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!

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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.

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.

Free TV for Me

 

netlogos2016

I am celebrating the seventh anniversary of the purchase of my Ooma Hub and Scout.  Before Ooma, we relied on our ‘land line’ for phone communications and our ‘land line’ was Comcast VOIP.  The hardware cost me $205 which comes down to $2.44/month — less than fees and taxes on a traditional phone line.  Eliminating phone service did not save me much, since I lost my ‘Triple Play’ discount, but it left me just a little less reliant on Comcast.  The following May, I replaced Comcast’s internet service with less expensive Fairpoint and Comcast’s television service with an antenna.  With Black Friday and the holiday season at hand, I thought this might be a good time to take stock of things.

In the Attic: For most of the last six years, I have had two antenna systems — one inside my attic and one on a mast above the roof line.  This spring, I took down the mast.  My attic installation has proven to be as good as the outdoor antenna, is much easier to maintain, and is out of the weather.  The attic installation consists of a DB8e ($128.02) and a pair of Stellar Labs 30-2476 ($34.99 x 2) antennas coupled via an RCA TVPRAMP1Z Preamplifier ($24.11).  I have extended a Stellar Labs 30-2476 with the front half of a second to improve gain.  I distribute and amplify the output of the system with an EDA-2800 ($75.98) distribution amplifier.  Total cost of the three antennas, pre-amp, and distribution amp comes to $274, as of this morning.

On the TV: I have some kind of set top box on each television — one DTVPal DVR ($170 when I bought it, but no longer available), three Channel Master DVR+s ($250 plus $50 for a 1t USB disk), three TiVo Roamio OTAs ($400), and two TiVo Minis ($146).  I also have a couple Fire TVs (current gen is $89.99), a pair of Fire TV sticks (current gen is $39.99), and two Roku 2 XS streamers (no longer available, but roku sticks go for $39.99).  Total cost of $2586.  I know this is a big number, but we have eight televisions.  It comes to $323.25 per set.  Assuming five years service per device, $5.39/month/set.

What We Watch: We are OTA-first cord cutters which means that most of the time, we are watching programming received via an antenna (live and time shifted).  There’s plenty to watch: 2.1 WGBH Boston (PBS Prime), 2.2 PBS World, 4.1 WBZ Boston (CBS), 4.2 Decades, 5.1 WCVB Boston (ABC), 5.2 MeTV, 7.1 WHDH Boston (NBC), 7.2 This TV, 9.1 WMUR Manchester, NH (ABC), 9.2 MeTV, 11.1 WENH Durham (PBS Prime), 11.2 PBS Explore, 11.3 PBS World, 11.4 PBS Create, 25.1 WFXT Boston (Fox), 25.2 Escape, 25.3 LAFF, 38.1 WSBK Boston (MyTV), 38.2 Heroes and Icons, 44.1 WGBX Boston (PBS), 44.3 PBS Create, 44.4 PBS Kids, 50.1 WBIN Derry, NH, 50.2 Antenna TV, 50.3 Grit, 56.1 WLVI Boston (CW), 56.2 BUZZER, 62.3 The Works, 62.4 Comet, 66.2 BounceTV, 66.3 GetTV, 66.4 Escape, 68.1 ION, 68.2 Qubo, and 68.3 ION Life.  We no longer pay for a streaming service.  VuDu has a great ad supported service and Crackle is very good.  I find myself buying discs again — they are so inexpensive and the quality is unsurpassed.  A lot of movies include a digital code, so my Vudu-Amazon-Disney library is growing.  I watched the election returns on Newsmax TV.  I like the ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and RT News free streaming apps.  That’s about it.

I look forward to 2017 with a $50/month communications and entertainment budget.  It’s not exactly free tv, but it’s free enough for me.

 

 

 

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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