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.

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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/

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.

Siding My Home

fanfold

 

Later this month, I am replacing the cedar siding on my home with vinyl siding, fanfold insulation, and a vapor barrier.  The fanfold is Alside Platinum Series AF38 Underlayment which is not foil backed.  The contractor left me a sheet of the fanfold so I could test for attenuation and I am happy to say that there is none.

I am expecting improved reception as removal of my peak vents will eliminate a couple square feet of steel mesh from my line of site and vinyl should shed water better than cedar.

By the way, that 100% VHF signal is from WMTW whose antenna is 67.6 miles from mine!

Giving Rovi the Boot!

In 2012, Rovi asked broadcasters to return their guide hardware.  Within a few months, people who purchased OTA devices with ‘lifetime television guides’ figured out just how short a lifetime can be.  All of a sudden, I was very glad my EchoStar DVRs has a PSIP guide backup.  Four years later, my DTVPals still work.

One of the reasons I prefer the Channel Master DVR+ to the TiVo OTA DVRs is that Channel Master saw fit to include a PSIP guide.  If you run your DVR+ with no internet connection, it generates an Electronic Program Guide from PSIP data included in the video stream.

Given the problems with the Rovi guide, some people have chosen to rely on a PSIP sourced EPG.  I’m not aware of any way to choose the PSIP guide over the Rovi guide in the DVR+ configuration and I’m not willing to forego the DVR+’s internet based services, so I have been suffering Rovi’s guide…until now.

TIP: If you would like to use a PSIP EPG without losing internet services, simply enter 00000 as your zip code.  (Thanks to Russell_)

Note that the time zone gets set to Eastern Standard Time when you change your zip code to 00000.  If that is not your time zone, be sure to correct the time zone after changing the zip code.  (Thanks to pachinko)

Some people have better luck with PSIP than others.  If you find your PSIP data is not updating as frequently as you’d like here is another tip for you…

TIP: Create manual “dummy” recordings for each channel. Set each to record the minimum length of five minutes.  Schedule them to run at times you do not normally record programs to minimize impact on real recordings.  Name every dummy program ‘ZZZ’, so they all get dumped into the same folder.  (That makes it easier to delete the dummy recordings.)  (Thanks to Greasemonkey)

Hope Rovi does a better job with the TiVo guide.

 

This Year I re-Resolve To…

Last year at this time, I resolved to begin to reap the economic benefits of cord cutting.   I ended up subscribing to Amazon Prime, buying three TiVos, two Minis, two Fire TV sticks, and a DB8e, and replacing a pre-amp.  So much for free tv, right?  In fact, since cutting the cord, I have spent $6400 plus $55/month (for high speed internet and Netflix) on free tv. It’s been 68 months, so my average monthly cost since cutting the cord is $149.12.

For 2016, I to re-resolve to spend less on free tv.

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Fire TV Unwrapped

Merry Christmas! You got a Fire TV? Here’s a little guide to help you get the most out of your new streamer…

TV Everywhere: Most premium providers offer enhanced access to subscribed content via individual apps. Watch ABC, A&E, Watch Disney, Watch Disney Jr., Watch Disney X D, Encore, Watch ESPN, Watch Food Network, Fox Sports Go, FX Now, History, HBO GO, NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra, ShowTime Anytime, and Starz Play can all be accessed via your Fire TV if your provider and service level allow. Generally, the process requires installing an app and authenticating with your provider.

Antenna: If you have an antenna, you can access Over-the-Air content with your Fire TV. Tablo TV is a ‘whole house DVR’ which can stream recordings and live television to a Fire TV.

OTT: For everyone else, the Fire TV provides access to a wide variety of free and paid content. The following are representative of the best of each…

  • Premium: Amazon (movies and television @ $99/yr), CBS All Access (live and on-demand @ $5.99/mo), HBO/Now $(14.99/mo), Hulu ($7.99/mo), MLB.TV ($129.99/yr), Netflix ($9.99/mo), Sling TV ($20/mo), Showtime ($10.99/mo)
  • Free: Watch ABC, A&E, Bloomberg TV, CBS News, Crackle, FXNow, History, NBC, NBC News, NBC Sports Live Extra, PBS, PBS Kids, PopcornFlix, Red Bull TV (sports), Smithsonian, TMZ, TubiTV, Vevo, Weather4US,  WeatherNation TV, YouTube

Games: The Fire TV is the best <$100 game console you can buy.  No kidding!  Real controllers, great graphics, and familiar titles make the FTV a terrific console for the casual gamer.  I’m just going to list franchises where appropriate, but search for Kittle Critter, GTA, or Final Fantasy to pull up a list of all available apps.

  • For the kids: I live ‘Living Books’ and an thrilled to see Little Critter, the Berenstain Bears, and the Peanuts come to the Fire TV.  Lots of Sesame Street too.  You will find language tutors, match games, and math drill apps.
  • Retro hits: Fire TV has the Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto, and Sonic franchises.  Choplifter, Crazy Taxi, Prince of Persia, Tetris, and Pac-Man are on the Fire TV.
  • Top games: Minecraft, Candy Crush Saga, and Angry Birds are all on the Fire TV.

Here are some links you should bookmark…

Happy streaming!