endured torrential downpours on Day 1.  Then, on Day 2, the lights went out.  A sign?

Part of the problem is that sponsors have forgotten that CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show.  That doesn’t mean jewelry made out of recycled computer parts (Engadget’s runaway People’s Choice winner) or full motion bill boards on moving vehicles or WiFi street lamps.

It’s hard to get excited about even bigger TVs, somewhat connected cars, and robot dogs.  Consumers are not enthusiastic about regulatory bodies or standards committees.  Here is some other stuff did not excite me…

  • The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) was at CES to remind us that ATSC 3.0 is still coming and they are still optimistic about the future.
  • The FCC was on hand to explain their reversal of Net Neutrality (sort of — FCC chair Ajit Pai stayed home due to death threats).
  • Cisco demonstrated cloud DVR analytics to detect if a subscriber is likely to run out of storage and send out an alert offering consumers additional space.
  • 8K displays are on the way!
  • 10K displays are on the way!
  • Comcast reassured an audience that, “people are watching more video than ever before,” Jenckes said. “They are consuming the same content in different ways,” so Comcast must evolve its products to support that.  (Tell that to the NFL!)
  • Comcast is also excited about its home security and automation opportunities.  (The company that uses ‘admin’ and ‘password’ for their router credentials, sets the SSID password to the customer’s phone number, and has guest access to consumer routers should NOT be securing and automating anyone’s home.)
  • YouTube promised more, better ads:  “This year we’ll innovate on that [TrueView] even more,” Kyncl said. “We’re trying to innovate in ways so that advertisers can get their messages across to all of these large audiences…but doing it in a way that is not viewed as friction.”
  • Discover thinks focusing on ‘enthusiasts and superfans’ is the answer: “We think we can take advantage of that ecosystem by following the superfans and the enthusiasts for cars or science, or food or cooking all around the world and sort of super-feed them,” he added.  (I can’t wait to see how this impacts their Tiny Homes coverage!)
  • Roku bought an audio streaming company and is licensing their OS to speaker and soundbar manufacturers.  I guess the idea is that you can use voice to change a channel or something, but I suspect we will finally have speakers that spontaneously reboot.
  • Sales of headsets and eyewear outfitted for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are poised for a record year, according to a new forecast from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).  Sony has sold >2M VR units.

Channel Master demonstrated their Stream+ ($99) and a new SMARTenna ($59).  Stream+ is a media player that integrates streaming services and games with live broadcast TV and includes an on-screen channel guide with DVR capability to pause, rewind and record live TV. The powerful Android TV™ platform includes Google Play™ store, Live Channels™ DVR and built-in Chromecast™.  SMARTenna is a high-performance UHF/VHF television antenna. Ideal for most metro/suburban dwellers, designed for indoor reception up to 35 miles and outdoor reception from up to 50 miles.  Omni-directional design receives signals from 360-degrees and eliminates the need for amplification for the majority of installations.  For $148 you get UHF/VHF reception, an Electronic Program Guide, and apps — still no Amazon or Netflix video.  You have to add an SD card if you want to record broadcast programming.  I guess the Chromecast gets you the apps you wish were included.  Still ought to be of interest to some.  No PSIP sourced guide which is a major drawback for me.

Project Linda is kind of cool — drop your cell phone into a laptop shell and your one device does it all.  Have to be a heck of a phone.  Need to keep an eye on these guys.

If you read about ANYTHING interesting at CES 2018, please let me know by commenting below.

 

 

 

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Cut the Cord in 2018

If your New Years Resolution is to spend less, there is no better place to start than with television. There have never been more options at all price points and Google’s databases are repleat with how to guides and testimonials from happy cord cutters.

Best to start with broadcast television. Broadcast television or Over-the-Air (OTA) is ad supported television. Plug the right antenna into the right television and point it in the right direction and chances are you will be watching Big Bang Theory with no subscription at all. To determine which antenna is best for you, which way to point it, and what kind of service you can expect, visit TVFool.com and run a report for your address or the GPS coordinates for the location of your antenna. To see what sub-channels are carried on each channel, look up the wikipedia article for the main channel. To see what programming is available on each channel, visit TitanTV.com.

If you want help analyzing your TVFool data or choosing an antenna, post a comment including a link to your TVFool.com report below. Generally, this is the process I follow…

  1. Run a TVFool.com report
  2. Look up sub-channels on Wikipedia
  3. Use TitanTV to decide which channels to target
  4. Group ‘real’ targeted channels by frequency
  5. Sort groups of channels by direction
  6. Choose antenna(s)
  7. Test
  8. Build
  9. Improve

Here is a real example using my own location…

I used a free IOS app called GPS Utils to snag my coordinates. My attic is about 30′ off the ground, so I used that for AGL. My TvFool report can be opened at http://www.tvfool.com/?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=29&q=id%3d60edc97d153f34.

Let’s start with the big table. I am not trying to dx or get into the Guinness Book of World Records, so I am going to focus on channels down to W28CM. (The gray channels are not likely to come in reliably.)

Looking at the ‘Real’ column, channels 2-6 require a VHF-Low antenna, channels 7-13 require a VHF-High antenna, and channels above 13 require a UHF antenna. If I can eliminate one or more bands from my target channel list, I will be able to specialize my antenna to improve reception and, maybe, save some money.

W39AR (4) and WORK-LP (3) are translators of WBIN which has agreed to go off the air as part of the FCC reverse auction, so I do not need to worry about VHF-Low. WENH is New Hampshire’s PBS affiliate with Explore, World, Create, and PBS Kids sub-channels. WMUR (9) is the Manchester, New Hampshire ABC affiliate with a MeTV sub-channel. WMTW (8) is the Portland, Maine ABC affiliate with a Heroes & Icons sub-channel. So, I am at least interested in VHF-High. I have a lot of UHF stations. WUTF (27) is Unimas and LATV — not interested. WBIN is going off the air — not interested. WBZ (30) is CBS with a Decades sub-channel. WCVB (20) is the Boston ABC affiliate with a MeTV sub-channel. WMFP (18) is SonLife with Charge! and Comet TV sub-channels. It is also home to Boston’s NBC affiliate. WFXT (31) is the Boston Fox affiliate with Escape and LAFF sub-channels. WHDH (42) used to be the local NBC affiliate. Now it is an independent channel with little compelling programming, but its This TV sub-channel is interesting. WLVI (41) is Boston’s CW affiliate with a Buzzr sub-channel. WGBH (19) is Boston’s PBS affiliate. It’s a casualty of the reverse auction and mirrored on WGBX (43) so it’s not interesting. WGBX carries Create and PBS Kids sub-channels, but may get World and Explore when WGBH goes away. WSBK (39) is Boston’s MyNetwork affiliate and carries a Heroes & Icons sub-channel. So, here are my targeted channels…

VHF-Low

  • None

VHF-High

  • WMUR (9) ABC/MeTV
  • WENH (11) PBS/Explore/World/Create/PBS Kids

UHF

  • WBZ (30) CBS/Decades
  • WMFP (18) Charge!/Comet TV/NBC
  • WFXT (31) Escape/LAFF
  • WHDH (42) This TV
  • WLVI (41) CW/Buzzr
  • WGBX (43) PBS/Create/PBS Kids
  • WSBK (39) MyNetwork/H&I

I could focus on UHF as most of my VHF-High programming is otherwise available, but WENH and WMUR carry local programming which I want. I could get a combination VHF/UHF antenna, but all of my UHF stations are due south of me and both the VHF stations are northwest, so I will join a dedicated UHF antenna to a dedicated VHF antenna so I can point each for optimal reception. For my VHF antenna, I chose the Stellar Labs 30-2476 which I believe is the best VHF antenna currently available. I probably would have gone with a DB8 if I did not want WMUR since it will pick up VHF-Very-High channels like 11. I went with the DB8e in case I wanted to articulate the panels for better reception. I joined the pair with an RCA TVPRAMP1Z Preamplifier because it has separate VHF/UHF inputs, gets good reviews, and is very inexpensive.

To test a new installation, I like to run a commercially terminated and tested coax from the antenna to a television. Ebay is a great source of such cables…

https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2055119.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.H0.X100%27+rg+6+cable.TRS0&_nkw=100%27+rg+6+cable&_sacat=0

It’s handy to have a portable TV close to the television for pointing of the antenna. A HDHomeRun tuner and a laptop will get the job done…

https://www.ebay.com/b/Silicondust-ATSC-Video-Capture-TV-Tuner-Cards/3761/bn_77184517?rt=nc&_sop=15

Once you have things working, it’s time to think about getting the signal to each television. If you have multiple sets, you will need a splitter. If your signal is marginal, you may want an amplified splitter…

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Delectronics&field-keywords=electroline+splitter

Don’t get more ports than you have televisions because splitting the signal makes it weaker for all other stations.  Be sure to terminate any unused terminals.

Installing an antenna is worthwhile even if you eventually go another route or stick with cable. Your local television service may not carry all broadcast channels, some may become unavailable during contract negotiations, and you will appreciate local news during an emergency when cable and/or internet are unavalable. Most important, having an antenna empowers you to tell Comcast to cancel your account when negotiating a more favorable situation.

2017: An Important Year for Cord Cutters

2017 was an important year for cord cutters. For starters, there are more of us. According to eMarketer, there will be 22.2 million cord cutters ages 18 and older this year – up 33.2 percent over 2016. In addition, the so-called “cord-nevers” – consumers who have never subscribed to cable or satellite TV – will top 34.4 million in 2017. That’s 56.6 million U.S. non-pay TV viewers.

In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted core elements of the ATSC 3.0 standard as the foundation for voluntary implementation by broadcasters and manufacturers of Next Gen TV. 2017 saw the arrival of ATSC 3.0-capable broadcast products and technologies as well as the announcement of Phoenix as a ‘model market’ for Next Gen broadcast television. Sinclair Broadcast Group announced it intends to “fully deploy ATSC 3.0 on Sinclair’s stations nationwide.” ATSC 3.0 will not be important for a while (if ever), but it is here at last. For those not paying attention, ATSC 3.0 is a new version of the ATSC standards for television broadcasting created by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC).  ATSC 3.0 comprises around 20 standards covering different aspects including HEVC for video channels of up to 2160p 4K resolution at 120 frames per second, wide color gamut, Dolby AC-4 and MPEG-H 3D Audio, datacasting capabilities, and more robust mobile television support. The capabilities have also been foreseen as a way to enable targeted advertising and finer public alerting.

The dreaded Reverse Auction came and went and broadcast television is still fine. Much like Y2K, dread far exceeded reality. Some stations are moving, some are going away, but most of the dial was not impacted by the auction. Of course, the heavy lifting begins next year and the impact of lost bandwidth my make ATSC 3.0 implementation more challenging, but, so far, so good.

We lost some friends in 2017. Real Simple Software closed its doors. Their Simple TV DVR was an innovative whole house solution. Tablo TV got this niche right and RSS is gone. Channel Master has stopped production of its DVR+. The DVR+ was important for two reasons. With its PSIP powered electronic program guide, the DVR+ required no subscription or service, so it could be used in places without telephones or internet and will continue to operate as long as the FCC requires PSIP data be broadcast. At least as important, the DVR+ provided legitimate competition to TiVo. This year, TiVo sold the Roamio OTA with Lifetime service for less than $200. Hope you got yours because I do not think we will see prices like that again. Channel Master is going the whole house route with its Stream+ joining Tablo and SiliconDust (HDHomeRun) in an already crowded market. In 2017, my home became a TiVo home as we now have five Roamios and two Minis. BTW, that $200 TiVo and a $75 Plex Pass were my only television spend in 2017, so I really am enjoying Free TV.

Plex added support for live tv in 2017.  With Plex Live TV, you can watch and record broadcast TV. I expect this will be how ATSC 3.0 enters most homes.

OTT (streaming tv) became a real thing in 2017.  Vue, Sling, and DTVNow all offer legitimate alternatives to cable television.  You no longer have to pay Comcast to learn about Tiny Homes!

Net Neutrality is no more. I won’t comment on this except to say that it will likely impact quality of service and prices for streaming services going forward.

Reading over my notes, I guess 2017 wasn’t a very important year for television. Most people still rely on cable tv for entertainment, TiVo is once again the only player in the consumer DVR business, SiliconDust is still the gold standard for whole house streaming, Roku remains the most popular streamer, and you can still receive television via an inexpensive antenna. How about that.

Please comment if you are aware of an important development I missed.

The Roku Channel

The Roku Channel

Just wanted to let everyone know that Roku has introduced a new channel featuring ad supported movies and programs.  Kind of a soft launch.  You need to add the channel from the channel store.  Movie selection is great.  Quality is very good.  Ads are unobtrusive — though plentiful.  Oh, and it’s free.

If you have a Roku, it is certainly worth a look.

The Roku Channel joins Crackle, SnagFilmsTubi TV, and Vudu as very good FREE options for streamers.  If you can recommend other FREE streaming movie channels, please post in the comments.

Farewell Real Simple Software

In May of 2012, flush with the success of their reception at the 2012 CES, Real Simple Software launched a Kickstarter project for the Simple TV DVR.  For $200, early adopters got a Simple.TV box, a year of service, a Mohu antenna, and a Simple.TV T-shirt.  For $300, Simple.TV supporters also got a Roku XD streamer and a lifetime premium subscription.

CNET crowned RSS with their ‘Best of CES’ award in January proclaiming, “Simple.TV might be the next big cord-cutting device.”  It wasn’t — at least not for me.  I was intrigued, but $150 per tuner plus $300 per tuner for lifetime guide service seemed expensive to me.

Flash forward to October of 2013 and Woot is offering the Simple.TV STV-1000 DVR with Lifetime Premier Subscription Included for $99.99.  I got one.  It was awesome.  So awesome, in fact, that I eventually bought four more.

At this time, there was much excitement and anticipation for a dual tuner DVR.  That dual tuner DVR ended up being the undoing of Real Simple Software.  High temperatures, a small fan, and no vents spelled disaster for consumers and the company.

By the middle of 2014, the handwriting was on the wall.  Many feared that the STVs would be orphaned as the company abandoned their user community forums.  Early in 2015 RSS’s database crashed rendering the devices useless.  Eventually, the database was recovered, but RSS announced that they were moving on from the Simple TV DVR.

Last night an email announced that the Simple TV service is shutting down August 5th.  While the remnants of the user community were gathering at the forums for a final farewell, someone pulled the plug.

Real Simple Software 2011-2017 RIP

PlayOn Makes Roku Great Again!

MediaMall has quietly added a DirecTV Now channel to its PlayOn application.  This channel works well.  DirecTV Now subscribers now have an OTT DVR.  Yea!

Roku users are still waiting for a DirecTV Now app, but have always had the PlayOn ‘private channel’.  This morning I plugged in a Roku 2 XS and am happy to announce that Roku now has a DirecTV Now app.  It works great.  PlayOn also has apps for Sony’s Playstation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’s WII so anyone should be able to watch DirecTV Now.

Happy streaming!

Dealing with TV Carriage Negotiations

Updated: 4:45 PM EST Mar 7, 2017 Hearst Television, parent of WMUR, is continuing its efforts to renew its carriage agreement with DISH Network after reaching an impasse on March 3rd, resulting in WMUR no longer being carried by DISH Network.

While DISH is not carrying WMUR at this time, we have not ‘blacked out’ our station. You may continue to receive WMUR for free, over the air…

WMUR happens to be a VHF station.  Most inexpensive antennas are UHF only, so WMUR is likely setting their customers up for disappointment.  Those who actually figure out which antenna to buy and how to install it properly will notice a dramatic improvement in broadcast quality since OTA signals are less compressed.  They might also notice that there are a LOT of broadcast channels in the Boston market.  They may like the idea of not paying for television at all or using free tv with an OTT supplement like DirecTV Now, Sling TV, or Sony Vue.  I see a lot of antennas going up as I commute each day.

If you are a WMUR viewer affected by the outage who is inclined to install an antenna, here are my suggestions…

  1. Visit TVFool.com and run a report for your address (best to use GPS coordinates for the proposed location of the antenna).
  2. Choose an antenna.
  3. Install your antenna.

If your television is very old, it may not have digital tuners and you may need some kind of digital to analog converter.

If all of this sounds interesting, click the 12345 links at the top of the page and see if cord cutting is for you.

Apple TV: My New Favorite Streamer

Last month I signed up for three months of DirecTV Now.  I thought my iBoy would like the included Apple TV.  He has an iPhone and an Apple laptop.  iBoy is blind to the obvious shortcomings of each — no reason he wouldn’t embrace this overpriced streamer.  He did.  No surprise.

Here’s the surprise: I like it too.  The PRIMARY reason for my affection is that it has a sleep timer that powers off the display which powers off my television.  This is a feature which is lacking in the Roku and Fire TV devices I own.  But there’s more…

  • ATV’s remote controls the volume on my TV
  • ATV’s CEC switches TV input
  • Single Sign-on minimizes relentless re-entering of credentials

These features have been on my streamer wish list for a LONG TIME.  The Apple TV works like a TV accessory should — pick up the remote, touch a control to switch HDMI input, adjust volume, and enjoy.  Single Sign-on means you only need to enter credentials for your premium provider once for all the ‘go’ apps.

Apple TV has most of the important apps.  For cord cutters/trimmers: ABC Live/News, CBS/News, Crackle, DirecTV Now, HBO Go/Now, Hulu, NBC, Netflix, Showtime/Anytime, Sling TV, Snag Films, Sony Vue, Starz, Tubi TV, and YouTube plus all of the expected ‘Go’ apps.  There is a Plex client.  There are hundreds of games for the Apple TV.  All are required to work with the included remote, but you can associate a console quality controller for better game play.

AirPlay lets me stream from iPhone apps not supported on Apple TV — Amazon Instant, Simple TV, and Vudu, for instance.  It works as advertised.

Security is pretty complete.  I like that I can require a password to buy apps but download free apps without entering the password.  You can also control what devices can use AirPlay and what apps use location services.  Not really a security issue, but Siri works well entering passwords — even if you have upper case letters and special characters.

I got the Apple TV as part of a DirecTV Now promotion.  DirecTV Now has been a mixed bag for me.  At times, buffering has made DTN unwatchable.  It has gotten better — much better since I began using the Apple TV.  That may be stuff happening behind the scenes, better hardware, better software, or a combination of all of these things, but DirecTV Now is better with an Apple TV.

Finally, there is that funky remote control.  I don’t care for the touchpad.  I’d rather have a D-pad.  I find myself pulling up menus or changing channels fishing around for the remote.  I overshoot letters typing in passwords and sometimes the cursor moves when I am trying to press the pad for OK.  iBoy says it takes getting used too (unusual criticism of anythig Apple), but I suspect I will get used to Siri first.

Regardless, this is an excellent streamer and I highly recommend it.

 

Mission Accomplished!

missionaccomplished

WGBH has announced that repair of the broadcast equipment
in Needham Heights has been successfully completed

Monday, December 19, 2016, 9:50am

During the overnight hours, WGBX and the network stations were moved back to the upper antenna on the repaired transmission line and successfully brought up to full power. And WGBH was also returned to the lower antenna at full power.

As of about 4:55am this morning, all stations are operating normally.

We want to offer our sincere thanks again for the patience and understanding of all of our viewers who were affected by the October 22nd antenna failure. And if you continue to experience reception problems on WGBX or WGBH, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us.