Review: Sony Vue

When WBZ went off the air this weekend, I figured I would trial Vue which includes WBZ in Boston.  I sampled the Ultra Slim package which is $64.99 a month and includes HBO and SHOWTIME live and on demand, thousands of hours of movies from EPIX Hits, FXM, MGM and more, plus local sports and popular live TV channels — more than 100 channels (their description).

I’m using Vue on a first gen Fire TV stick which has the same interface as the PS4/3 and a Roku 2 XS which has a simplified tile interface.

I trialed Vue to watch an NFL game because my local broadcaster was having problems.  I was disappointed to discover that Vue uses an  over-the-air source.  FiOS and Comcast were unaffected by the broadcast problem and are immune to weather issues, for the most part.  On a couple occasions, I have had channels break up continuously — kind of a large block mosaic with chunks of the screen not updating properly — but, for the most part, stream quality has been excellent absent any kind of buffering or noticeable degradation.  The Roku spontaneously rebooted on one occasion.

If you have not had cable for a while, it is surprisingly bad.  At 6:00 am, AMC, Discovery, DIY, E!, Food Network, Esquire Network, truTV, HGTV, Comedy Central, National Geographic, FX, FXX, WEtv, POP, Travel Channel, TVLand, Spike, and NBC Sports Network are all running infomercials.  NESN is off the air.  20% of the ‘dial’ has no programming!  My local channels are limited to WBZ (CBS) — so no Fox Football or Sunday Night Football or Thursday Night Football.  No local ABC, Fox, NBC, or PBS.  No Bounce, Buzzer, Comet, Decades, Escape, GetTV, GRIT, Heroes & Icons, ION, Laff, MeTV, The Works, or ThisTV.

That’s the bad.  There is plenty of good.  At the Access level ($29.99/month), you get national sports, cable news plus, AMC, and nearly 50 other cable channels.  For another $5/month, you get regional sports channels.  For $65/month, you get the full cable experience including HBO and Showtime.

On both the Roku and Fire TV, the user interface is slow.  There are a lot of programs to browse, but you can set up favorites.  After a couple days, I found the ‘recent’ channels row pretty useful.  I also found myself using the search function a lot.

Typical Vue Screen on a Roku

Typical Vue Screen on a Roku

The Roku experience is a very pretty and modern looking tiled interface.  I hate it.  The tiles contain too little information.  Often, you get season, episode, and the first couple words of a title — not helpful if you are browsing Friends (The one…).  There is no indication of start or stop time.  You have to drill down using the suddenly very slow interface to see if a movie is just starting or ending.

Sony Vue on a Fire TV Device

Sony Vue on a Fire TV Device

On the Fire TV, things are much better.  For starters, the tiles are bigger and contain more information.  There is also a grid style guide (though the guide only seems to have a vague idea of what time it is).  There is an Explorer mode which filters listings — Movies, PG, etc.

Fire TV Stick App Includes Grid Style EPG

Fire TV Stick App Includes Grid Style EPG

What’s the verdict?  I think PS Vue is a pretty slick supplement to over-the-air programming.  The Access level of service will satisfy cable news junkies.  Sports enthusiasts will find Core gets the job done.  Assuming $50/month for high speed internet, $90 to $115 per month for five concurrent streams is a lot less than many spend on cable.  I recommend the Fire TV stick, but Vue works just fine on your Rokus — even the older models.

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Boston Broadcast TV Outage Ends

High Wire Act

High Wire Act

Wanted to share this amazing image of the guys climbing the Needham tower to restore service.  I really appreciate the effort and hope the guys on the ground apply similar effort to ensuring this doesn’t happen again.  It’s on to Buffalo!

Boston Broadcast TV Outage

The most important antenna in Boston

The most important antenna in Boston

 

This morning, I woke up, powered on my television and DVR+, and tuned in to 38.1 to catch Patriots All Access.  The screen was black.  Same for 38.2, 44.1, 4.1, and 4.2.  Apparently, there had been a problem at one of the broadcast towers which impacted some very important television stations — including the one the New England Patriots would be playing on later in the day.  Checking in with WBZ, Patsfans.com, and the Boston forum on AVS, I decided that service would not be restored in time for the game and set about finding an alternative.  To my surprise, a number of premium providers rely on broadcast television for their feeds.  All of these providers were affected…

  • PS Vue
  • Dish
  • DirecTV
  • Charter Cable
  • RCN Cable
  • Metrocast Cable

In the end, I watched the game using a Simple TV DVR at a friend’s home in New Jersey.  I’m afraid I may be imposing on him again next week.  Best of luck to the engineers tasked with restoring service.

 

Vudu: Movies On Us

Some good news for people missing Hulu’s ad supported offering.  Login with your Vudu (or Walmart.com) email address, and you can start enjoying ad supported movies on Vudu.  If you do not have an account, you can sign up with an email address — apparently any email address as there is no verification.  Also, there is no need to provide a payment method.

According to the press release, there are THOUSANDS of ad supported movies.  I count about 2600 (easily distracted and lacking basic math skills; Vudu counts a season of a television series as one entry in the catalog.).  The catalog includes a lot of familiar titles.

I’ve watched two movies — one on a Roku 2 XS and one on a Channel Master DVR+.  Both experiences were excellent — no buffering, synch issues, or restarts.  Ads come in bunches of three 13-30s commercials with about 18 minutes between ads.  Sometimes the ads started in the middle of a movie scene, but there were no problems with the same ad running over and over (common with ad supported streams).  Programming is unedited, but Vudu has parental controls.

All in all, this is a very welcome addition to the free TV offerings and worthy of your consideration…

http://www.vudu.com/

Heroes & Icons Comes to Boston

It’s official — Heroes & Icons is on 38.2 in Boston.  If it’s not in your channel lineup, refresh or rescan your channels.  WSBK just saved my wife’s favorite maple and, probably, a marriage.  Enjoy!

  • 12 O’CLOCK HIGH
  • 21 JUMP STREET
  • ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
  • BATMAN
  • BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON
  • BRANDED
  • BROKEN ARROW
  • CHEYENNE
  • COMBAT!
  • DANIEL BOONE
  • HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL
  • HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS
  • HILL STREET BLUES
  • HUNTER
  • KUNG FU
  • NYPD BLUE
  • REAL STORIES OF THE HIGHWAY PATROL
  • RENEGADE
  • SHEENA
  • STAGECOACH WEST
  • STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE
  • STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE
  • STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES
  • STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
  • STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES
  • STAR TREK: VOYAGER
  • SWAMP THING
  • TARZAN
  • THE CISCO KID
  • THE COMMISH
  • THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO
  • THE GREEN HORNET
  • THE HIGH CHAPARRAL
  • THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
  • THE REBEL
  • TRACKDOWN
  • WAGON TRAIN
  • WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
  • XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS
  • YANCY DERRINGER

Patriot Games

ebeemee

Let’s say you are committed to spending Columbus Day weekend in a place called Ebeemee Township.  Ebeemee Township is far enough north that DirecTV does not offer local channels (or HDTV).  Imagine that Tom Brady makes his 2016 debut on that VERY weekend.  What is a Patriot to do?

  1. Visit TVFool.com to see what channel carries CBS programming in Ebeemee Township
  2. Pick up an appropriate antenna
  3. Grab a fence rail, a bunch of conduit straps, some screws, and 50′ of coax
  4. Point the antenna in the right direction
  5. Watch the New England Patriots crush the Cleveland Browns

Cord cutting is patriotic!

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!

GfK Report: OTA Growing, OTT Niche

gfk2016

“The fact that a statistically significant increase in broadcast-only reception occurred over just one year may be further proof that the cord-cutting/cord-never phenomenon is accelerating,” says David Tice, SVP in GfK’s Media & Entertainment practice.

GfK’s 2016 Ownership and Trend Report1 says that 17% of US TV households now rely on broadcast-only (up from 15% in 2015) and that another 6% of US TV households only use Internet services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or YouTube (up from 4% in 2015).

Among those 18-34, 22% rely on broadcast-only reception and 13% get their programming over the internet.

Per GfK’s accompanying infographic, 4k televisions sales grew an anemic 5% in 2016 and only half of those who own 4k sets are actually watching UHD content.

1 The study was conducted among 3,009 US households, including representative levels of non-TV, non-internet, cell-phone-only, and Spanish dominant homes.

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.

 

Review: Stellar Labs 30-2476

This is more of a ‘look what I found’ than a review.  I don’t have sophisticated measuring equipment — just an HDHomerun, the meters in my DVRs, and my eyes.

wmtwfool

Background: I love Heroes and Icons.  The closest station carrying HI is WMTW in Portland Maine.  WMTW is REAL channel 8 — a VHF station 68 miles and a single obstruction away.  I have been pulling it in using an Antennacraft Y10-7-13 in my attic, but only during the late fall, winter, and early spring and with frequent dropouts — especially during the day.

StellarLabs302476

Project: I decided to use information in this article and this Yagi designer tool to build a better VHF antenna.  Rather than buy raw materials, I bought four Stellar Labs 30-2476 antennas.   The plan was to extend the antenna’s directors by attaching additional front sections.  If that was unsuccessful, I would start cutting directors and drilling holes.

On April 18 I was having trouble tuning WMTW.  I hooked up my HDHR3 and headed up to the attic.  This was the first time I saw the Y10-7-13 and the 30-2476 side by side.  The Y10-7-13 is built on a sturdier beam and has two antenna elements but the 30-2476 has a more substantial vertical reflector.  Another important distinction is that you can still purchase the 30-2476.

wmtwhdhr

Replacing the Y10-7-13 with the 30-2476 changed nothing.  WMTW was in and out just as it was with the Y10-7-13.  I removed the front-most director from the 30-2476 and attached a second front section.  Reception improved dramatically.  Dropouts persisted, but were less frequent.  I added a third section and the dropouts were gone.  The HDHomeRun indicated 85-100% signal strength, 55-70% signal quality, and, most importantly, 100% symbol quality.

signal

Epilog: It’s been nearly three weeks since I installed Frankentenna and I have been watching WMTW on my television every day and monitoring signal quality using the HDHomeRun Config Utility 24/7.  Reception has been excellent — even during a very heavy rain.

Conclusion: The 30-2476 is an inexpensive Yagi antenna which performs as well as a Y10-7-13.  If you want to target a deep fringe station and have room in your attic, the 30-2476 can easily be extended to improve gain.  I highly recommend this antenna.