$13,632 and Counting

Each year on May 5th, Mexicans commemorate their army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla.  Each year on that very day, I celebrate my victory over another empire — Comcast.

In October of 2009, with my Comcast bundle promotion coming to an end, I purchased an Ooma Hub and Scout at Best Buy ($210).  That VOIP telephone was my first ‘cord trim’.  It reduced my monthly phone bill to $0 — which didn’t matter because I lost a Comcast bundle discount of about the same amount.  In November, I negotiated a six month extension with Comcast which was the same money for [much] less service.  In January of 2010, I bought a DB8 ($74.23) antenna from Amazon.com.  During a week long power outage in February of 2010, we relied on that DB8 for news and entertainment.  In April of 2010, after a strained and unsuccessful negotiation with Comcast, we switched to Fairpoint for high speed internet and said good by to Comcast.

That was 96 months ago.  The service we bid adieu to consisted of a single DVR, one other set top box, no premium channels, and a rapidly shrinking set of channels which could be tuned on digital televisions plus high speed internet (with regular warnings of excessive use of my ‘unlimited’ service).  All for $155 per month.  In 2016, I replicated my current service using Comcast’s new ‘skinny’ offerings for just $192/month.  (Comcast just raised prices again.)

Happy Cinco de Mayo, Cordcutters!

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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!

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!

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.

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.