Cord-Cutters: How will you watch Super Bowl 2017?

463e8646d44789aa5cb3690aaea0bdc3

If you are a cable TV cord-cutter who is planning to watch the 2017 Super Bowl, please participate in the poll below.  Please share so we get the greatest number of people participating.  This will be interesting.

You can discuss particular apps you may be using in the comment box (I hope I have all the right toggles on, so if someone wants to test it, that might be good). Many apps are shared across devices, and the poll list was already long.  This is really a device poll.  But, it may be equally interesting to hear what apps you will use, and on what device.  Some will stumble upon this post so your comments may help.

Posted in Uncategorized

Playstation Vue without owning a Playstation

Screen_Shot_2016-03-14_at_12.02.04_PM.0

 

UPDATE: It was pointed out to me that you must have either a PlayStation or Fire TV Stick or Box connected before you can get it to work on IOS (and probably Chromecast). All I had was a stick, which can be purchased for $39.99, in this example. My stick is older and the menus run extremely slow. I’m hearing 1st gen Fire Boxes run slow, but 2nd gen (2015) clicks pretty well.  Apologies for any confusion. We are all learning as we go.

This month, PlayStation Vue streaming television service became available across the U.S. in a cheaper, slimmed down package that has no live local television, as it did in the original test cities.  I refer you to the following reports and posts for background and details, as well as comparisons to Sling TV, another popular streaming service used by cord-cutters (people cutting the cord with cable TV).  Each of these will have good and bad things to say, so I don’t think it’s redundant to read more than one.  Read about details like, how the cloud DVR works.  There’s no need for me to explain what is already written.

 

The purpose of this post is to address whether you need a PlayStation or not. As Cord Cutters News pointed out, one of the biggest weaknesses is the name “PlayStation”.  Looking through forums and other places online to see if I had to have a PlayStation just to get the service was not easy in the first few days.  Sony advertised that it was available on the PS3, PS4, as well as, Amazon Fire TV box and stick, and IOS.  What wasn’t clear to many is whether you had to have a PlayStation box in that mix.

I can answer definitively, that you do not need to own a PlayStation at all in order to get the full benefit of the service.  But, you will be frustrated if you think  you can get it all on IOS (iPhone, iPad) or Chromecast.  Not everything is available on mobile, as you will find when the words “not available on mobile” appear across certain things in the IOS app. While you can’t watch it outside of your “home”, or even on a Roku or Android device, or PC and Mac, I did find ways to watch some channels on them.

I dug out an Amazon Fire TV stick I had not used in some time (long story I won’t belabor here).  After reading that people were trying to set it all up through the Fire TV stick or box and running into problems, I decided to take a different route.

First, Get a PSN ID (No PlayStation Required)

I think there is confusion over what is called a PSN ID (PlayStation Network ID). Some have the mistaken belief that you can only do this through a PlayStation.  That is not the case since I don’t own a PlayStation, yet have a PSN ID.

I jumped on my laptop and went to main PlayStation website.  In the upper right hand corner, where it says, “sign in” I clicked that and it took me to a page that wanted login credentials.  However, if you scroll down, there is an option to “create new account”.  Clicking that, I was able to sign up for a PlayStation Network account.  The ID is the email address used, so use a portable email address you intend to keep for a long time, as opposed to an email given  to you by an Internet Service Provider (ISP)  that you might lose if you change providers.

When setting up the PSN ID, you will  want to attach some form of payment card – either a credit card or a prepaid card, which it does accept.  I’m not sure if there are specific PlayStation cards like there are Amazon cards, so just know there are options.  I’m not sure if you can skip that part. I knew I was taking the PS Vue service so I went ahead and added a card to the wallet.  I did not see Paypal as an option.

Then, Sign up for Vue

After I had my account created for the PSN ID, I then went to the PlayStation Vue page and clicked, “Start Free Trial“.  Once there, it will ask for your PSN ID and password (email address used earlier).  You will have to decide which one you want to try for 7 days because after that trial is done, unless you cancel, you will get billed for the tier that you are trying.

I chose the Access Slim, which is the cheapest at $29.99 for 55+ recognizable cable channels.  Someone (can’t find the post) posted this handy spread sheet at the Reddit page for Vue which shows what each tier offers, and the price, if you are not in one of the cities receiving local, live TV (it will ask for your zip code as you sign up).

If they add live, local TV to your service, then there is a question on whether you will need to include those and pay the higher price; or, be able to keep the slim package and keep the price you have. Case in point, I get local TV through my antenna so why pay more for local channels I already get?

One thing to note about the tiers when you choose, consider what I did. I like to watch Michigan and Michigan State football.  Vue has Big Ten Network (BTN).  I don’t need BTN for any other time than football season.  With Vue, I can upgrade and downgrade, at will.  However, when downgrading or canceling, you will get that level of Vue until your billing cycle ends.  But, when you upgrade, you get it immediately and a new billing cycle begins.  So, I plan to pay the extra $5 to get the second tier during football season, then go back to the lowest after.

Finally, add PlayStation Vue to Fire TV

Now that I had my PSN ID and used it to sign up for PS Vue, I installed the PlayStation Vue app on my Fire TV.  Guess what it wanted: The PSN ID and password.  So, I signed in accordingly and there was my free trial, in full, and without a PlayStation.

I found Vue clicks lagging very badly on the stick, which is using Wi-Fi.  I don’t know if it is better if you have a Fire TV box hard-wired through Ethernet, or not.  But, once it starts playing, the HD picture is crisp and pleasing to see.  I had no streaming issues or buffering once it got going. For reference I have a 100 down/10 up plan with Wow for $50/month (goes up to $60 next month after a year).  But, it’s the navigation that is really a problem right now. However, I’m able to dismiss that because:

  1. It just launched nationwide and I’m patient with glitches during such launches because they often resolve in time.  I may feel differently if the problem is still there in another month or two.
  2. I pretty much watch a few of the same channels and once I get there it streams like a charm, but I go back to point one about wanting this fixed sooner than later.

 

Vue Channels on IOS, Roku, PC/Mac, and Android

You get up to five streams of Vue in a house on different devices (but not two PS3 or two PS4’s).  IOS and Chromecast are also options.  Roku is not among supported devices, despite it’s command of the set-top box market.  However, there is a way to watch some of the channels on Roku.  More on that in a minute.

On iPhones and iPads, install the PlayStation Vue app and log in with your PSN ID.  Do this in the home because once outside of your home and using a different IP address, you will probably get the message that you are outside of your home network.  I managed to stream some things where I work, on my lunch hour, despite this message, so I’m not sure if it’s only some channels that are blocked, and it is within the same city.

Both IOS and Chrome would not be good to have alone with Vue because of those kinds of limitations.  [And, as noted at top, reportedly don’t work without a connected PS or Fire device first]. AT the least, you would want to have a Fire TV stick.  A Fire TV box is better to use because it has more Ram and will run quicker, but it is more expensive too.

However, most stations that Vue has in  your tier, which has a “TV Everywhere” app or “Go” access, you can install on your device and log in using “PlayStation Vue” as your TV provider.  You get full privileges as if you had a cable TV provider, with Vue in this scenario.  It’s in the drop down menus.

On Roku devices (unsupported by Vue), go to the streaming channels section and scroll down for “TV Everywhere”.  I added Food Network easily.  Upon clicking the “Live” option, it put up a code on the screen and gave me an URL to go to where the code would be added.  Once I did this on my laptop, within 15-30 seconds, I had full access to Food Network TV on my Roku (I have the Fire TV stick in another room and the Roku is in my living room).

Using PlayStation Vue as TV provider is also true, if you go to any channel’s website streaming live that has this option in your package.  I have a cheap Windows 8.1 computer connected to my living room TV so I can watch my own home media, and have found many ways to watch content on the web this way, in HD, such as when cable channels opened up their stream for political debates. Some channels have this; others don’t.  The “Sci” channel, which is how Discovery Channel used to be, has this option, but it is limited to a handful of unfamiliar providers.  However, it notes on it’s screen they are working to add more providers.  Hopefully, Vue is added soon as this would give me the ability watch this in my living room without an Amazon Fire device.  So, if you are on a PC, Mac, or Android device (unsupported by Vue) and want to watch Fox News Live, just go to their website and click the FoxNews Go at the top of the page and log in with PlayStation Vue as your provider.

Perhaps in time these other devices and platforms will be supported.  It’s hard to believe Roku, with it’s huge market, has been left out.  Hopefully, there is not an exclusivity agreement with Amazon.  But, there are work arounds for some viewing.

Be Careful of Data Caps and Vue

Vue, unfortunately, has no way to limit stream quality.  For those with data cap enforcement, where you might have a 250-300 GB limit, you will want to strictly monitor how much it uses.  I would do a test during the trial period by logging into your ISP website and looking at your usage on your account.  Then, stream it for a set time, like 2 or 3 hours, and then log back in to see how much usage there is on that day.  I don’t know if it will take time for it to show up.  In any event, don’t watch more than a couple hours per day until you know. And, whatever you do, don’t turn off the TV or fall asleep with Vue running or you will quickly eat up your data cap and end up with a big bill for overage.

Vue recommends having an ISP without a data cap because it’s streams are in full HD. They should have known for many that is not possible. Data caps are enforced more in markets where there is no competition.  Rural people get hit the hardest this way and yet have the fewest viewing options.  Sony has to provide a way to limit stream quality.

PlayStation Vue FAQ’s

There is a lot of information discussed in the FAQ’s.  Read through them.

 

Posted in Streaming Services, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Streaming App Review: Portico

Update January 17, 2016: Portico channel seems to have been removed from Roku.


 

Cord-cutters find ways to watch content – whether it’s on a computer, smart phone, tablet, or TV (preferably free). It’s nice when you don’t have to watch on a smaller screen and can kick back and watch something on a regular TV.

One way to watch content on your TV if it has the HDMI ports is using a small set top box or stick that streams video from the Internet like a, Roku device, Fire TV, Apple TV,  and a number of other, lesser known set top boxes and sticks.  Many newer smart TV’s have a growing list of apps, including the one I’m going to discuss here. It’s good to do a system update on your devices and smart TV’s to see the latest apps. I’m a newb, remember – so as an amateur cord-cutter, I didn’t even know what a Roku was six months ago.

I discovered the free Portico app about a month ago and it has become one of my favorite apps.  Portico is available to watch online at PorticoTV.com and you can probably get it on just about any tablet or smart phone.  I watch it on my Roku 3 and on my Fire TV Stick, and it’s also available on Apple TV through iTunes and in the Google Play Store.  So, you don’t have to be a cord-cutter to appreciate the content on Portico.

This app has long-standing, recognizable magazines that provide videos which stream 20-30 minutes or more.  Each magazine seems to have about 6 streams available at any one time.  I’ve taken some snapshots with my iPhone to share so you get an idea.

Here you see the Portico app through my Roku 3 highlighted.

2015-06-18 19.17.43

I’d like to point out that you will see, in the row just below my Portico app in the picture above, there is an app in Roku for Saveur – a cooking magazine.  I really like the content in the Saveur app, but a big problem with it, is that you are stuck watching a commercial before every clip, even if they are only 45 seconds long.  I stopped watching the app because of that, wishing they would time commercials after so many minutes of viewing, rather than on a per clip basis.  But, Saveur is also one of the magazines in the Portico app.  Many of the same things are shown, but with very few commercials.

After you enter, the available magazines appears at the bottom. Only two rows appear at a time, but there are currently three.

2015-06-18 18.59.44-2

Here is what is in the last row.  I’m hoping to see more magazines added.

2015-06-18 18.59.59

Let’s look at Fields & Streams

2015-06-18 19.20.00Inside, I’ve highlighted the last video…

2015-06-18 18.51.43

Then, I pushed the play button on my Roku remote.  Joe is in Alaska fishing for Salmon.  there is some beautiful scenery from the few minutes I watched.

2015-06-18 18.49.19

Using Southern Living for an example, you can see the video play-bar. With my Roku remote I can do all the usual functions of play, pause, fast-foward, etc.  You also see this particular video is just over 16 minutes.  Sometimes, on the Roku, if I rewind, it seems to want to buffer. When that happens, I exit the app, then re-enter and Portico remembers where I left off.  I have the option of resuming or starting over.  But, this happens rarely.

2015-06-18 18.53.41

I haven’t watched this episode yet, but I will be because I love country fried apples.

2015-06-18 18.53.50

Here are some images from a few of the other magazines.   This first one is one of the Tech magazines. I like watching wing-suit videos on YouTube, so this caught my eye.  It’s the adventure of it, and the beautiful scenery often in these Go Pro videos so I’m looking forward to watching this.

2015-06-18 18.55.55

Newsy in 30 uploads a 20-30 minute newscast each weekday and one for the weekend. I have no idea which way it leans, if at all, since I’ve not watched it yet. I’m pretty sure there is an app for this, as there was for Saveur, but I think the Portico interface is very pleasing, and here again, there may be fewer commercials. 

2015-06-18 18.57.20

How about Better Homes & Gardens?  Quite a variety here. I enjoyed the Father’s Day segment.

2015-06-18 18.52.13

There are so many more pics I could have shown, but you get the idea.  Try it out on your streaming device, download the app, or just visit online.  I think it’s a look at one way we will be viewing more content in the future.

Pros:

Portico has a really appealing, easy-to-use interface and some excellent, high quality content.  The commercials are sparse, from what I have seen thus far.  Each magazine offers about 120 minutes of viewing at any one time.

Cons

There are only two regrets I have about Portico: First, almost a month has gone by and I’ve not seen much refreshed in the few magazines I’ve been in. It makes me wonder if the same content will be there in six months from now.  Better Homes & Gardens did add Fourth of July since I last seen it.  And, the News channel i featured does change daily.  So, I don’t know if this is across the board or not.  My second regret is that there aren’t more magazines, including some for kids, family, and well known money magazines, among others.  I can only hope it grows.

Update: One more con – I wish there was a way to see all of the magazines, as opposed to just two rows at a time.

Posted in App Reviews | Tagged , ,

Update on the Tablo device for OTA watching and recording

It’s been 11 days since I first wrote about the Tablo, a device to which I’ve gotten quite attached.  It’s only been out for about a year and those who got a Tablo before me, had to work through various firmware updates and a hardware learning curve of sorts (that is, which hardware works best and what kind of set ups works best).  I kind of expect these sorts of things with new technology which is why I usually wait. In this case, I did not discover the Tablo until some rough spots were smoothed out.  Lucky me.

image2

Relocating the Tablo to the First Floor

In the photo above, I’m showing the Tablo moved to the first floor from the second floor because I actually got worse antenna reception upstairs. I’ll discuss antenna placement in another post. That is a subject in itself.

I was sweating at the thought of moving the Tablo, thinking I might have to set things back up again, but since I was having trouble with most channels pixelating, I knew it had to happen. So, on Tuesday after work I just did it.  This meant moving my one Ethernet adapter, which really needs to go directly into a socket to work effectively, as opposed to going into a strip.  I would need a longer Ethernet cable for it to reach a direct socket and didn’t have one so I plugged it …into a strip. Why not try it?  I saw the light indicating it connected and when I turned on my TV, it had no problem finding the Tablo, as if nothing happened. However, whenever you move an antenna, it should be re-scanned for channels.  Much to my delight, it found 27.  Nine of them, are HD and the rest are standard digital (SD).  I added the ones I wanted (all but the shopping networks).

After the scan was complete and saved, I turned on my main TV and it had no problems connecting to the Tablo, but I noticed it was very slow.  When I tried watching one of the stronger channels, it buffered some 15 times for the first 7 minutes.  The cause of this was that one Ethernet adapter being plugged into a strip.  Wednesday after work, I used a longer Ethernet cable to plug the adapter into a socket, directly.  That was the end of the slowness and buffering.

Tablo Guide

I mentioned previously that I purchased the subscription to the Tablo Guide, which offers an interactive grid for 14 days at a time.  From this grid you can see what to watch and set recordings.  The Tablo even allows recurring recordings for regular programs. So, if you like “NCIS,” or “500 Questions,” or “I Love Lucy” you can just choose “record all” and Tablo takes it from there and stores it on the hard drive attached in set up.

The Tablo Guide looks a little different on each device with the Roku getting an updated app that is available “preview mode” right now.  When it comes out of Beta, I’m hoping it has features as I see on another TV in which an Amazon Fire Stick is attached.  This is how we watch Tablo, by accessing the app through a device of some kind – a Roku box or stick, Fire TV or stick, Apple TV,  IOS and Android phones and tablets, Mac and Windows computers and laptops, etc.

Here are some images of the guide.

11351481_10153385688563410_3799900541098943946_n

The Tablo Guide as it appears in the Tablo Preview App in Beta.

11295677_10153385688583410_404657279572413347_n

This shows what happens when I click the highlighted movie. Because it was not on, the “watch” option is not there. This is the beauty of Tablo is you can record upcoming programs seen in the guide.

10983181_10153385690493410_6066804708901530510_n

This shows several options available. I decided to use “Record All” so any time “Everybody Loves Raymond” is on this channel, it will record. I’ll have a collection on my hard drive.

Switching over to a TV in a room visible from my kitchen where I spend a lot of time, I have a cheaper Fire Stick.  Any stick, be it Fire, Roku Stick, or Chromecast, will work slower than a box.  But, once it gets going, it’s good.  I like the way the guide looks on Fire and I’m hoping the guide on Roku will function similarly when it is out of Beta.  If not, they should move it in that direction as there are lots of interactive choices – both for viewing and choosing recordings.
I’ve left the sidebar menu up so you can see all the options.  I’ve highlighted movies and when I go in there, it’s almost like going through Netflix on a computer to look at movie options. These are movies that are coming up within the next two weeks.  Upon clicking one, it shows me when it will air, and if there are multiple air times it shows them.  Now, I scrolled through this list which went on for many pages

11246852_10153385798778410_3250862101987473633_n

Here is what I see after entering the TV section. Like with movies, it shows me all the movies coming up.  Depending on the device used, there are different viewing options, from alphabetical to genre and by channel.  I find it easier to log into Tablo on my mac to schedule recordings and look for conflicts.

With a 2-Tuner, I can only record two things at the same time, or watch something and record something simultaneously, or someone else could watch a different channel in another room.  I kind of regret not getting the 4-tuner as I have run into conflicts while recording.

Here too, in the TV tab, I’m showing one page of probably a few dozen options.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a brand new episode of the hottest program on a major network, or if it’s an oldie like Adam-12, you can record single or recurring session from here.

10422564_10153385787503410_6679430197014035925_n

This is hard to see, but it is the sports tab.  You don’t necessarily get pretty pictures. It’s not that hard to see on the TV, but the image is unclear here. One thing I regret is no local baseball since MLB has a contract with cable companies. This needs to change because while I’m choosing to ditch cable TV for personal reasons rather than financial, there are many people who simply cannot afford cable.  They ought not be deprived watching a ball game on their TV once or twice a week.  There is some hockey, but I don’t know if local hockey will be available.

11053630_10153385800858410_8392964409072208139_n

Working with Tablo Support

image1-3I had one issue with my Tablo Guide that prompted me to inquire about the problem.  I get a set of channels related to ION (31-1, 31-2, 31-3) and they are strong channels in my area.  But, they were not showing up in the guide.  I was able to watch them on the iPhone by just clicking the channel. I could not record anything (there was a work-around to record manually, but I wanted to see what was there without hunting it down on the web. I’m not familiar with these ION channels and what they offer, but if it’s available, I want it in my guide.  I know Qubo is a kids channel. You see a snapshot here from the Tablo app on iPhone.   I contacted Tablo support and after sending my zip code, I got a response back within 3 hours letting me know that those channels were added to the guide and I should expect to see them within a few days with a refresh.  So, if you have a Tablo and see  blanks in the guide on good channels, don’t remove them, contact Tablo support.

I’ve seen others struggling with different things in Tablo and one thing I noticed is that the support team is responsive to the point of offering to remote log-in to correct problems if need be.  I appreciated the fact that I got an email from a somebody, whom I could send a reply to, if I had additional need to communicate.

UPDATE: Tablo support had this issue resolved very quickly.

Recordings

Below is an image of scheduled recordings. Those with a (1) are how many episodes it will record.  Those with a clock are recurring. Note also the Conflicts tab. That allows me to easily look, at least on the iPhone, for conflicts that a 2-Tuner can’t deal with so I can choose what is not going to record to resolve it.  One trap I’ve gotten into was having a recurring program record, while a moving was recording, and then trying to watch the local news.  That’s where the number of tuners becomes an issue, especially in a multiple person household.

As you can see, I have an interest in the Turner Classic Movie kind of stuff even though they were well before my time. I was excited to find some oldies I did not usually see on cable TV.  I do have interest in contemporary stuff, but no time to follow it all.  The original NCIS is a program I have enjoyed in the past, and may record.  But, quite honestly, I’m just not into a lot of it any more.  I’m a Foyle’s War kind of a person and with my $4.99 subscription to Acorn TV app through my Roku, I get all seasons and episodes (some or all of it may be on Netflix or Prime, but Acorn has a lot of other stuff I find edifying).  Now, who would have known I could record the old classic, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!”  I haven’t seen it in a long time, so we’ll see if I still think it’s as funny as it thought back then.  It carries a 4-star rating. I see it carries a 4.5 star rating at Amazon where it is only available by disk.

FullSizeRender-4

One thing I should point out is that OTA TV generally does not have the more recent movies, like those that have come out in the past year or two.  But, that’s why people have Netflix, Prime, Hulu, etc.  With TV programs, you get the same thing on network OTA as you do through cable, if you can get a good signal.

Here are some recordings I did in the past week, some of them test cases with different channels.

image1

Clicking on any one of those (the ones with pictures) will provide detailed information (scrollable to read the full description).

image2

Whether you like primetime network viewing, or prefer to lay back with some oldies, the Tablo is a great way to go. But, as I said in my original post, do your homework before investing.

Posted in HDTV, Tablo | Tagged ,

Another adventure for this cord-cutter: Tablo!

image1 One of the reasons I started this blog is that I am learning so many things I never knew about and as I discuss them, I’m getting questions.  A number of people sent me private messages looking for answers, hoping maybe they too could cut the cable  TV cord. While there are many experts out there, I felt some might be interested in what a non-expert is going through.  Consider, when analog signals left, I thought that was the end of OTA (over-the-air) TV signals.  I was unaware that an HD signal was out there.  Every few weeks I learn new things I couldn’t have conceived.  Tablo is one of them. I’ve had my eye on this thing for almost a month, but had misgivings. When I saw a price drop at Amazon, that was it. This latest adventure comes some two months or so since I cut the cable TV cord.  Like others, I needed solutions for a number of things.

  1. I had a serious problem with my main TV being in a room with a window that faced away from the towers and wanted to avoid going to the attic of my condo with an antenna and related system.
  2. I missed having a DVR
  3. I missed having a TV grid to see what was coming up or a way to quickly see what was on at various times.
  4. I had this inclination to want to watch OTA TV on my iPhone or on a tablet or laptop in a place where it’s not practical to have an antenna – like the basement, as one example.

Enter, the Tablo

After reading various forums and blogs, considering equipment on hand and what I would need to buy, I concluded that for my needs, the Tablo DVR for HDTV Antennas, 2-Tuner with Wi-Fi should be able to address each of those four things. There is a 4-Tuner Tablo which is a better choice if there are a number of people in the house who might record things at the same time. At the time of this post, the 2-Tuner was running $179 at Amazon and I had been eye-balling it when it was $219. I missed the $169 price by one day! The 4-tuner dropped to $265, if I recall, from $299. Quite honestly, after looking at options by TiVo, Channel Master, Simple TV, among others, this little box is like several devices in one with what it can do.  The others have a more narrow focus.  If it works as advertised, it will be a very useful piece of technology. You can see how Tablo works here. There are helpful diagrams and videos. I managed to get it set up and running in 20 minutes.   My modem and router are on the first floor and the best location for antenna is on the second floor.  I read people had better experience by connecting it to the router with Ethernet rather than using the wi-fi option, but for me, the two would be too far. Someone suggested I use TRENDnet Powerline AV500 Adapter Kit with Gigabit Port (note this is actually AV2 despite AV title). Here again, I didn’t know this was possible.  I connected one with Ethernet to my router on the first floor, and I connected the other one to the Tablo on the second floor.  They worked like a charm, but must go right into the socket. This video discusses how it works, but I’m not sure it’s the AV2.  A small, external hard drive is needed and is used to handle DVR recordings, among other things. Recommendations can be found at the Tablo site and it is best to follow those recommendations. I got the WD Elements 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive WD Elements 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive, but probably could have used just the 1 TB. With that, I added the Tablo app to my iPhone for set up and it found my Tablo immediately and walked me through the set up.  It formatted the hard drive (though my iPhone says the hard drive is formatting when I re-enter the Tablo App and it’s been close to 2 hours). Hopefully, when I wake up tomorrow, I won’t find it cranking yet. The last stage was adding the Tablo App to my Roku 3 (and an update was just released with enhancements).  That too worked flawlessly. There was about a 10 second delay getting the live TV running, but I don’t mind that, for the most part. Let’s look at each of the issues I was hoping to resolve and how the Tablo worked in addressing them after initial set up.

Problem 1: Improving TV signals in my main living area

Here was the situation before Tablo in my living room: While I got 25 channels on a scan with a Winegard FlatWave Amped Indoor Amplified HDTV Antenna (FL5500Y) connected directly, some of the primary local channels I watch were pixelated more often than not. That checkered pattern was coming in and out with the slightest breeze and it was not the case with the same antenna in another room where it was taped to a window which faced the towers 10-15 miles away. There, I got 26 solid channels even on stormy days, 9 of them HD.  I knew if I could get that antenna on the second floor where there is a window aimed at the towers, and beam the signal throughout the house, I would have excellent reception with just one indoor antenna.  I’m aware of amps and splitters, and going to the roof and attic, but really wanted to avoid all that if I could. The Tablo met my expectations on this one.  In fact, with the antenna stuck to the second floor window, it found 27 channels (I stripped the ones I didn’t want). ABC, which is one of my problem channels, comes in as clearly as I had hoped. The real test will be on a windy day.  In my other room, on the first floor, this same antenna had very few, if any, interruptions on ABC, even during high winds.  So, Tablo gave me the ability to watch a great OTA signal in a place that otherwise gets poor antenna signals.  This was an pic taken with my iPhone of the picture on my 36 inch TV. image3 Now, when I mentioned earlier that my Flatwave antenna worked very well in another room on the first floor when attached to a window pointing towards the tower, it was on this TV. That antenna is now upstairs, but I have a cheaper Fire TV stick connected to it (well, cheaper than another Roku and I figured why not try a different platform). It is working well there. So, two TV’s are getting signal from one antenna on the second floor.

Problem 2: Missing the DVR

I will have to come back to this in a follow up post after I do some testing on the recording end.  I had seen complaints that people were having the end of their recordings cut-off as it ended too early.  However, on a quick glance at setting up a recording, I noticed that I had control over start time and duration.  I was able to set a recording I wanted for an 8:00 PM program at 7:58 for a duration of 65 minutes.  I figured that would mitigate any variation between the different systems. UPDATE: I have updated my Tablo and am using a newer Tablo Preview App, and the ability to tweak the start and end time of a recording seems to be gone.  I don’t know if this comes with greater accuracy, but I regret not having the ability to add minutes to the front or back end. I hope this is something that can be given back to us.  If the ability is there and I’m not seeing it, please let me know. Along with recording is watching.  I’ve seen some discussing enhancements they want in this regard. So, I’ll have to let you know what I experience on both recording and playing.

Problem 3: I missed having a TV Grid

I haven’t been watching network TV in recent years and I don’t have plans to be stuck in front of a TV during prime time every day. That said, I’m no longer familiar with what is on at a given time. So, if I come home and want to chill out with the TV for a bit, I was left with clicking around and wondering; or going online to look at a grid once I cut the cable TV cord. Tablo definitely solves this.  During set up, the app notified me that I would be able to begin using it after it had downloaded one day worth of programming, but that it might take a couple of hours to download the full 14 day schedule. Now, to keep the full schedule, there is a subscription fee.  From my standpoint, it is probably worth it.  Here is what Tablo says in it’s FAQ section (question 7):

Your Tablo Guide Data Subscription gives you the ability to watch Tablo OTA DVR content remotely using the Tablo Connect feature. It also gives you access to live TV guide data for your area 14 days in advance as well as smart recording features including the ability to set recordings by series, season, and new episodes only.

How much does it cost?  They have options.  I am starting with the $4.99/month and once I ensure I’ve got a stable system to keep, I’ll either go with annual or lifetime. Here is a picture from the TV with the Fire TV stick using the Tablo App.  From what I’ve seen in each device I plug into, if you click on the channel in the grid, it takes you to live TV.  If you click on a program, it opens up a dialog box where you can set up your recording, as I mentioned earlier.  I’m not sure why the time reads 8:28 which is 3 hours behind. I’m thinking either the TV, the Tablo, or the Fire stick, is on Pacific time. You might notice a faint vertical bar.  It’s showing you where programming is at right now. IMG_4480

Problem 4: Watching in areas where antenna is not practical

I can answer this partially.  I am happy that I have successfully connected to my iPhone, and to a Surface Pro 3. I have no doubt I can connect to other devices.  Now, this is all within range of the router to which it is connected. So, if I want to go into the basement and do some laundry while the Lions are playing football, I’m pretty sure I can take the Surface Pro 3 down there and work in between the plays. There is an option to remote log-in when away from your Tablo.  I’ll be interested to try this, but have to figure out how to map one of the ports.  The iPhone app was walking me right through set up again, but one port has to be manually mapped. This is an area where I need to tread carefully and, it’s not a priority.  But I will test it out soon.  ***UPDATE*** After updating the firmware on the Tablo, the ports mapped automatically on the ASUS RT-N66U. Some 6 miles from home, I was able to log in and watch OTA TV over my iPhone very quickly and cleanly. Here is an image I captured after getting NCIS on my iPhone tonight.  I’m hoping the remote feature will work well because this is what I can expect when I’m having dinner at a restaurant and would like to check in on the local news or something. With a pair of earbuds, it should be a snap. image2And this one is from the local newscast on my Surface Pro 3 image3

Conclusion

The Tablo adventure could be an interesting one.  It all depends on whether I experience some of the same problems I’ve seen others complain about… or not.  I think if you are considering a Tablo, you should spend time reading through posts at the Tablo Community, and sign up to discuss your set up plans before executing them.  Do your homework before buying anything or assuming stuff you have will work with the Tablo.  You will want to discuss what modem and router you plan to use, perhaps your internet download and upload speeds, hard drive that will be connect to the table, etc. You’ve not only got people there who have learned by trial and error, but it seems the techs at Tablo try to keep an eye on things and engage people in those forums. From what I’ve seen of the tech support through those forums is that they are willing to work with people on the problems.  When new technology comes out that is a good thing because it means they are trying to stay aware of issues and are looking for ways to eliminate those headaches later.  In fact, I was prompted to do a firmware update that came out just over a week ago, but I am waiting a good 24-48 hours to see what happens overnight and with recordings before I start. (UPDATE: I ran the firmware update and that is when my ports mapped automatically to my router, so I can view remotely now).  If something happens I won’t know if it’s the update or the Tablo in general. I saw pretty frequent firmware updates at their website, which I like to see on something new.  It means they are addressing issues. I must admit, that seeing tech support people engage those having problems convinced me to give it a try, along with that sale price.  If something doesn’t work right, and I can’t fix it, I’ll give them a chance to help me. I’ll be making more posts on the Tablo experience as time goes on.

Posted in Devices, Tablo | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

To plunge into cord-cutting, or wade in?

4476957888_2935ee4fa5_o-2

Some people like to jump into the lake and get it over with. Others, like me, wade in slowly so the shock isn’t so bad.  I took that kind of approach to cord-cutting, making use of an HD antenna and Roku box along side my cable box as I pondered whether to cut that cord.  After a few weeks, I figured it wouldn’t hurt me to go at least one month cable TV free.

About 6 weeks ago, after learning I could get local network TV over-the-air (OTA), I went to  antennaweb.org upon recommendation from a friend, to determine whether I needed an indoor or outdoor one (the color codes you get when using it only denote the type of antenna you should use, not a red-yellow-green quality). I learned an indoor antenna would work.

I got the Winegard FL5500A FlatWave Amplified Razor Thin HDTV Indoor Antenna and it is currently stuck to my door wall (ask me if I care what it looks like). It can go on a wall behind a TV or sit on a table. I found if i moved it a few feet on the door wall, I lost a few channels and gained others.  I was so pleased with the quality of  picture on the 9 HD channels I got after auto-programming (with the included amplifier plugged in), that I just stopped watching those channels on cable.  I settled on that particular indoor antenna after seeing 4 star ratings by well over 1000 people at Amazon – a good sign.  Don’t get something with a 5 star rating, with 6 users. Look for 4-5 stars, and lost of raters.  I’ll make a post or two dedicated to antennas and what I learned, so this post isn’t all I have to say about the subject.

One thing I will say, is that on windy days, I get signal interruptions.  I don’t know if a stronger antenna would correct this or not.

I wondered why the quality of picture was better OTA than it was through cable. After some quick searches, I learned that the signal is compressed when it goes through cable, but the digital signal OTA, is uncompressed. Quality degrades slightly with compression.  It’s not uncommon to find others saying the same thing if you search online, or just talk to friends who have made the leap. I took this snapshot with my iPhone about an hour ago  because Tornado warnings were issued west of Detroit.  This is one reason I like having access to network TV – when something local is going on.  I can use weather apps, but appreciate the expertise of meteorologists in interpreting radar and other things.

IMG_4262

Within days of getting the antenna, I picked up the Roku 3 Streaming Media Player (original), which was reduced in price with the release of the New Roku 3 Streaming Media Player (4230R) With Voice Search. Nota bene: I didn’t really care to have voice search.

I was pretty amazed with the Roku. If I kept cable, I’d still have a Roku streamer just for some of the interesting things it offers for free, and convenience of watching things like YouTube content.  I’ve tried watching YouTube on my Blu-Ray player, smart TV, etc, but it was a pain that was quickly dismissed as I returned to my laptop to view stuff. Not so, with the Roku once logged into my own YouTube account with things I’ve saved like playlists.  It’s as convenient as using a cable remote.  I could watch Netflix on the Smart TV or DVD player but,  here again, the Roku fires up fast, and in a click, I’m there.

Within two weeks of having the Roku, I began researching the various ISP’s to see who had the best deal in my area. I was still toggling back and forth between cable TV, the OTA, and the Roku, but with each day, I was naturally watching cable less and less.  After making a couple of calls to two main Internet providers in my area, and settling on one, the appointment was made for a new installation.

There are many details I want to get into from antenna info to Roku apps I like, and a trial I am doing with a cheaper Amazon Fire Stick in another room.  I could have gotten a Roku stick, but thought it might be good to try a different platform, especially since it was on sale, and about $13 cheaper.

So, my point is, if you aren’t sure… just get your feet wet by running an antenna and a streaming device along with your cable.  As I mentioned in my last post, I’m bent on Roku above all other platforms mainly because they have the edge on apps.  Roku is to other streaming devices what iPhone was to the first generation Android. The latter was cheaper, but had a fraction of the apps. The Roku 3500R Streaming Stick (HDMI)
is cheaper than the Roku 3 box. There are other Roku boxes too. Compare them for your needs at the Roku site.

4699933966_f2807b1084_z

Posted in Living without Cable TV | Tagged

An Adventure in Cutting the Cord on Cable TV

cord-cutting-cableSome begin a new blog when they take on an adventure, like an extended vacation to an interesting place. I look at dumping cable TV as an adventure.  Since others have been asking me questions, I decided to log my thoughts and experiences here.  I’ll be putting my ignorance on display, but that’s okay if it helps others.

Since there are no contracts in the options I’m using, I can always go back to cable, but I just don’t think that is going to happen.  Time will tell and I’ll post here about any such changes.

This is all very new to me and finding a way to drop monthly costs related to watching content on a TV is appealing. Some do it out of necessity; others like me can afford cable TV, but simply don’t like the idea of a cable bill being as much as a car payment or as much as a gas and electrical bill combined.

My adventure began about a month ago when I tried the first indoor HDTV antenna to catch local over-the-air (OTA) digital broadcasts while I was still connected to cable. I was amazed at the great reception I was getting. Quite honestly, when analog signals disappeared, I thought cable was the only option (you may laugh).  Watching the local networks OTA is clearer than I ever got through digital cable. I’m only 15-20 miles from most towers so that is helpful.  I get 25-26 channels cleanly, but only the local HD channels are useful to me – 9 in all.  The rest are all standard definition (SD) and while the picture is good, I have other options that will likely render them unnecessary.

Within days, I picked up a Roku box.  More on that in a moment.

Is cord-cutting wise for sports fans?

One caveat is that if you are a big sports fan, you don’t want to cut the cord – not yet, anyway.  Football might be one of the few things where I’ll be able to catch local games on network TV.  However, the Detroit Tigers games, as well as other things like hockey, are almost all on Fox Sports Detroit, and this would require a cable TV subscription.  But, unlike football, which I love, I don’t have to watch every baseball game.  Also, many times, I would rather listen to a game over the radio while I’m doing something else. For playoffs, I can always go to a local establishment for a meal and watch.  There are options for live stream, like MLB.TV, but read the fine print that says local games are subject to blackout (but not audio).

Must have: Streaming

Local network TV these days is not sufficient for some who cut the cord and I’m one such person, so I bought a Roku 3 streaming box where lots of free content can be found. If you have Netflix and/or Prime, as I do, that can be streamed on this roku3device, as well. I got it for $89 after it went on sale ahead of an enhanced Roku 3 coming out. Some of these earlier Roku 3’s can still be found.  I read multiple reviews on the many streaming devices and settled on the Roku 3 for reasons I’ll explain in another post. And some of you, like I me a month ago, may not even know what a Roku box is! We’ll get into that soon.

So, one month after installing two indoor HD antennas, a Roku box in my living room, and a cheaper Amazon Fire Stick for a TV used in my kitchen/dining where I spend many hours cooking, I ended my cable TV service yesterday.   The investment of these items cost me less than one-and-a-half months of my former cable service bill, which jumped in January after a promotional period ended.  Because I was an existing Comcast member, they would not give me a deal on Internet-only service.  I had to pay full price.

Talking $$$

I’m blessed to live in a competitive area with regards to cable/internet service providers and WOW was glad to give me a deal.  In January, my bill jumped $40 to $200/month for the Comcast Triple Play (Internet 50 Mbps speed; TV – Digital Preferred; unlimited phone – which I used about 3x/yearly to find my iPhone; and modem/boxes). I’m now paying $50 for WOW Internet only (50 Mbps) – locked in for 12 months, without a contract (that’s a $42/month savings off regular price). My total may go up to $75 as I found two paid streaming services I’m using through my Roku box in free trials that I like, and may keep: SlingTV and Acorn TV.  The latter has some excellent British originals (recent and current programing) and it seems to be a real bargain at $49/year or $4.99/month. The volume of content is not insignificant and there are options to catch up on prior seasons/series.  SlingTV is basically taking known channels associated with cable and bundling them for online streaming, for $20/month – with a bunch of different $5 add-on packages.  Both are contract free and can be canceled any time.   I may very well cancel Sling, but after they added some additional channels in the free section this past week, I’m wondering if more will be added in the future. One thing I am mindful of is that it is very easy to end up paying as much as cable TV, if you add to many paid, streaming services.

When comparing costs with cable, finding a 50 Mbps download speed, with 5 Mbps upload speed, combined with any kind of low cost HD TV package is not  easy.  I found upload speeds are often locked in with certain download speeds. Download speeds are often tied to certain, minimum TV packages, if you bundle.  I could have paid $75 for a WOW TV plus Internet plan. At the time of this writing, that bundled package of cable TV and Internet provided only 4 Mbps download speed.  I would not consider anything less than 10 Mbps, and preferably 15, for any kind of streaming  – which is the lifeline of cord-cutters looking for something more than OTA network TV (more if there are multiple users on devices at the same time). Chances are, the upload speed for that plan is a turtle’s pace of 1 Mbps (same as their 15 Mbps download plan).  That kind of plan might be good for a heavy TV user and very casual Internet user who checks email and lightly surfs the web, with little streaming.

Adapting to a new ‘normal’ without cable TV

Something I’m learning is that the taste for some things on cable fades once you stop watching them, and some fade quicker than others.  I suspect there will always be certain appetites that remain.  But, I find myself quickly adapting to this, as well, especially as I learn about new things and alternatives .  Rather than just cut the cord, then learn, I decided to use some typical cord-cutting tools while keeping my cable. What ended up happening, was I naturally gravitated towards these new and interesting choices.  I’ll be getting into more details in individual posts in this blog.

I have no schedule on when I will publish continuing posts, so follow in the various ways available.

Posted in Living without Cable TV | Tagged ,