Internet TV Options Part 5 – Cutting the Cord

March 10, 2016

BirdsAntennaIf you read the previous 4 parts of this series, you will remember my quest to cut the cord (disconnect traditional cable TV). The plan was to imulate as closes as possible a solution that included a 1) broadcast antenna for local service, 2) Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (currently the big players in this space) and 3) Simular to #2, in that it includes streaming video, but from sources such as You Tube, and other individual content providers such as CMT, CNBC, MSNBC and 4) some sort of DVR to allow for time shifted viewing (something the cable companies got us to like). So here we are, over 4 years later and I still hadn’t done it cause  I  just wasn’t happy with my solution as well as it didn’t pass the wife test. Until now!!!  I had tried one brand of OTA DVR, but it just didn’t have the response, nor did it have a good 14 day schedule. So after much deliberation, I purchased the TiVo Bolt. For three reasons, 1) it had all the time tested feature sets that TiVo has refined over many years, 2) the Bolt will be their premiere product as they phase out the Roamio, so all their development will go toward their newest product and 3) it had enhanced feature that recognize streaming video sources  more than the Roamio:

So lets look at how TiVo Bolt answered my questions/problems identified in my previous post. 

  1. Broadcast Antenna: vs.  UVerse. Hands down, assuming you have good OTA (over the air) reception, the broadcast antenna provides a superior picture quality. With the Bolt connected to my antenna, I can not see any service degradation between the straight antenna connection vs going through the Bolt box.  After watching this for a couple of days, I keep thinking I bought a new TV. If you have CATV, satellite or a fiber based service provider, it will probably not be that noticeable, but if you have a provider such as AT&T that originally provided their content over copper, the difference is quite noticeable. Note: In the recent months AT&T has announced with the purchase of DirecTV, they will be moving their customer base from UVerse to DirecTV (copper vs. satellite based solution).
  2. Antenna Reception: As noted in my earlier entries, having a good antenna and good broadcast antenna service will be paramount to support your OTA TiVo receiver. This is the core of your off cable, non streaming service. If you have poor reception, pixeling, or blocking you will get quite frustrated with the service. If your antenna service is marginal on a good day, it will be poor on a bad day. Wind, rain, tree’s with large leaves in the summer will all negatively impact the reception. If you are old enough to remember, depending on a TV antenna for all of your broadcast television, you will remember fuzzy, scratchy and intermittent service. Its still the same but different. Even though having an antenna on a 10 ft. mast may work for many urban dwellers, antenna masts of greater proportion may be required. In my case, I have struggled with getting adequate reception of the NBC affiliate (and I live in the city).  I have continued to tweak my arrangement and after several months of refinement, I have it to a manageable level. In bad weather it is usually the first station to start acting up. 
  3. No or limited on-screen TV Guide for Broadcast TV:  So far, the Bolt has got this covered. The user programing for identifying shows, show series, and movies from both traditional OTA providers but also non-traditional services such as Amazon and Hulu, create an almost seamless transition from CATV type solutions. Setting down with my non-tech wife (aka; NTW) to provide some training, showed me how smooth the transition would go, as she picked up on it very quickly. The Bolt remote is very intuitive to most all the activities we all have come accustom to with other remotes.
  4. DVR: To bring OTA  broadcast TV up to speed with CATV, a DVR is nearly a must. The folks at TiVo understand that time-shift viewing is taking over traditional viewing habits and have simplified the process quite well. Whether you want to record a series or just some specific events, the recording process is very simple. The Bolt comes with 500g but you can easily add an outboard larger hard drive storage.
  5. Netflix:  Over the last 4 years Netflix has become the elephant in the room by embracing our new viewing habits. Add in Amazon Prime and Hulu (just to name a few), and you can fill in many of the blanks left by leaving CATV. Call it ala carte or pay per view, TiVo has integrated these services into the box as just another part of the viewing spectrum.
  6. Roku Box: I was probably an early adopter to this service and it kind of reminded me of when we first got FM radio. Needing a special tuner to get there. Whether it be Smart TV’s, DVD players, game boxes, or TiVo receivers. Gaining access to streaming services has come mainstream. The Roku served me well, but I really don’t need it since the streaming services are now nearly everywhere on most all connected devices.
  7. Multiple TV’s: Again, TiVo has this covered as well. With the TiVo Mini, you can watch the same TV programs  that show up on your primary TV.
  8. Sports: There is still a hole here and if they had a good fix for it, we would already have it. Typically Sports are viewed in real time, not recorded (as much). And the most acceptable way to watch live sports is through a CATV provider as they have access to all locally broadcast events. If you just want local sports, you can probably make it work, but if you live in a far away place from your favorite, you still have a problem.. However, there are some establishments that will broadcast far away game for you at their business. Granted, it might cost you the price of a couple of beers, but hey; its an option.  For me, its not a deal breaker as I really don’t watch sports.

Next time we will look at the costs and payback

Image courtesy of [Vlado] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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HDMI Switchers and Cables – Internet TV Options

April 11, 2014

 After starting the series on disconnecting from cable TV “Cutting the Cord” , I realized it was a never-ending story. There are so many branches to the story, I decided to just consider it another category and write about it anytime I felt like it.. Granted, this is a little outside of the “prime objective” (Protecting Your Home Through Preventative Maintenance), but what the heck… its my site and I get lots of hits on Internet TV Options :).

The HDMI connector on the rear of your TV is currently the best way to get the highest quality reception from the source (DVD, DVR, Cable Box) to the TV screen. The quality of reception is no better than the cable that carries it. Typically TV’s have 2 maybe 3 HDMI connections. Optimally, for peak performance having a cable from each device to the TV will provide the best performance. However, for many people (me) it might not be practical, especially if your equipment is located in another room (like me). For this reason the best solution may be one good cable and a HDMI splitter (aka switch). By adding this device near your equipment you can connect all the source equipment using short cables, then you only require one cable between the TV and the HDMI splitter.

How do I choose a HDMI splitter? You can spend as little as  10 bucks to as much as several hundred. I looked throughout the  available devices and found the Monoprice products to be moderately priced and include the necessary features. Whether you go with Monoprice or not, here are the important features to include within your selection process.

  • Number of ports: Select a device with at least one maybe two or more ports than you need. For only a couple of bucks extra, you can accommodate a future game console or DVR. I would suggest a splitter with at least 4 ports.
  • LED indicators: A power-on lamp as well as a source indicator
  • IR Remote: If you equipment is located in another room, remotely switching from one source to another will be important. Granted, you now have ANOTHER remote to keep up with. Make sure and read my recent article on remotes.
  • HDMI Compliance: Make sure the device you purchase meets the current HDMI standards known as “HDMI 1.3a”. This is an industry standard rating that defines a level of performance. The features associated with HDMI 1.3 or better will provide higher speed and deeper color. It will also support 1080P. If a 3D TV is in your future, change that to HDMI 1.4.
  • Supports 1080P:  This will ensure, the device will not limit the broadcast ability of the source equipment. Devices compliant with HDMI 1.0 or better will cover this item.

What do I pick for an HDMI cable? There are lots of choices. It can be very easy to get caught up in the hype of all the flim flam marketing mumbo jumbo.. Most retailers jack the prices of most interconnect cables to recoup the lousy margin they had to take of the DVR they just sold you. (See PM cable comparison)  So if you can wait a couple of days, just buy it over the internet.. You will save BOO KOOS of money, especially if you have to buy a long one (like me). Many times, too much information just helps in making the decision difficult. (Some times when I try to explain some techy things to my wife, she reminds me that she really just wants to know what  time it is, and not how to know how to build a watch.) The basics are important: Larger wire size for longer distances. The smaller the number = bigger wire size. Here is the simple rules.

  • The lower the number, the larger the wire size (20 gauge (ga.) wire is larger than 26 ga.)
  • Use the shortest cable length between the connection points, don’t buy extra long ones and just coil them up.
  • Cable lengths of 15 feet or less = 24 ga
  • Cable lengths of 20 feet or less = 22 ga
  • Cable lengths of 45 feet or less = 22 ga (cable lengths over 45 feet will require an amplifier to provide you a quality signal).
  • Meets HDMI Standards 1.4
  • If you plan to run the cables through the walls, technically they should meet UL Class 2  to meet the fire rating.

As for a cable source,  I have used both Monoprice and Cablestogo with positive results. If you need a booster for lengths over 45 feet, look at Monoprice as well.

Good luck, BOB


Cutting the Cord Part IV:II Seamless Intergration

August 28, 2011

As a refresher;  this is my trek to recreate a non cable, alternative TV solution to replace the $100 a month cable habit. Admittedly, I take a bit longer than your average media reviewer to make a decision or evaluate something.  As I mentioned back in Part IV.I, one of the hooks with the Cable TV option is the (relatively)  seamless use of cable box provided remote control and access to programing. As mentioned, the solution I have been creating is a bit more complex. To achieve a similar viewing experience, you need an antenna, an internet connection, a separate DVR, and maybe a DVD player.  While building this solution, I have been collecting additional remote controls and as of this moment I am up to 7 for one TV.

Houston We Have a Problem: Even for a techno geek, 7 remotes is over the top. Here are the devices in my solution requiring a remote:

  1. Cable Box, yes its still hooked up
  2. TV remote; used to shift from one source to another
  3. DVD;  to pause and play  those redbox rentals
  4. ROKU Box; Once you are in ROKU mode, you have to surf around through the selection menus
  5. HDMI Switch; Since all my equipment is remote from the TV, I use one HDMI cable from the A/V closet to the TV, so the switcher allows me to redirect the source from the cable box, DVR or ROKU box
  6. A/V receiver; I use this device when I want to use the surround sound speakers to watch movies
  7. CD Player; not really part of the TV solution, but a remote that is used to turn on the CD player

So needless to say, it was time to consider my options. Here are my concerns:

  • My current solution is fairly complex. It may require 2 to 3 different remotes to switch between the various sources.
  • If my solution is too complex or takes to many hands and remotes, its way too inconvenient. Two or three remotes might work, but 7 is way over the limit
  • If my wife wont accept the procedures required to get to the various sources, she will push back.

Universal Remotes: These all in one controllers  have been around nearly as long as multiple remotes. I have to admit, being cheap, I never considered any of them good enough to justify the expense. However, it was worth some research to see where the technology currently is.

The good news is, there have been dramatic strides in this category of electronic devices and by most sources, the Logitech brand is viewed as the bench mark product by many professional equipment reviewers.

Looking at the Logitech family of remotes  (at least 3 to choose from), they all function the same way but the 650 model only supports 5 devices and the 900 supports 15. In the middle is the Harmony One. The major differences with the more expensive 900 is the RF control. The Harmony One is very similar to the Model 600, but will control 15 vs. 5 remotes. Do you need the RF version? What is RF vs IR. IR (InferRed Light) devices require  line-of-sight to see all the devices vs. RF (radio frequency) that can transmit through walls. So, if you have all your equipment in a cabinet or closet, the RF device will project through the wall (granted you will still require a device to convert the RF to IR to talk to all the equipment since IR is the most common communications path for residential grade AV equipment. The Harmony One appeared to be the best choice for me since I already had an IR pipe to my equipment closet and I needed to control more than 5 devices.

Here is what makes the Logitech standout:

  • The tactical buttons to move around the devices (DVR, DVD, Cable Box) are pretty common. Such as; forward, back, up down, fast forward etc. So, no mater what device you are using, those common command buttons remain the same.
  • Device specific command are through a touch screen that allows you to access specific buttons  to further customize your request. (i.e. choose a CD track or access specific segments of a DVD). These commands are not near as regularly used as the ones mentioned above.
  • Activity based commands: This is the icing on the cake. With programing, you set one button to perform multiple functions on multiple devices. For instance; to watch a DVD with my system this is what happens: TV=On, TV=Video 1, DVD=On, DVD=Play, A/V Reciever=On,  A/V receiver= Video 1.  That is 6 commands over 3 different components  with ONE BUTTON. This is AWESOME… MY WIFE CAN DO THIS!!!!!! SHE DID THIS BEFORE I SHOWED HER HOW!!!!!!
  • The downside: I got excited in the last bullet point, so as you can imagine there is a “But”. You must use your PC to program the remote. Actually I see this as a plus. I found the program fairly easy to negotiate.  With installed programing, it walks you through the various components to perform the set ups… Yes, it will take the better part of a day to complete this function, but it is TOTALLY worth it. With Logitech library of  remotes, the program remains updated so, if you buy a new DVD in 2 years, they will probably have the code set , so all you have to do is upload the new instructions.

I have to admit, this part of “Cutting the Cable” caught me off guard. I did not figure this into the equation. However, if you look at my original formulas (Part I)  on cost and budget, we had some room to make some adjustments. The Harmony One has been out a couple of years, so the price has dropped from its original price of approximately $239 to about $165. The model 900 is fairly new, so they are still pricy ($349). Granted if your equipment is concealed you will need either the RF version remote or an IR Repeater (Channel Vision or Smarthome both have decent solution for under $100). If your equipment is in a remote closet, the RF version will keep you from having to run wires from the TV to the remote location and there is no receptor located at the TV. For me, I had already wired for IR, so it worked out better for me to use the IR.

I am approaching to final step, so stay tuned to see if we can make the final cut.