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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Cutting the Cord IV.I

May 8, 2011

 If you have read my posts on this subject, cutting the cable cord is a growing interest.  CNET correspondent David Katzmaier revealed the reality of his journey that resulted in returning to cable. Cutting the cord can be difficult and you may/may not be a candidate for the transition. Since I am not complete with the cut over, I thought I would do a state-of-the-transition of my own, but more in a techno-nerd sort of way. Here are some things I have learned along the way as well as some concerns and considerations:

  1. Cold Turkey: As the author of the CNET article mentioned, he went cold turkey in one fail swoop and besides the immediate cable withdrawals he also struggled with antenna adjustment issues. A broadcast antenna can experience similar reception issues found with satellite services more so than cable or phone based services.
  2. Antenna Reception: As noted in my earlier entries, having a good antenna and good broadcast antenna service will be paramount. This is the core of your (off cable) 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. This can also occur with the digital antenna.
  3. Limited Reception: Some channels will not show up. Obtaining ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX are the big broadcast providers. However, due to antenna placement, you may have difficulty receiving all of them. Even being relatively close you may find it difficult to get good reception. Spend the money on a good antenna, mast, coax, splitters and amplifiers to ensure high quality reception. If you are not a much of a technogeek, consider hiring a professional to establish your antenna service. As a DIYer project, its quite a trial and error process.
  4.  Antenna Placement: 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 4 major networks off of a 10 ft. mast (and I live in the city).  I have continued to tweak my arrangement and after about 2 months. I have been monitoring the quality during some spring showers and it appears to be working pretty well.
  5. It’s Not the Same: To put it bluntly, cable TV services do a decent job to create a seamless one remote solution. Without the cable box, you will have to manage your watching habits a bit more. Using the tuner built into the TV, you will have to select different input sources that you have to move across to see what you want. For instance: the Broadcast antenna will be source one, where the Roku box will be another as well as a DVD player. Most modern TV’s have multiple input sources built into the tuner .
  6. No Online TV Schedule: With Cable, it got real convenient to channel surf the TV guide to see what else is on. Right now, an online TV schedule does not exist in my arrangement. However, as an option, TV Guide has a mobile app for Iphones and Itouch devices. You can program in your zip code to see localized TV programing. (NOTE: Once I install the Channel Master DVR, the TV guide is part of the programing, so I assume I will regain the surfing feature.)
  7. Multiple TV’s: Much like the cable boxes, if you want to watch multiple viewings through the Roku box, you will need more that one (there are other methods to use one centralized Roku box, but it will cost as much as just adding a second box). However, if you are just looking at broadcast TV on a specific set; no additional boxes are required.
  8. Sports: If you are tied to live time sports beyond your normal region or programing area; cutting the cord will be an issue. If you are still committed to making the move, you might consider looking at the online sources for real-time sports outside of your region

Cut the Cord Gradually: This would be my biggest recommendation. It’s best to wean the household off the cable instead of the flash cut.

  1. Dedicate one television to the conversion: This will allow you to gradually move toward using this solution as an acceptable viewing solution.
  2. Connect the new antenna to this TV to work out any bugs found in the reception. As I mentioned, we struggled with getting adequate antenna service to work a reliably as the Cable Service. For that reason we continued to go back to the other room. Since it appears we have cleared up the problem, we dont find it necessary to go to the other TV to watch broadcast television. This process will also help you identify what programing you are really watching. If you find you have to watch Overhauling, or the DIY network, it may be a struggle to make the final cut.
  3. Live with the solution for a month or so: Get the antenna service working well. Purchase the Roku box and use that to watch on demand movies. We got the Roku box and we have watched a few movies, but maybe 3 over the last week, which is a lot less than I thought I would be watching.
  4. The good news: Broadcast and Internet TV options continue to grow. Stay tuned for my next installment of “Cutting the Cord”.  My next step is to purchase the Channel Master DVR (recently reduced to $299 on Amazon).

Stay tuned!

BOB