Cutting the Cord Part IV; My Choices

January 31, 2011

Change can be difficult, CATV  companies have done a decent job in creating enough content value for many of us to keep the product even though the quality of the service may be lacking.  The solution of cutting the cord requires the viewer to change their habits. They are betting you will not.  Those of you that require a wide selection of live sports are going to have the most difficult time finding equitable alternative solutions. On the other hand, if you like to watch broadcast TV,  movies, vintage TV or some of the popular Discovery type programs, much of that is viewable from sources such as Netflex.

This episode of my excursion will cover the choices I have made and why.  As you have probably figured, this solution is like a multi legged table, where each leg supports part of the table. It will take a little more effort and some getting used to. But, by most accounts, it will get better.

My Choices:

  1. Broadcast Antenna: (You already figured that one out). To date, I have been impressed with the overall HD quality. There is a noticeable difference between my Uverse (HD) reception and the (HD) broadcast antenna. As previously mentioned, solutions such as the UVerse require alot of compression to get it through the copper wires that serve your house. This compression process degrades the sharpness of the image. Just remember, so far, there are fewer HD Broadcasts than found through the CATV or Uverse type solutions. Worth mentioning, since the digital conversion of  broadcast television, we have barely seen what broadcast television may become.  The biggest drawback appears to be the lack of a on-screen TV guides. See number 2. With the recent digital conversion, local broadcasters now have the ability to provide simultaneous program choices within their channel spectrum. In other words, you may find that the NBC affiliate has the primary station (52.0) a weather only channel (52.1) and maybe a sports (52.2) channel. So to us regular folks it looks like we now have 3 NBC stations instead of just one.   The broadcast antenna business could be the sleeping giant in the bunch.
  2. DVR: To bring broadcast TV up to speed with CATV, a DVR is nearly a must. The Channel Master DVR is a no-subscribtion, one-fee to purchase product. Besides the standard DVR type function it will provide you the on-screen menu that you will miss from CATV. The only draw back so far is that without some other equipment, its a one-box, one-TV solution. (I have some ideas on this one that I need to try.) The Channel Master DVR appears to be the industry leader.
  3. Netflix: There are dozens of choices out there. Netflix appears to have the least amount of hooks (i.e. upgrades and add-on for a fee). To get the Netflix (or streaming video), you will need some form of internet connection. Most new TV’s and DVD’s include an “internet ready” feature. Or, you can just purchase a standalone box. The Roku box appears to be the best choice for me.
  4. Roku Box: The Roku box brings the ethernet connection to your TV that allows you  to pull in streaming video from Netflix. Additionally, you get access to other Internet services such as Pandora, MLB, Hulu Plus and more. Some are fee based some are not.

Disadvantages of giving up cable: Even though I have solved many of the drawbacks and concerns I mentioned in my earlier posts, there are still some that remain with my current solution.

  1. One box, one TV: Assuming you want to watch Netflix on multiple TV’s, the one box per TV solution is actually the short answer. There are some other devices on the market that will allow you to manage 1 input source to 4 output sources. Look at Hometech Solutions for a better understanding of your options.  If you are willing to spend more of your budget, purchasing additional boxes is an easy answer. You may find, you want to replace your DVD (I do), so the Roku box can be used elsewhere.
  2. Available programing: At this point, I believe I am at about 85% of my content target. However, with Netflix, their bargaining power with the various sources continues to increase. So I look for this to get better.
  3. Live Sports: This too is getting better. For a monthly fee you can use your Roku box to access MLB/UFC for some of your sports obsessions.  However, if you are one that consumes all the various sports networks  with all the various programing, it may be worth it to look at those programs through you PC.  
  4. MSNBC, CNN, FNN: These networks are very similar to the Sports Networks; they worked hard to come up with as much odd ball programing  from minute by minute coverage of Wall Street to documentaries about Walmart.

Advantages of living without cable TV:

  1. Cost Savings: So far, with the chosen solutions I have this much invested; 1)Roxu box $59., 2) Broadcast Antenna, amplifier and misc $150. 3) Channel Master DVR $350. and last 4) Netflex $7.99 per month. As mentioned Netflix probably has the largest content offering but there are others coming on-line daily. Unfortunately , if you subscribe to all of them, you are back to the monthly fee of $80 bucks and regular cable programing may become a better deal. 
  2. A la cart viewing: This is something consumers have asked for but traditional CATV has avoided. With the use a Roku type box, you can pretty much subscribe to what ever you want (based on what they currently have to offer). However, be warned,  so far some of the pricing I have seen from the content providers will easily add up to the cost of CATV. 
  3. A lot less crap:  Have you ever wondered why you can block a TV station from your television, but not from your CATV provided set-top-box? Because they don’t want you to!! They use this marketing tool with program providers as a way attract new content to their network. We all surf channels, and there is always a degree of random stopping  to see what is on QVC, so they use that surfing to their advantage.

Next time we will review the new equipment and see how easy/difficult it was to install and turn up.

If you have not read the earlier posts on this topic, click on Techy Things to see all of them.

Advertisements

Seasonal Reminder – Winter 2011

January 24, 2011

The Winter list is fairly short. Mostly indoor stuff, stay warm and safe.

  1.  Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filters as we enter the heavy heating season.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winter rain and snow can cause the most marginal leak to show up, If you can still get on your roof, give it a look.
  3. HVAC Indoor Unit:  Besides the air filter, look at the general condition of the unit. If the unit uses natural gas look for a good strong flame.  If you smell natural gas anywhere, address it immediately.
  4. Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  5. Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.  
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  7. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors. (leave the outdoor caulking till Spring)
  8. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  9. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for those wasp/bird  nest and remove them with a broom. At this time of year you will have little resistance from them.
  10. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  11. Seasonal Power Outages: Winter storms can leave many without electricity and other essential services. Review these items for safety sake.

 

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Cutting the Cord Part III – Internet TV Options

January 12, 2011

If you haven’t been following this series, I am attempting to duplicate as much of  my current television viewing habits without the use of traditional CATV services. This would also include  subscription television service from companies such as Comcast, Cox, Time Warner; as well as  the Phone company versions nationally known as Direct TV, DISH, FIOS (Verizon) and U-Verse (AT&T). Watching TV on my PC is not my goal, even though you will recognize some of the services and programing that are geared toward that viewing medium. Dont get me wrong, there is a huge trend in watching video programing over a laptop or stationary PC. However, if you have looked at any new video components lately you have probably recognized a blending of the technology by having TV’s and DVD’s  “Ethernet Ready”.

Netflix  subscriptions have grown rapidly over the past few years, from a mere 4.2 million in 2005 to a robust 19 million (est.) at 2010 year-end.

In this post, we will look at the Internet options. I have to tell you that it can be near overwhelming to review the different choices. In this current evolution,  many new (and old) players are trying to find a gold mine with the killer application by trying to have the hook that catches the largest viewers. Within the discovery phase, it was apparent there two distinct target audiences with a third being a blend of the two;

  1. Viewers wanting to watch video and television programing from a PC or Smartphone device.
  2. Traditional television users wanting to view mostly traditional programing. 
  3. Hybrid providers that are looking to capture some of both user groups.

My concentration will be #2.

This market is very hot and there are new players almost daily. It seems like I turn up another one that I didn’t see the last time I looked.

I admit, I am probably not the target demographic audience (18-35) as I am not real interested in a lot of the home-brew video’s but it seems a lot of the sites are really pulling in a lot of amature and second tier type programs. Based on the selection process (surfing their site) it can take hours of just looking for something worth watching, and you may spend more time looking for it than actually watching it. For what it’s worth, there are hundreds if not thousands of pilot programs that fail before they ever get to the traditional TV or even cable. So, even though you may find lots more choices, there can be a lot of trash to flush through. Most of these options are chasing the target audience mentioned above. This age group is a lot more mobile than I am, and at this point, setting down at the TV to watch a movie or uninterrupted program is more of what I am after. Admittedly, I do watch some videos on my PC, but it is usually more about fact-finding or how-to, with a little bit of mindless dribble:).

The Obvious Contenders: ABC; CBS; NBC; FOX

As figured, most of these sites are everything you don’t want them to be. Lots of commercials,  flash and glitz. It reminded me of the early internet days, when web sites had lots of pop-ups and blinking bill board type ads. However, the exception was FOX. FOX was fairly straight forward. It was easy to find the schedule, most viewed shows and episodes. They too have commercials, but they don’t blast you the second you open the webpage. Kudos FOX. However, for me, the network options don’t add a lot of value as I was already planning to obtain those feeds from my outside antenna. If you have determined an exterior antenna is to expensive for your location, but you can receive digital (DSL) internet service, this would be the method to obtain the major networks, granted you will not receive any local programing. The “local affiliate” is where you get local news, weather and regional based programing only available over the airwaves or through the traditional CATV provider.

I have also found sites for TV Land, Discovery and about every known TV station you have ever viewed. Most all of them provide some form of programing, but I found more reduced or “shorts” (less than 5 minutes) than full length episodes.

The Internet Rivals: There are actually three different types in this category. 1) Services that use some type of box to get you from the Internet to you TV and, 2) subscription based streaming video and 3) PC Host Software.

Let it be known, this list is not complete as it could be a full-time job just to keep it up to date. 

Box Type Solutions: These  solutions provides streaming video to a traditional television.

  1. Roku: Has been around since 2002 and probably has one of the largest following.  They have teamed with certain subscription based providers such as NetFlix, Hulu,  and Amazon. A  simple solution, that works well.
  2. Boxee Box: Fairly new. They have been in the streaming video business for a couple of years but just this month released their own BOX by D-Link. It’s a bit more techy, but is picking up followers.
  3. BlockBuster TV: Instead of selling their own box, they are promoting various devices that the Blockbuster software is installed on. Their site provides a list of recommended equipment. Their model is still about renting individual videos and is priced that way. If they plan to stay in business, they will be changing this model fairly soon to match Netflix as this solution is getting the most traction.
  4. Slingbox: This is a bit different animal worth mentioning. Sling.com has subscription services and access to media like the others but with a twist. With a slingbox you can drive your viewing content to a mobile device, PC or TV. For example; if you want your PC to be the receiver of media content but you want to view it on your TV (or Iphone), the slingbox will redirect the content.
  5. Google TV: About to be released,  but appears to be hitting a few bumps along the way. Logitech will provide the BOX for the solution. Goggle will be a collective medium that will allow the user to combine viewing selections of traditional TV, but also bring in YouTube type services as well as the consumers personal video/picture library. This will be a combined subscription/box service.
  6. Apple TV: Not new, but hitting a few bumps along the way like Goggle TV.

Subscription Based Streaming video:  You will notice there is a bit of cross over between the Box solutions with the streaming services. Basically, if you want to stream video directly to your TV, you need a Box. The Box works as a cheap Internet connection dedicated to your PC, in lieu of tying up a PC (which can do the same thing).  I found about 30 choices but picked the ones I found most promising based their webpage and matched my intended viewing habits. For me, I am not real interested in watching traditional TV on my PC so a lot of the internet TV choices don’t really apply, unless I wanted to go the Slingbox path. You will find a large amount of duplication (content choices) from one service to the next as they are all pretty much dealing with the same deck. To date, NetFlix appears to be the 1000 lb. gorilla and may have a slight advantage over the other services.

  1. Netflix: 7.99 per month. Appears to have the largest selection. You can use a Roku box as mention or a Wii, PS3, Xbox or one of the newer Blu Ray DVD players. If you keep up with the news, Netflix is having problems and have doubled their price for those that want streaming + mail out disks. I have had Netflix for about 4 months and have not been overly impressed with the content selection. I believe other players will come to bat using the Roku avenue  that could either dilute or match the Netflix streaming marketshare.
  2. Hulu: Lots of programing is free, but premium is 7.99 per month.
  3. FindInternet TV: Has a fairly easy menu structure to navigate. Includes most of the common program choices. Also has some sports.
  4. TVneto: Much like the others but also has some live sports.

PC Host Software:

  1. Microsoft Media Center: Available with Windows 7, this software program is designed to allow the user to collectively bring the various websites to the PC. By looking at the software, its obvious it is geared toward large screen viewing. with limited menus and large fonts. It can use both a cable/antenna input as well as the internet. I have barely scratched the surface of this application, but it appears (with limitation) will be similar to #2 below. This is probably the top end techno geek solution, but even with a cheap PC, its still $300-$400 bucks.
  2. Unknown TBD: During my investigation, it became very obvious that with all of these various Internet hosting sites, there needed to be one type of collective or search engine that would allow the user to create their own programing guide without having  to visit all the different sites to find it. So far, I was unable to find such application, but it probably won’t be long. UPDATE!! I found what I belive to be the closest solution to this unanswered question. Clicker allows you to look for programs and tell you the different sources to view it from. Also you can set up favorites. So far, I like it. Not perfect, but the best of what I have seen. If Clicker were to hook up with Roku; this could be the solution. If you are going the Media PC route, Clicker will be tremedous help in navigating the sea of programing.

Before I started this investigation, I really thought  the winners were going to be very apparent. What I have found is that the video streaming business is very hot and becoming quite competitive with lots of big players showing up everyday.  At this stage in the game, the choice made today may be good for 4-5 years as the evolution will continue at a rapid pace for now.

Next time we will see what solution I picked and review the process of installing and using it.