OTA DVRs

When my family fired Comcast, I did not think we needed a DVR.  We had a DVR with Comcast, but the only recordings on the box were unwatched episodes of Who Wants to  be a Millionaire and the Bonnie Hunt Show.  We soon found out that a DVR is much more than a digital video recorder.  Right away we discovered we had no idea what was on TV.  It turns out an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is a very good thing.  Then the phone rang.  A lot of people pause television for phone calls, meals, and potty runs.  People ‘rewind’ television too — to see what was missed while the eyes were resting, to watch again an unexpected wardrobe malfunction, or settle for good whether or not it was a catch.

Fortunately, cord cutters have a lot of DVR options.  In fact, most digital-to-analog converters can be used as a DVR by simply plugging in a USB storage device.  For less than thirty bucks, you can add an EPG and a DVR to just about any television.  While these inexpensive devices are very limited, they are a great way to add functionality to a rarely used television.

DVRs take two forms — set top and whole house.  Set top DVRs sit on top of the television set.  They have an antenna input and some kind of television output.  Sometimes you attach a storage device.  They can have one or many tuners.  Whole house DVRs connect to an antenna and your network and stream programming to some other device.  Sometimes you attach a storage device.  They can have one or many tuners.  Set top boxes tend to perform better — faster channel changes and no buffering.  Whole house DVRs are great if you do not have coax close to your television set or have a lot of televisions you use from time to time.

TiVo is the premium set top DVR.  It’s  been around for twenty years and is the only DVR that might be the only box you need.  It’s also the most expensive set top DVR.  For cord cutters, TiVo offers a $399 Roamio/OTA which includes Lifetime Service (no monthly fees).  The 1080p Roamio has four tuners so you can record four shows simultaneously, watch one and record three, or even share tuners with televisions in other rooms (to a $179.99 TiVo Mini).  It streams Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu, HBO Go, and apps like Plex.

TiVo also offers a 4K HDR Bolt that can use either (but not both) broadcast or cable as a source.  Broadcast television is limited to 1080p, but, for those who stream, HDR might be appealing and having both cable and antenna options mean you can cut the cord at will and change your mind back again.  With a $14.99 monthly fee, the Bolt costs $199.99 with 500GB (75 hours) of storage, $299.99 with 1TB (150 hours), or $499.99 with 3TB (450 hours).  You can purchase ‘All In’ Lifetime Service for $549.99 or pay $149.99 annually for service.

The TiVo Mini allows use of a TiVo tuner on a second television in your home.  There are no fees and no moving parts.  The experience is virtually the same as watching a TiVo.

What I like about TiVo..

  • Tivo is the only box you need.  It streams all the important services.  It doesn’t stream the cable alternatives like Vue, DirecTV Now, or Sling TV, but, if you have an antenna, you do not need those.
  • One remote is all you need.  The TiVo remote controls volume and power.  Its inactivity timer turns off signal to the television, so the television shuts off when I fall asleep.
  • Low total cost of ownership.  This is a recent development and may not last long, but the last two years, TiVo has routinely made the Roamio/OTA available for $199.99 and $299.99 with LifetimeService.  Right now, with a bigger disk, it is $399.99.  That is about half what TiVo has been historically, and less that the cost of setting up most alternatives.
  • The Mini does not feel like a remote client.  Except that it does not shut down the attached television after inactivity, it works just like its big brother.

Tablo TV is a ‘whole house’ DVR.  It is a box containing TV tuners, attached to a disk and the internet, which uses a service to present programming information (guide).  Tablo TVs have two to four tuners.  A two tuner Tablo TV costs $139.99 and requires an external USB drive to record/pause/rewind.  A two tuner Tablo TV with 64GB of memory costs $179.99.  A four tuner Tablo TV costs $239.21 and requires an external USB drive.  While the 64GB model is a neat little package, you can get a 1TG USB disk for $50 these days, so the less expensive dual tuner DVR is a better value.  For most people, $239.21 for the four tuner model plus $50 for a USB disk will represent the best value.

You do not need the service to use a Tablo, but most people will find the service adds great value FOR $4.99/mo, $49.99/yr, or $149.99 for Lifetime…

Feature Basic w/Subscription
Manual Recording (date/time/channel/show) X X
Live TV Grid View X X
Schedule View X X
Recordings View X X
Prime Time TV View X
Movies View X
Sports View X
Filters (genre, new, premiering) X
Series Info (plot, first air date, etc.) X
Cover Art X
Record by Series X
Advanced Recording Features X
Tablo Connect (out-of-home streaming) X

You will need a streaming device to view the Tablo TV output…

  • A Smart TV powered by: Roku, or Android TV, or most LG WebOS 2.0 and 3.0 operating systems; OR
  • A Set-Top-Box/Streaming Media Device: Roku, or Amazon Fire TV, or AppleTV, or Nvidia SHIELD, or Xiaomi MiBox; OR
  • A Streaming Stick: Roku Stick, or Amazon Fire TV Stick, or a Chromecast dongle (casting from an Android device or Chrome browser); OR
  • A Gaming System: Nvidia SHIELD, or XBox One; OR
  • An HDMI-enabled computer: Tablo web app in Chrome/Safari

What I like about the Tablo TV DVR…

  • It’s on a lot of devices.
  • It allows for wireless clients.
  • Lifetime Service is for YOU not the BOX.
  • I like the Live TV Grid Guide.

One device I have never warmed up to is the HDHomeRun.  I have a HDHR3-US and a pair of HDHomeRun EXTENDs.  They work fine, but without an annual subscription, you get a very limited guide and no DVR functionality.  You also have to run a PC or a NAS 7×24.  Too much work for me.  (Same reason my Plex server gets so little love.)

I happen to have purchased a couple TCL Roku TVs.  This television integrates streaming and broadcast television very nicely at really attractive prices.  If you plug a USB drive into the set, you can pause and rewind within a 90 minute buffer.  It’s not really an OTA DVR, but trick play and an Electronic Program Guide warrant an honorable mention.

Do you love a DVR I need to know about?  Post a comment below!

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Time for a Refresh?

Or time to retire?

A co-worker approached me about installing an antenna a month or so ago.  We talked a bit and ran a TVFool.com report.  I gave him a link to this blog and went on my way.  A couple days later, I ran into him, “Gonna give it a try?”  “Maybe.”  “Was the blog helpful?”  “It’s a little dated.”

It is a little dated.  The problem is that I have lost interest.  When we left Comcast, we had an antenna and some cable.  I experimented with different antennas and different locations, splitters and joiners, amps and pre-amps.  It was very exciting to pull in a new channel or bump signal across the spectrum.  Now, I have the best array of antennas mounted and pointed for the best reception.  We spent a lot of time looking at DVRs.  This was frustrating and expensive.  Now, we have seven excellent set top DVRs and I have no desire to add to the fleet or upgrade.  I’ve tried most of the streamers and streaming services.  All, for the most part, work as advertised.

Over the coming months, I will be refocusing this blog on FreeTV — removing Everything Else and updating what is left.  I’m done investigating new ideas, but I will try anything anyone wants to send me and I’ll continue to post about interesting developments.  New mission:

  1. Provide a path from premium tv to free tv
  2. Document ‘best solutions’ and ‘best practices’
  3. Investigate new ideas and technologies

Suggestions and criticisms welcome!

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.

 

 

 

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.

New Magnavox OTA DVRs Announced

TB560S

At CES 2016, Magnavox quietly unveiled a line of OTA (Over-the-Air or broadcast television via antenna) DVRs.  There are three models in the line…

  • MDR877H/F7 (MSRP $399.99): 1 TB (1000 hours), two tuners, DVD recorder
  • TB560HP/F7 (MSRP $449.99): 1 TB (1000 hours), two tuners
  • TB560HS/F7 (MSRP $499.99): 2 TB (2000 hours), six tuners

Magnavox has a long history in the OTA Digital VCR/DVD recorder business, but, as far as I know, this is their first foray into the full feature HD DVR arena. Release date is set for this fall. The first thing that struct me about these is the fact that it looks like a TB560HP/F7 with a DVR burner is $50 less than a TB560HP/F7. I suspect there is a lot we don’t yet know about these things.

CNET posted pictures of the boxes here. I have not seen any first hand information other than that.

Here is some of the interesting stuff from the boxes…

– Pause/rewind live TV
– No subscription EPG
– 802.11n
– Tuners (2 or 6)
– Line in for camcorders (or Rokus?)
– External storage
– IOS/Android live and ‘on the go’ support (download recordings?)
– DVD-r/rw support (MDR877H/F7)
– DLNA Sync (start watching in one room, resume in another)
– DVR Link (recordings from all DVRs are available, via a single menu, on all DVRs)
– Home Network Server

The Rovi powered guide looks very nice — it’s a grid with images and details. There seems to be a search function whereby Rovi recommends and aggregates programming.

The interesting thing is that this DVR does not seem to target any existing DVRs directly with the possible exception of dissatisfied Tablo users or people who might otherwise buy a Tablo.

Also interesting, with DLNA, a six tuner model, and no diskless ‘Mini’, Magnavox seems to be inviting streamers to leverage their DVR — and giving them six months to bring a product to market. Is Roku Media Player a potential client for the Magnavox DVR? Kodi is, so Fire TV, Nexus, and Raspberry PI are too, I guess.

This thing does not include streaming apps. That disqualifies it for one box people unless that one box is a DLNA capable streamer (or TV).

Looks like guide is Rovi only, so not a good fit for those without broadband.

Then there’s price. I’m having trouble with the announced prices and feature sets, but, for discussion purposes, let’s assume the prices are correct and these things are not compatible with any other devices. Let’s see how much this will cost compared to the alternatives for 3/4/5 years…

One room 1T at least two tuners:
– TiVo 1t Bolt @$400 plus $150/yr for years 2-5: $700/$850/$1000
– DVR+ plus @$250 plus a 1t disk @$60: $310/$310/$310
– Tablo two tuner DVR @$220 plus a 1t disk @$60 plus Lifetime @$150 plus Roku 1 @$50: $480/$480/$480
– TB560HP/F7 @$450: $450/$450/$450

Two rooms at least 1T at least two tuners:
– TiVo 1t Bolt @$400 plus $150/yr for years 2-5 plus one Mini @$150: $850/$1000/$1150
– Two DVR+s @$500 plus two 1t disks @$120: $620/$620/$620
– Tablo two tuner DVR @$220 plus a 1t disk @$60 plus Lifetime @$150 plus two Roku 1s @$100: $530/$530/$530
– Two TB560HP/F7s @$900: $900/$900/$900

Three rooms at least 1T at least four tuners:
– TiVo 1t Bolt @$400 plus $150/yr for years 2-5 plus two Minis @$300: $1000/$1150/$1300
– Three DVR+s @$750 plus three 1t disks @$180: $930/$930/$930
– Tablo four tuner DVR @$300 plus a 1t disk @$60 plus Lifetime @$150 plus three Roku 1s @$150: $660/$660/$660
– Three TB560HP/F7s @$1350: $1350/$1350/$1350

Four rooms at least 1T at least four tuners:
– TiVo 1t Bolt @$400 plus $150/yr for years 2-5 plus three Minis @$450: $1150/$1300/$1450
– Four DVR+s @$1000 plus four 1t disks @$240: $1240/$1240/$1240
– Tablo four tuner DVR @$300 plus a 1t disk @$60 plus Lifetime @$150 plus four Roku 1s @$200: $710/$710/$710
– Four TB560HP/F7s @$1800: $1800/$1800/$1800

This isn’t an apples to apples comparison. By the time you get to four rooms, the DVR+ and TB560HP/F7 setups are sporting eight tuners and 4t of disk space while the TiVo and Tablo setups are four tuners and 1t of storage. Maybe you need to add streamers to support popular streaming services. Regardless, this is a basic setup for an OTA first cord cutter. Magnavox is not a price leader in most configurations.

Unless the DVR recorder is a TB560HP/F7 with a DVR burner (which makes no sense) or these Magnavox DVRs work with inexpensive streamers, I am not sure who would choose one.

On the other hand, if this thing works with a Fire TV stick running Kodi, things look a LOT more interesting…

TB560HS/F7 @$500 plus three FTV Sticks @$150 gives you streaming in four rooms for $650/$650/$650 which is truly a bargain.

What do you think about this DVR?  Did Magnavox get things right?

Who’s Naughty, Who’s Nice (Updated 11/22/2015)

Updated on 11/22/2015 to include $299.99 with Lifetime!  Scroll down to DVRs…

Black Friday is a great time to shop for the cord cutter in your life.  This year, there are a lot of promotions and a handful of new devices.   This post is a guide to what I consider the best buys at this moment.

Let’s start with the ‘no brainers’…

  1. The Roku SE is selling for $25 at Kohls, Best Buy, and Walmart.  This Roku has a slower processor than the current Roku 2/3 models which are slower than the new Roku 4, but it has standard RCA composite out for older televisions.  Great stocking stuffer.  The composite cable is not included, but get one on ebay for $0.99 shipped!  Roku has great apps for Vudu, the Simple DVR, and the TabloTV DVR.
  2. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is $25 at Best Buy, K-mart, and Staples.  It’s faster than the Roku SE and supports a voice remote.  Two features make it a no brainer.  Captive portal makes it easier to use hotel wifi with the Fire TV Stick.  Kodi support plus FireStarter allows the FTV Stick to easily slip in and out of a slick Media Center mode with virtually unlimited programming.
  3. Fire TV is $75 at Best Buy and Staples.  That’s about half the price of the new Apple and Roku streamers.  With wired or wireless game controllers, the Fire TV is a terrific, inexpensive video game console that also happens to be an awesome streamer.  The new model is more powerful, adds 4k support, Alexa integration, and 801.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO, for better Wi-Fi video streaming.

Walmart is going to have the 1st gen Chromecast for $20.  Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples, and Costco will all have the 2nd gen Chromecast at two for $50.

My favorite DVR is steeply discounted on Black Friday and you do not have to leave home to get one.  Channel Master’s DVR+ will be on sale for $199 from 4-8 am Pacific Time on Black Friday.  (That’s 7-11 am for those of us on the east coast.)  That’s a pretty good deal.  Buy a pair for $299.  That’s a GREAT deal!

You will need to buy a disk for these, but 1 t usb disks are going for $50 these days, so you can shelve a $200 DVR with no monthly fees.  While the DVR+ is primarily an OTA DVR (which requires no internet or phone connection), plugging in to the internet enables additional features like an Enhanced Program Guide and Linear OTT or Channel Master TV (CMTV).  The enhanced program guide extends the length of the guide from a few days to a couple weeks while adding additional information.  CMTV streams media from the internet to your television continuously.  In other words, words select a CMTV station and watch television continuously until you change the channel.

I like Bloomberg TV, ABC News, WeatherNation TV, Biz TV, WGN TV, The Hunt Channel, Foody TV, Outdoor Cooking Channel, VevoTV-hits, RT Television, RT Documentaries, and Catholic TV (I’m not Catholic, but I enjoy some of the programming).  WeatherNation TV, on the other hand, is great when the weather is on my mind. I actually seek out that channel regularly.  They have recently added some new channels. I will be paying attention to DRTV (Doctor TV). I’ve stopped for a movie or a show on Backlight TV a few times. Got caught up in that. Stream Shift TV has been running a video called Blokes TV which is a bunch of Aussies riding dirt bikes across Southeast Asia, eating ‘happy pizzas’, and hanging out in strip joints. (It’s more entertaining than it should be.) Rivals is a good channel — when something is on. I have watched a couple college football games on Rivals. TWIT TV is terrific background noise.

The DVR+ is the DVR built for cord cutters and is worthy of your consideration next Friday.

Amazon has updated their listing for a TiVo Roamio OTA indicating it will be in stock on 11/26/2015 and can be pre-ordered now.  The Roamio/OTA is my wife’s favorite DVR.  We don’t love the TiVo ‘paradigm’, but do like that it streams Amazon Instant Video/Prime, Vudu, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, MLB.tv, and Plex.  It’s truly a single box solution for OTA first cord cutters.  At $299.99 with four tuners and a 500g disk, it is actually less expensive than the DVR+.  If you want to have a TiVo in a second or third room, you can buy a TiVo Mini for ~$130 or less.  The mini shares tuners and disk with a four/six tuner TiVo.

My caution is that TiVo makes their money on monthly and annual fees.  These Lifetime offers are fleeting and often prohibitively expensive.  If you get a single DVR and a couple Minis, you may feel compelled to replace a broken fee-free TiVo with one which has a monthly or annual fee.  I recommend you buy at least two for this reason.

If you cannot decide between a TiVo and a DVR+, post a comment below and we can figure things out together.  (I have three Roamios and three DVR+s.)