Posts Tagged Apple

Cutting the (Cable) Cord Part 2: How I Did It

In Part 1, I described your options for cutting the cable cord. Here I disclose which option I went for and how I have it all set up.

But first, a couple of minor changes and additions to Part 1:

I’m sorry if you went to Part 1 looking for your options on how to cut a (literal) umbilical cord, post-childbirth. . . . Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sorry. That post is way fucking cooler.

On a more serious note, there is one piece of equipment that I forgot to list in Part 1: An HDMI Adapter for your handheld devices and Tablets. It’s a last resort in case you are unable to stream to TV and absolutely must have it on your big screen TV. I’ve included it here.

Let me list a few of the goals I used to help me focus on getting this all right:

  1. I wanted a “whole home” solution, with the least amount of inconvenience. I wanted to eliminate or minimize switching TV inputs, and I wanted to access all entertainment in the same way on both TV’s in the house. Accessing the entertainment on devices was actually secondary for us.
  2. I wanted to minimize or eliminate the number of shows lost.
  3. I wanted to keep costs down by using equipment that I had on-hand where I could. I’ll have a cost list later in this post.

Here’s what it all looks like. Click here or click on the picture to see it Full Size:

GUACPostPart2

 

The List

Here’s what I eventually needed to pull this all off. Descriptions and links for these can be found in Part 1. Here I will be talking more about setup and the cost for each in rounded numbers (we’re not launching a rocket to fucking Mars here). You can also take a look at the Visio Diagram (above) I’ve provided:

  1. [Living Room] HDTV Antenna (Cost – $90.00) – You’ll have to experiment with the best location. Outdoors is ideal, the higher you can mount it the better, and line of sight to your most important stations is how you’ll want to aim it. This will take some experimentation. I had to mount mine indoors, which wasn’t ideal, but that’s the down side to renting. You’ll need to read your TV’s manual to figure out how to scan for stations.
  2. [Living Room] Coax Amplifier and Splitter (Cost – $50.00) – Why I needed this was due to an issue I encountered while implementing #3:
  3. [Living Room] Tablo PVR (Cost – $229.00) – OK, if you are going to detract from what I’ve done, this will probably be it. The Tablo (otherwise known as “TabloTV”) is what we’d call in the IT field a “Version 1.0 Product”. Not only is it Version 1.0 (new to market), but the phrase “Version 1.0 Product” is a euphemism in Software Marketing that means, “Please don’t expect all this shit to work.” If you’re ever in a meeting with a software vendor, that’s a red flag. I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker, but it’s a red flag. Anyway, Tablo Support sucks, and their Android App crashes incessantly. However, it has three things going for it. (1) The PVR is flawless, (2) its Roku App is intuitive and enables live viewing of the HDTV Antenna in multiple rooms and (3) its iPad app is solid. To their credit, TabloTV sent a recent update (all I had to do was update after a prompt), and it seems more solid now. One issue I ran into was that the TabloTV app on Roku is 4-10 minutes behind Live TV. So I bought a Coax/Amp Splitter to go to both the RF input on the TV and one into the Tablo to record shows. To watch Live TV in the bedroom we have to use the Tablo App, and I guess we’ll get those important news updates 4-10 minutes later than everyone else.
  4. [Living Room] 300GB Sony USB Drive (Had on-hand) – USB Drive attached to the Tablo Set-Top box, for recorded shows. I know that isn’t much space, but I’ll scale up when I have to. We purge it all the time. 40GB is taken up by the Channel information, the rest is for shows. I read somewhere that an hour HD show takes up about 6GB. No idea if that’s true. Never checked. Running out of room on your DVR is quite the First World Problem so . . . zero fucks given really.
  5. Cheaper ISP (Cost – $50.00 a month) – I went with a more local-area Internet Provider. $125 Cheaper than Comcast.
  6. [Living Room] Roku 3 (Cost – $100.00) – Pretty much the most important part of Cutting the Cord. This brings it all together. This provides for Internet-based TV and is very convenient.
  7. [Living Room] Chromecast (Had on-hand) – Internet-based TV/Entertainment provided by Google but there are a lot of Chromecast-enabled Apps, even on the iPad/iPhone.
  8. [Living Room] Wireless Extender (Had on-hand) – Extends internet access to the Tablo.
  9. [Bedroom] Roku 2 (Had on-hand) – Brings everything together onto the Bedroom TV. Like I said, through the Tablo App we can watch Live TV or Recorded TV in the Bedroom. Everything else we can get through the Roku Apps, just like in the Living Room.
  10. [Living Room] iPad HDMI Adapter (Had on-hand)  – Last resort in case we must have streaming apps on the TV that can’t be done through the previous methods.

Cost Breakdown

I am not including a Cost Breakdown for OTT Services like Amazon Prime Movies, Netflix, and so on since we were already paying for them previous to Cutting the Cable cord, therefore they had no influence on “Money saved”. I also assessed the cost of anything I had on-hand as $0.00. I was also lucky enough to get an $86.00 rebate from Comcast:

Cost Numbers for Cutting the Cord

Cost Numbers for Cutting the Cord

 

As you can see, after about 3 months, it’s money in our pocket, a savings of $125.00 a month.

I recommend highly you do the numbers before jumping into this. If it’s going to take 10 years to get your return, then perhaps this isn’t for you.

Hope this helps.

 

 

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Cutting the Cord Part 1: Your Options

I recently joined the ranks of an exclusive club (well, sort of exclusive) and officially “cut the cord”. If you are unaware of the concept, cutting the cord means you get the satisfaction of telling your overpriced Cable provider to “go fuck yourself” and save some substantial cash in the process.

I won’t go into the details of the nightmare that Comcast . . . yeah, you saw that coming didn’t you . . . has been over the past month, but when we moved to our new apartment we “upgraded” to the XFinity X1. We were told about how awesome the new X1 “platform” is and that it would be $15 cheaper a month.

It was bullshit on both accounts and I should have known better. I probably don’t have to tell you how Comcast doesn’t really give a fuck about you, and that when I called them to disconnect, they didn’t even try to keep me as a customer. It is my hope that more people join the ranks of cord-cutting and will force Comcast and companies like it to stop screwing people with unnecessary and exorbitant fees and crappy service.

Here, in Part 1, I will list the options I found for cord-cutting. In Part 2, I will describe what I went with, and I plan on having cost numbers, a parts list, and hell . . . fuck it, I’ll even make you a Visio diagram.

As a bit of a teaser, by cutting the cord, we are saving $125.00 a month. After the initial expense, doing this pays for itself in about three months. After that, it’s money in Bryan‘s pocket.

So first, some thoughts and advice, having gone through the process:

  1. There will be an initial cost of implementation, and you’ll need to do the numbers. Do an ROI and see if it works for you. Cord-cutting isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the hardware on-hand, you’re looking at about $350.00-$400.00 as a one-time capital expense for this project. You’ll need to think about the initial investment and long-term monthly costs, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, the cost of Movie rentals, etc. If you already have those “Over the Top” services (OTT, it’s a thing, trust me), then you’re ahead of the game, as it were.
  2. Everyone in the household will need to have patience and may need to make small sacrifices. Some of this will be trial and error mixing and matching the most optimal setup. My wife was phenomenal through this as I had to try a few different setups to get everything right.
  3. You’ll need some technical knowledge. Wi-Fi in particular is crucial to pulling this off.
  4. You may not be able to get all of your shows, or at least you may have to watch them after everyone else has. If you’re the type who circle-jerks over Game of Thrones during its real-time Twitter feed (not even sure people actually do that), then maybe cord-cutting isn’t for you. See #2, above.
  5. Finding a DVR/PVR (if you need one) will be a big challenge.
  6. Streaming the same shows and entertainment in all rooms (called a “Whole Home” solution, in cord-cutting parlance) will also be a challenge.
  7. You will still have to pay an ISP for internet access.

The list of options that follows is by no means an all-inclusive list. Everything depends on what shows you watch, what shows you may be willing to give up, your technical knowledge, and how to get everything all through the house. I also tried to keep costs down by using equipment I had on-hand (more on that in Part 2).

My disclaimer here is that there are a myriad of ways to do this and I am always open to ideas. Just remember when you start typing your smart-ass, telecom-nerd comments, I don’t claim to be an expert at this shit. I am sure in retrospect I could have saved myself $100 or so by being more resourceful, but isn’t that the way all home improvement projects are?

Live TV

  1. Downgrade to Basic Cable and Decline to Use their [Shitty] Equipment- It’s an option. Where cable companies get you is by charging you a monthly fee for “use of the equipment”. You don’t have to use their equipment. You can get your own, as you’ll see in the next section.
  2. Use an HDTV Antenna – This is what I would call the “balls deep” option for this section because other than the one-time cost of the Antenna, these stations are free. These HD stations are in local areas, but your success in using them will depend on your location and your line of sight to the Station Signals. You can check channel availability for your location here. This gets you the mainstream channels, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, etc. And for some reason, no matter how you tune the HD Antenna for optimal reception, at least 5 Christian Evangelist stations. Options: AntennasDirect Clearstream 2V, Mohu Leaf. I went with the Clearstream; as to why and how, I will disclose in Part 2.

DVRs/PVRs

This may prove to be your biggest challenge, and possibly the most expensive. Cable companies and the telecom industry make it difficult to have an open market for DVR’s (ownership of content, limiting options to consumers so the cable companies can charge for their equipment, and so on). The challenge I found was not in finding a DVR. The challenge was finding a DVR with an RF jack that can also be accessible throughout the entire house.

  1. TiVo – Not a bad option, but for a whole-home solution, you’ll need multiple TiVo devices and there’s a monthly fee (last I checked $14.99).
  2. Other PVR/DVR Set-Top Boxes – Something like the Mediasonic HomeWorx line of xVR’s (can’t vouch for it and I’m not including a link because xVR’s have a tendency of going defunct). You’re looking for an RF interface. But, getting recorded shows throughout the house is the challenge with these.
  3. Tablo – I will be talking about this one in more detail in Part 2. Despite it’s flaws, it has RF support, PVR, and the whole home solution all wrapped up in one Set-top box.

Whole Home Solutions

Next is getting everything throughout the house, and the solutions here are diverse. Many of which offer the ability to stream to any device. I will tell you that having a Smart TV will help you tremendously here. I don’t have any Smart TV’s, so I had to use another solution.

  1. Tablo (see above).
  2. Slingbox – Great option but does not include an xVR or RF interface.
  3. HDHomeRun – Also, great solution but does not include an xVR and requires an ethernet connection (I will disclose my work around to this in Part 2).
  4. Roku – IPTV through your WiFi (Roku 3 now includes an ethernet connection).
  5. Chromecast – IPTV for Chromecast-supported apps.
  6. AppleTV – Apple’s IPTV product.

Other Equipment You May Need

  1. WiFi Extender with Ethernet Connections – Many of the whole-house solutions listed above require an ethernet connection. My house isn’t fucking wired for ethernet, so it’s frustrating when I want to bring everything centralized into the main living room and these asshole set-top box makers (as above) require an ethernet connection, like a bunch of dicks. I suppose I don’t have to centralize it that way, however the HDTV Antenna had to be placed in the living room and I wanted to bring everything in there.
  2. Multimedia over CoAx (MoCA) – In retrospect, I probably should have used this.
  3. Coax Amplifier/Splitter – Due to a complication with the Tablo (more on that in Part 2), I had to split the signal to have seamless Live TV. My advice is to spend the money on the amplifier. Don’t ever just split the signal.
  4. USB Drive – Depending on the xVR you buy, you may need to purchase USB storage for the recorded programs.

TV/Movie Replacement Services (OTT Services, previously mentioned)

This is where you’ll have to be careful. These costs can get away from you. Again, the list here is not all-inclusive, and I am sure there are some out there of which I should be taking advantage. I’ll just be listing the major players here. I did not give a description for most of these because if you don’t know about them, then you have been living under a rock, most likely, or Amish, in which case, you won’t be reading this anyway . . . Sorry, to all my Amish readers:

  1. Netflix
  2. Amazon Instant Video – Your Amazon Prime membership will come in handy here.
  3. Google Play Music/Movies/TV
  4. Hulu Plus – Fine Comcast, I’ll throw you a bone.
  5. Pandora Internet Radio
  6. Plex - Access your music/photos/movies anywhere.

Stay tuned for Part 2, when I detail what I chose from the above and I’ll give you some tips based on what I did to make it all work.

 

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Google and Apple and Schmidt, Oh My

google-apple-schmidtThere was an interesting article by Tom Krazit on Webware today.  In it, he directly addresses the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and calls for Schmidt to step down from his seat on the Board of Directors at Apple.  While some in the comments became hung up on the delivery of the message, found an opportunity to take a shot a Microsoft, or talked about the Google conspiracy of stealing all of your secrets, I read more into the meat of the article.

The quick background as to why Krazit wrote his article is because Google announced today that they will be releasing a new product called “Google Chrome OS” next year.  The OS, or Operating System, is the “root” of what runs your computer’s software, modern mobile phone, GPS and just about anything else.  In the PC world, there are several, most notable are Microsoft Windows, Apple OSX and many flavors of Linux.  Google already had a web browser, released last year, called Chrome.  The big deal here is Chrome OS is it’s own operating system that sits on a Linux kernel.  The main focus will be accessing the web, and that’s it.  Because it cuts out the idea of native applications (apps that are installed locally and thus take up system resources), this OS can be stripped down to the bare minimum, and be extremely fast and versatile.  Anything that it runs will be web-based, which means anything that you can access now online will run on it.  Google explained further that it will be available, initially, on netbook computers starting in the latter half of 2010, a year from now.  You have to start some place, right?  Oh wait, they already did!  Google acquired the mobile phone software company, Android, back in 2005, and created (along with the Open Handset Alliance), the Android mobile phone operating system, which was installed on mobile phones starting last year.  People who use it like the phones, although the hardware itself gets more of the negative press.

We’re in a world of technological change, and that change is happening faster than anything we have ever seen before.  It’s not only because of the big companies and their big software.  A lot of the driving force now is from the small developers.  Apple opened the iPhone/Touch App Store to any developer, and allowing those developers to set the prices.  At last press release in June, Apple stated there were over 50,000 apps in their Apps Store.  Research In Motion, the manufacturer of the Blackberry phones, created their own App World with the same concept back in April, and already has over 2000 applications.  The Android Market boasts the same for Android users.
Another aspect of this drive is something called “open source”.  Basically what it means is the code is free to the public to alter, update, fix and enhance, collaboratively.  This has been around for a long time, and is what the Linux OS and it’s many flavors is based on.  There have been many open source applications available for essentially all platforms, and most of that software is free.  Because it’s run by the community, the support is usually excellent and fast, if you know where to look.  Never is the support for an open source program outsourced to someone not speaking your language who has no knowledge of what you’re talking about, and is simply running through a prepared script.  Well Google stated that Chrome OS will be released to open source later this year.  The myriad of “new eyes” will optimize the code, make it more secure, and concentrate on web coding standards that the likes of Internet Explorer abandoned and manipulated for their own purpose in years past.

Innovation will be the end result of all of this.  Innovation driven by independent coders.  They will continue to see the opportunity to build a business for themselves, take part in something they love doing, or take pride in making something better for others.  Innovation driven by competition.  Microsoft, the behemoth, has been slapped around in the browser wars lately because faster, less bloated, and more standards-compliant browsers have been released by Mozilla (Firefox), Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome) and Opera.  It has forced Microsoft to go back and do things differently.  Internet Explorer 8, released in March, is faster and more standards-compliant than it has been in a very long time.  (Still not good enough for me to go back to, but that’s a digression.)  That’s good.  Apple and Linux OS releases have also hurt Microsoft’s Windows foothold and gained ground in the install base.  No small feat considering the market share Windows has enjoyed.  Granted it’s partly because of Apple’s rebirth, Linux becoming more mainstream-friendly, and in no small part Vista’s horrendous launch and subsequent 2-1/2 year marketing damage control efforts.  We’re hearing from many locations that the new version, Windows 7, is better than all previous releases.  That’s good.
If they push each other, if the coders push on each other, and consumers push via our money… we win, as innovation happens.

Getting back to Mr. Krazit’s call for Schmidt to step down from Apple’s board, I agree.  Government regulators have come down ridiculously hard on Microsoft regarding their anti-trust practices.  Was Microsoft practicing hard-handed anti-trust?  Of course they were.  But some regulators have taken it far enough to stifle some of Microsoft’s innovation, and in some areas it seems Microsoft is playing catch-up.  Regulators have started paying more attention to Google because of their increasing size and scope.  If the CEO of Google, who is now in the business of application development as well as operating system development, is also on a Apple’s Board, who also develops applications and operating systems, these regulators will pay even more attention.  More attention may lead to government intervention, anti-trust issues, extensive costs, and less innovation.

I use products from Microsoft, Linux, Apple and Google every day.  I do love them, but I want them to be better.  I’m selfish.  I want innovation.

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Apple and the State of Biased Tech

OK, here’s the background on yours truly.  I’ve never owned an Apple product, until the iPod 3rd Generation (first non-Mini with the click-wheel).  Now we (my wife and I) have a total of three Apple products.  I have my iPod (and use it every day for my podcast and audiobook absorbtion on my commute), an iPhone 3G as my phone, and my wife has an iPod Nano.  I’ve always owned, and built, PC’s based on Windows.  In my years working in IT (over 20 now), I’ve never come across an Apple computer that I had to support.
apple-iphone-3g-sSo as can be assessed by this little bit of information, I’m in no way an Apple fanboy.  My iPod changed the way I ingest media, as I no longer carry CDs in my car, I listen to a bunch of podcasts and also listen to audiobooks on my 45+ minute commute each way.  All of our CDs are boxed up in the basement.  My daughter sleeps to music every night, and until recently listened to “kids music” on CD… then she became a Beatles fan.  We have The Beatles: One, and she asked for the CD to listen to… it took 20 minutes to find the damn thing!  I almost considered buying her an iPod, but her radio doesn’t have an input jack… but I digress.
My iPod changed the way I listen to music, and more importantly to me, how I get entertainment in my car.  My iPhone changed the way I use my phone.  Admittedly it’s the first true “smart phone” I’ve ever had.  I played with a few PDA’s in the past, but they lost their luster for me quickly.  They were either clunky, feature-poor, or just not a good user experience.  My iPhone is the first device where I have my phone, email, gaming and the full Internet on one device, right in my pocket.  Never have bathroom breaks been more enjoyable!  This is the second generation iPhone, not the original one.  I wish I were an early adopter, but to be honest, I can’t afford to be one.  Instead, I rely heavily on unbiased consumer opinions moreso than the mainstream tech “pundits”.  I consider myself a smart consumer as a result, mostly out of necessity… I personally can’t drop hundreds of dollars on an unproven piece of tech, no matter how awesome it may seem, and more to the point, how much I may wanty.  For me, it was just good timing all around.  My three-plus year old Motorola Razr was literally falling apart (one of the two hinges had a piece missing, so I had to be careful with the flip of my flip phone), I was “eligible for an upgrade” (one of the biggest pieces of bullshit anti-consumerism out there, but I won’t talk about it right now), and the iPhone 3G was just released.  I was interested in the original iPhone, but it wasn’t until the advent of the iTunes “App Store” that really had me excited.  The fact that any developer could create applications for the iPhone was huge, and iPhone (and iPod Touch) owners were no longer just tethered to the limited number of applications that come pre-installed… well that was the selling point.
In the eleven months that I’ve had it, I’m amazed at how many practical things I’ve been able to do with it, look up on it and help me make decisions with it.  It’s a computer with Internet connectivity, and it happens to have a phone built in.

So what prompted all of this is last week was the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, where historically, Apple will announce new and updated products.  As expected, they announced an updated iPhone, the ‘3G S’ model.  It’s faster, has a better camera, a new magnetometer, larger drive, but most of all, the updated operating system, version 3.0.  The phone itself comes out today, June 19th, but they made the OS available to us existing iPhone and iPod Touch users on Wednesday.  It’s an incremental update, and includes a bunch of features that should have been in the device from the very beginning (cut, copy & paste, a universal search ability, a voice recorder), but the Apple fanboys rejoice and jump around like it’s the coolest tech in the world (despite other devices already having those things).  I know that fanboys exist in anything related to tech and where “sides” can be chosen.  I’ve always been of the side of where it works best, regardless of who made it.  I mean, who really wants to get in a debate over whether a PC or a Mac computer is best?  Who really needs to throw barbs as to how the iPod is superior to the Microsoft Zune? (maybe a bad example here)  What person needs to belittle another over the “fact” that an XBox 360 pwns the PlayStation 3?

I don’t get it.  I’m thrilled that there is competition, and it drives the others to release better, more innovative products.  I’m a PC, but I love the fact that Mac is gaining market share… Windows 7 is looking great so far as a result.  I wonder how hard Microsoft would have pushed their R&D if the Nintendo Wii didn’t come from left field and take market share, mostly because of their innovative new controllers.  Microsoft announced Project Natal at E3, a full body controller (I wrote about it in a previous post).

Taking sides?  I choose innovation, over ANY side.  I want things to be better, stronger, faster.  I want my gaming, online and media experiences to wow me.  If it edges in that direction, I win, hell we all win.  I’ll choose the direction of my purchases based on the honest opinions of the reviewers out there.  If your review has high praise, and there’s a single “but”, I’ll take you seriously.  If you do nothing but praise and love and buy a product simply because it has “Apple”, “EA”, “RIM” as the manufacturer, then take your review and shove it.  You’re a putz not worthy of my read, simply open your eyes already, will you?  You’re an elitist, congratulations… now bite me.

I’ll sit down and tell you WHY I bought a product, and if I realize that I made a mistake after the fact, I’ll admit it.  I won’t, though, sit down and tell you why I’m right and why you’re wrong… and don’t try that with me.

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