Posts Tagged Netflix

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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Microsoft XBox 360 at E3

xbox360-logoYesterday was Microsoft’s big day at E3 in Los Angeles.  E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is a yearly convention and trade show primarily for the gaming industry.  I say “primarily” because the lines continue to blur in the gaming, entertainment and media world.  The conference itself has had it’s ups and downs the last several years in terms of popularity and attendance, as the organizers made drastic changes to the “rules” of the convention.  Despite the changes, and rampant rumors that E3 was doomed, many gaming publishers and developers hold off on releasing news of upcoming products for the fanfare of this expo.

Microsoft entered the console gaming industry as an enormous underdog with their XBox console back in 2001.  At the time, Sony’s PlayStation 2 was fully entrenched, the Nintendo GameCube and the waning Sega DreamCast consoles were still selling as well.  Definitely not an easy road of entry.  Some good games, and their new XBox Live service helped boost sales for the mostly PC-software-based company.

In 2005 Microsoft released the XBox 360 console.  It was completely redesigned from the ground up, which essentially what every console release, from every manufacturer, has been.  Only this time, Microsoft changed the paradigm of consoles.  This console came out of the box with all the standard fare: better graphics, faster processor, the ability to play new games (duh), some compatibility with previous-generation games, and Internet connectivity.  What was new, in the console realm, was a hard drive built in to save games, plus consumers had the ability to upgrade the hard drive to a larger one.  Never before had consoles been upgradeable on the storage end (most of them just had cartridge slots only).  Microsoft now had the ability to expand on their base console in ways we, as consumers, were only able to if you owned a PC.  They have been able to completely redesign the XBox 360 operating system, integrated the console into your home network (allowing for music and picture sharing), and they recognized the shift in how consumers can use the 360… as a home entertainment medium, and not just for gaming.  Last year they partnered with the online DVD renting company, Netflix, to provide streaming movies right through the 360.  Previously, people could watch DVDs, but now they can conveniently stream movies as well.

Changing gears a bit, to the Internet-only world…  it’s no news that social media has become extremely popular not only with the tech-savvy, young or geek crowd.  Social media sites and services like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, and hundreds of others, have become the most popular “hangouts” on the net.  News agencies, superstar celebrities, corporations and even the middle-aged non-geek, are all over these sites.  I’m not going to get into these specifically, but gamers use these services to organize planned meetups, the games they’ll play, and when.  Microsoft has seen this trend and worked to integrate this social aspect not only into the game (which the game developers have done already, and what Microsoft did in a previous operating system update), but into the before-game aspect.  How?  Well Microsoft announced yesterday that they will be integrating the two most popular social media entities, Facebook and Twitter, into their system.

facebook_logoMost gamers would dismiss this as crap and rebel against it if they can, but I see it a bit differently.  I’ve tried, a number of times, to organize just a few of us to play on the 360 on a Friday night.  All of us have full-time jobs, are either married or living with our better half, and some of us have kids… it’s not easy.  I’ve used email, phone calls and text messages all to organize a couple of hours of game time.  Normally, my console gaming is completely separate from my PC.  The way I have my home setup is pretty sweet, as my computer is right behind the TV that I play my 360 on, so I just have to swing my chair twitter_logoaround.  For most, the console is in the living room, and the computer is not.  Even if you have a laptop, it still doesn’t matter, they are on two separate devices.  I’m either on the PC, or I’m on my 360.  I’m usually not going to take the time to stop playing, log into whatever on my PC to see who’s online and who might be interested in playing, I just want to play.

With this social media integration, gamers will be able to not only easily communicate with those that you wish to play with, but also let others know that you are gaming, and playing a specific game.  If your buddy Johnny Bravo was checking the latest drama or taking a test on what Golden Girl he’s most like on Facebook, he can also see that you’re playing Left 4 Dead, and feel the urge to squash some zombies with extreme force.  Where good ol’ Johnny may not have been wanting to play earlier, now he’s all over it, thanks to your update on Facebook via the 360.  I see more of the advantage of that “alert system” than anything else.  Just like not stopping to go on my PC, I’m also not going to stop playing to go on the 360 version of Twitter or Facebook and have a conversation.  Typing things out without an actual keyboard interface is painful, and a waste of time.  So if the implementation is done right, it could make it much easier for us gamers to get the word out, to organize it, and get your friends into it.

Microsoft also announced a number of games yesterday, but I won’t go too far into them, although Left 4 Dead 2 makes me want to speed up time until it comes out.  I do have to say it must have been quite a, umm, moment, when both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr came out and talked about The Beatles: Rock Band.  As my seven year old daughter loves the Beatles, it’s a must buy.  Oh yeah, there were also a couple of flagship Halo games coming out as well, as well as Metal Gear Solid Rising.

One of the most innovative announcements was the direct result of how the Nintendo Wii changed game controlling.  It’s called Project Natal, and it is a full body motion controller, facial recognition, voice recognition, and you can control games and other areas of the 360 with motions… that means NO controller.  Sounds like an amazing technology, but I question whether it’s mature enough to really work.  I guess we’ll see, as it is compatible with all existing 360’s, and Microsoft will be selling it with all new ones.
Another minor announcement, well minor to me because I probably won’t use it, is the partnership with the music site, Last.fm.  Microsoft Live Gold members will have the ability to play music from Last.fm at no additional charge.  That Netflix deal from last year also gets a full 1080p resolution upgrade, with the ability to add movies to your queue within the 360.  Did I say earlier that the lines continue to blur in the gaming, entertainment and media world?  Microsoft, at least their XBox division, is the one with the giant pink eraser, no longer in the corner of the room.

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