Let’s Talk About It

Just wanted to let everyone know I have created forums for FreeTVForMe.  I you want to talk about cord cutting, hardware, reception, or just about anything else, please visit the forums…

http://freetvforme.freeforums.net/

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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.

 

Plex for TiVo Gets Apps!

I just noticed that the Plex app for TiVo has channels.  This is a welcome development.  Cord cutters can get their cable news and entertainment fix by streaming episodes and clips from web sites.  Simple TV and Tablo apps make those DVRs’ recordings available via the TiVo or Mini.  For me, though, Twit.TV is the main attraction.

Not a Good Week for Channel Master

May 7th Channel Master posted this to their Facebook page…

Next week is going to be a good week.

As ‘next week’ winds down, I will opine that the week was, indeed, a good week, but not for Channel Master. The week was a good week for ME.  Me and OTA-first cord cutters who have been waiting for that single box which would do it all.  It was good for us because we learned that Plex is coming to TiVo June 8th.  The TiVo Roamio OTA is the first set top box to provide…

  1. A channel guide
  2. Program recording
  3. Trick play (rewind, pause, fast forward, etc.)
  4. Premium streaming media (Amazon Instant Video/Prime, Vudu, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, MLB.tv)
  5. Whole house support
  6. Plex

At $299.99 including Lifetime Product Service, the TiVo Roamio OTA is the best set top box for an OTA-first cord cutter. Unfortunately, TiVo has pulled their $299.99 promotion and the Roamio OTA now costs $49.99 plus $15 per month.  Let me do the math for you: Y1=$230, Y2=$410, Y3=$590, Y4=$670, and Y5=$850.  At $300 with a 1t disk, the Channel Master DVR+ is less expensive by the end of the second year. TiVo has nailed the technology, but needs to fix their pricing.  OTA’ers don’t like monthly payments.  At $299.99 or even $399.99, I think TiVo wins.  At $15/month, The DVR+ is good enough.

Also, TiVo needs to match Channel Master’s one year warranty.  Who pays $400 for something with a 90 day warranty?

Back to Basics in 2015

If you ask me to help you cut the cord in 2015, I will simply advise that you put an antenna in the attic and a Channel Master DVR+ on each television.  That’s really all you need.  No need to get on the roof.  No need to worry about grounding your system.  You don’t need internet access at all.  The cost is $0.00 per month.  That’s a measurable, meaningful savings.  Add up the cost of installation and divide by your current cable or satellite monthly bill to determine your break even point.

You will likely be surprised at the number or channels and the quality of programming available via an antenna.  In the five years I have been doing this, my dial has swollen with new channels — very good channels.  Right now, my lineup looks like this…

ABC (WCVB, WMTW, WMUR, MeTV), BOUNCE, CBS (WBZ), COZI (WMFP), CW (WLVI, ZUUS), Escape, Fox (WFXT, Fox Movies!), getTV, Independent stations (WBIN, AntennaTV, Grit, WSBK), ION (ION, IONLife, Qubo, QVC), MyNetwork (WSBK), NBC (WHDH, This TV), and PBS (WENH, WGBH, WGBX, Create, Explore, Kids, World).

I have a total of 47 channels in Boston.  BOUNCE,  COZI, Escape, Fox Movies!, getTV, AntennaTV, and Grit have been added since we quit Comcast.  CBS Decades is supposed to launch this month.  Broadcast television gets better every day.

You can run directly from antenna to your digital televisions if price is your top concern, but I think a DVR with a grid guide makes a big difference.  My choice for a set top box is the Channel Master DVR+.  For $250, it allows you to pause, rewind, fast forward programming, has a pair of high quality tuners, includes a cable quality, grid style program guide, and can store 140 hours of HD on an inexpensive 1t disk.  If you do have internet access, the DVR+ adds a two week program guide, streaming programs via Vudu, streaming music via Pandora, and lots of fun with a YouTube app.  Bloomberg, Al-Jazzera America, WGN, WeatherNation, Daystar, Almavision, NASA, BBC World News, Sky News, France 24 (France), NHK World (Japan), CNN World, QVC, Home Shopping Network, TV Mas (Mexico), Vevo TV, 360 North (Alaska), Outdoor Cooking Channel, DW (Germany), and JewelryTV  will stream to this box later this year.

Let’s chat about the things that I’m no longer recommending.  Probably have to start with the whole house DVRs.  I have a bunch of Simple DVRs.  They are pretty amazing.  I really like that I can watch my antenna and recordings on a tablet by the poor or at an airport.  I like that I can schedule recordings across time slots and channels — if I want to.  Tablo demo’d a really impressive Roku channel at CES.  Still, I cannot recommend either Simple or Tablo for watching television.  When things work as intended, the tuners are hobbled by the internal splitters and too slow to change channels.  When you pause, rewind or fast forward, neither has visual cues.  When things go wrong — and they do go wrong — it is difficult for a less technical person to troubleshoot.  If you really remote access to your antenna, keep your eye on woot.  Woot recently sold the dual tuner Simple DVR with lifetime for $105.  It $350 for a pair of tuners plus lifetime, I can’t recommend a Tablo at all.

I’m not recommending streamers at all.  Most of the country lacks sufficient bandwidth to reliably pull HD video.  I know this stuff works great at CES and CNET, but a lot of people are having problems.  I can’t see this getting better as 4k, Sling TV, and Linear OTT come online.  Things only get worse inside your home.  Roku and Amazon offer inexpensive wireless sticks.  These seem to have problems due to television interference.  Chromecast and the FTV Stick come with hdmi extenders.  Roku will send you one.  Biggest concern is ‘other’ devices on your wireless network  Every Roku update is like playing the lottery — lots of losers.  I recommended the Roku 2 XS to a lot of people who no longer use them.

Streaming is no bargain, anyway.  By the time you pay for uncapped, unthrottled, high speed internet, Hulu, Espn, and Netflix, Comcast is competitive.  If you want to stream, I recommend a wired device.  Get the most stable device that supports the apps you want to stream.  Just don’t expect support from the streamer, the hardware manufacturer, or your ISP.

Plex Update for Fire TV

I noticed that the version of Plex listed on the Amazon App Store was newer than the version on my Fire TV, so I deleted the app from my FTV and re-installed it.  Voila!  Version 3.6.3.269!  What is new in version 3.6.3.269?

  • Hide “Sync Now” option from preplay screens in tablets
  • Fix progress of sync’ed video items not being properly updated during playback
  • Fix crash in widget when back pressed before player connected
  • Fix problems during remote playback if play queue modified on the controller (for instance by deleting an item)
  • Fix “repeat one” option in audio player
  • Fix bug where sync didn’t work if app was started without network connectivity
  • [TV] Fix for some texts getting cut in movie preplay screen

I didn’t notice any of these problems.  What I did notice is that now I can continuously play episodes and movies.  If I hit the Play button on my remote when the focus on in the right tile, the contents represented by the tile are added to a Playlist which plays continuously.  Once the Playlist is created, I can navigate the list by pausing play, navigating to the rightmost icon (three rows of a dot and a dash), moving up and down the list and selecting an episode of movie.  Here’s how…

Movies: On the front page, move focus to Movies in the MY LIBRARY section.  The first movie in your library will begin to play.  Click Pause, navigate to the rightmost icon (three rows of a dot and a dash), move up and down the list and select a movie.

TV Shows: Navigate to a season of a show you want to watch.  Navigate to the triangular Play icon in the upper left corner of the screen and  press the enter button (middle of the circle) on your remote.  Click Pause, navigate to the rightmost icon (three rows of a dot and a dash), move up and down the list and select an episode.