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.

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.

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.

Free TV for Me

 

netlogos2016

I am celebrating the seventh anniversary of the purchase of my Ooma Hub and Scout.  Before Ooma, we relied on our ‘land line’ for phone communications and our ‘land line’ was Comcast VOIP.  The hardware cost me $205 which comes down to $2.44/month — less than fees and taxes on a traditional phone line.  Eliminating phone service did not save me much, since I lost my ‘Triple Play’ discount, but it left me just a little less reliant on Comcast.  The following May, I replaced Comcast’s internet service with less expensive Fairpoint and Comcast’s television service with an antenna.  With Black Friday and the holiday season at hand, I thought this might be a good time to take stock of things.

In the Attic: For most of the last six years, I have had two antenna systems — one inside my attic and one on a mast above the roof line.  This spring, I took down the mast.  My attic installation has proven to be as good as the outdoor antenna, is much easier to maintain, and is out of the weather.  The attic installation consists of a DB8e ($128.02) and a pair of Stellar Labs 30-2476 ($34.99 x 2) antennas coupled via an RCA TVPRAMP1Z Preamplifier ($24.11).  I have extended a Stellar Labs 30-2476 with the front half of a second to improve gain.  I distribute and amplify the output of the system with an EDA-2800 ($75.98) distribution amplifier.  Total cost of the three antennas, pre-amp, and distribution amp comes to $274, as of this morning.

On the TV: I have some kind of set top box on each television — one DTVPal DVR ($170 when I bought it, but no longer available), three Channel Master DVR+s ($250 plus $50 for a 1t USB disk), three TiVo Roamio OTAs ($400), and two TiVo Minis ($146).  I also have a couple Fire TVs (current gen is $89.99), a pair of Fire TV sticks (current gen is $39.99), and two Roku 2 XS streamers (no longer available, but roku sticks go for $39.99).  Total cost of $2586.  I know this is a big number, but we have eight televisions.  It comes to $323.25 per set.  Assuming five years service per device, $5.39/month/set.

What We Watch: We are OTA-first cord cutters which means that most of the time, we are watching programming received via an antenna (live and time shifted).  There’s plenty to watch: 2.1 WGBH Boston (PBS Prime), 2.2 PBS World, 4.1 WBZ Boston (CBS), 4.2 Decades, 5.1 WCVB Boston (ABC), 5.2 MeTV, 7.1 WHDH Boston (NBC), 7.2 This TV, 9.1 WMUR Manchester, NH (ABC), 9.2 MeTV, 11.1 WENH Durham (PBS Prime), 11.2 PBS Explore, 11.3 PBS World, 11.4 PBS Create, 25.1 WFXT Boston (Fox), 25.2 Escape, 25.3 LAFF, 38.1 WSBK Boston (MyTV), 38.2 Heroes and Icons, 44.1 WGBX Boston (PBS), 44.3 PBS Create, 44.4 PBS Kids, 50.1 WBIN Derry, NH, 50.2 Antenna TV, 50.3 Grit, 56.1 WLVI Boston (CW), 56.2 BUZZER, 62.3 The Works, 62.4 Comet, 66.2 BounceTV, 66.3 GetTV, 66.4 Escape, 68.1 ION, 68.2 Qubo, and 68.3 ION Life.  We no longer pay for a streaming service.  VuDu has a great ad supported service and Crackle is very good.  I find myself buying discs again — they are so inexpensive and the quality is unsurpassed.  A lot of movies include a digital code, so my Vudu-Amazon-Disney library is growing.  I watched the election returns on Newsmax TV.  I like the ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and RT News free streaming apps.  That’s about it.

I look forward to 2017 with a $50/month communications and entertainment budget.  It’s not exactly free tv, but it’s free enough for me.

 

 

 

Boston Outage Updates Moved

http://www.wgbh.org/about/Tower_and_Transmission_Signal_Issues.cfm

Tuesday, November 15, 2016, 3:00pm

Work on the tower was suspended Tuesday afternoon because of inclement weather.  A shutdown for testing that was planned for tonight will be rescheduled for the overnight hours tomorrow, pending additional analysis during the daytime hours on Wednesday.

 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016, 12:45pm

The crew anticipates needing to shut down all stations that occupy the Needham tower tonight (Tuesday into Wednesday) for transmission line testing and analysis that will begin at about 1:30am and possibly extend to 4:00am.

This is progressive step that is not necessarily expected to result in stations moving back to the upper antenna tonight.

 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016, 9:30am

Last night’s transition of WGBX and the network stations back to the upper antenna was postponed.  Following additional analysis on the transmission lines, engineers found new evidence for the source of the faults that developed when the transmitters were raised to full power.

Weather permitting, the crew will back on the tower today for more repair work.  Then, after the repairs are tested, another attempt will be made to move the stations back to the main antenna and increase the power.

 

Boston Broadcast TV Outage Ends

High Wire Act

High Wire Act

Wanted to share this amazing image of the guys climbing the Needham tower to restore service.  I really appreciate the effort and hope the guys on the ground apply similar effort to ensuring this doesn’t happen again.  It’s on to Buffalo!

Boston Broadcast TV Outage

The most important antenna in Boston

The most important antenna in Boston

 

This morning, I woke up, powered on my television and DVR+, and tuned in to 38.1 to catch Patriots All Access.  The screen was black.  Same for 38.2, 44.1, 4.1, and 4.2.  Apparently, there had been a problem at one of the broadcast towers which impacted some very important television stations — including the one the New England Patriots would be playing on later in the day.  Checking in with WBZ, Patsfans.com, and the Boston forum on AVS, I decided that service would not be restored in time for the game and set about finding an alternative.  To my surprise, a number of premium providers rely on broadcast television for their feeds.  All of these providers were affected…

  • PS Vue
  • Dish
  • DirecTV
  • Charter Cable
  • RCN Cable
  • Metrocast Cable

In the end, I watched the game using a Simple TV DVR at a friend’s home in New Jersey.  I’m afraid I may be imposing on him again next week.  Best of luck to the engineers tasked with restoring service.