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.

Continue reading

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!

Roku Unwrapped

Merry Christmas!  What’s that purple thing over there?  You got a Roku?  Here’s a little guide to help you get the most out of your new streamer…

TV Everywhere: Time Warner subscribers can use their Roku to access most TWC content via a custom Roku app.  Other premium providers offer enhanced access to subscribed content via individual apps.  Watch ABC, Watch ABC Family, A&E, BTN2Go (Big Ten Network), CNN Go, Comedy Network, Watch Disney, Watch Disney Jr., Watch Disney X D, Encore, Epix, Watch ESPN, Watch Food Network, Fox Now, FX Now, History, Lifetime, HBO GO, MTV, National Geographic, NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra, Nick, Nick Jr., ShowTime Anytime, Starz Play, Tennis Channel, and USA Now can all be accessed via your Roku if your provider and service level allow.  Generally, the process requires installing an app and authenticating with your provider.  All these apps are grouped together under TV Everywhere if you install them from the Channel Store on the Roku (as opposed to the store on Roku.com).

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

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

  • Premium: Acorn TV (British TV @ $4.99/mo), Amazon (movies and television @ $99/yr), CBS All Access (live and on-demand @ $5.99/mo), Cinema Now (buy/rent), 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), Tennis Channel ($11.99/mo), Vudu (buy/rent)
  • Free: Watch ABC, Watch ABC Family, A&E, Bloomberg TV, CBS News, CNN, Crackle, CW Seed, Fox Business, Fox News, Fox Now, History, Lifetime, MSNBC, MTV, NBC, NBC News, Nowhere TV (live streams), Pandora, PBS, PBS Kids, PopcornFlix, Red Bull TV (sports), Smithsonian, Spotify, TMZ, TubiTV, Weather4US, Weather Underground, Vevo, WeatherNation TV, YouTube

Private Channels:  Private channels are the Roku’s Final Frontier.  In the interest of discretion, I’ll just point you to a couple of sites that provide detailed information about these private apps…

Merry Christmas.  Don’t forget to put an antenna on your Christmas list.

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.)

Kodi for FTV (UPDATED: 11/11/2015)

On a tip from aftvnews.com, I decided to install FireStarter and Kodi on a Fire TV Stick.  As I type this out, I am repeating the process on a second stick because my WIFE has taken custody of the first one.  Yes, WAF for this enhancement is very high.  Here’s why…

After installing in this manner, the FTV Stick still comes up as it always did.  Jumping into Kodi is as easy as pressing the home button.  Double pressing the home button returns to FTV mode.  Adding sources is fairly simply as well and navigating the sources is intuitive.  Once inside a source, you often have the option to Play From Here which plays every file at the source beginning with the selected file.  So, navigate to Food Network, scroll down to Barefoot Contessa, and Play From Here for hours of fun. Continue reading

DVR+ Lister

DVR+ Lister is a Windows based utility, for owners of the Channel Master DVR+, who wish to move recordings from the DVR+ USB HDD to a Windows Computer.

DVR+ Lister is a freeware program, which runs in Windows XP through 8.1 (desktop). It aids owners of a Channel Master DVR+ (with a detachable USB HDD) in copying recordings from a DVR+ USB HDD to a Windows computer, because, sadly, the DVR+ does not provide a file copying mechanism. While the recordings can be copied from the USB HDD using normal Windows file copying techniques, the DVR+ filenames are quite cryptic (for example, Strm0001.ts, Strm00EA.ts, etc.), providing no hint of the Show Titles, and the Date Stamps of the recordings are not even close to the actual recorded dates, so they can’t be used to identify a Show. This program is useful because it extracts the actual Show Titles, Descriptions, Recorded Dates, and other data, hidden in one of the DVR+ binary data files, and displays that information. The desired recordings can be selected and copied to a Windows computer (from the USB HDD) with one button push, giving the copies useful Filenames and Date Stamps. In addition to copying recordings to a Windows computer, the data appearing in the List can be output to a Text File, or to MS Excel, for whatever usage you may envision.

What Roku Fanboys Stream

Perusing the Roku Fanboy Forum this morning, I stumbled across a discussion of top ten channels.  The top channels were obvious, but some of the others warrant investigation.  Either way, I thought this would be a useful list to share. Continue reading

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.