Archive for the ‘Home Media’ Category

There hasn’t been much to write about the last few months until that is, until Playon (www.playon.tv)came out with Playon Plus. Those of you who purchased Playon a while ago know what I am talking about. There are many web sites out there advertising free TV, some with recording features but nobody can compete with the deal Playon gives you to access streaming content. You can also cast to your chrome stick if you want.

I have a couple of Roku boxes in my home and with the Playon channel I don’t need much more. I get a whole host of cable like content and just like cable TV you can record your favorite content. By the way, once you have recorded content, you can Skip the ads on playback with Playon’s AdSkip feature. Cable TV won’t let you do that!

I also use their browser add-on called Playmark. Find a video anywhere and click on the Playmark button and bingo, you have your own Playon channel.

If you have an account with the Free HULU content website you can also watch all your favorite HULU shows as well.

What have I left out. Oh yeah, you can access all of this through handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Christmas is coming. For less than the cost of a nice shirt, you can have Playon, with no recurring fees.

Merry Christmas!

Homemediaguy

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I am a big fan of cord cutting. Unfortunately, the cable companies have us cornered. Providing both internet connectivity and content (cable programming). There is only way any one person can tell the cable companies they are not happy and that is with their wallet. They dump cable.

The trend has been growing so fast, cable companies are getting worried. But you know they didn’t get rich and eliminate competition by being stupid. Since they own the data pipes to your house AND provide content they still own you. See the graphic below.

Cable Internet Costs

A few years ago I checked internet only prices in the Washington DC area. Comcast, Verizon and Cox all provided internet only services averaging $30-$45/month. With the cord cutting trend picking up steam the cable companies got smart and started offering higher bandwidth connections of 50 MB up and down for more money. Keep in mind that you only need 3-8 MB down to stream 1080p HD.

Recent social media discussions show that in parts of the country Internet only is now costing $60 a month for the same fiber link to your house. Sure you get higher speeds, but usually more than you need.

So let’s say you cut the cord, spend $20-$30/month on subscribed streaming content, you might end up with 15-10 channels and maybe live TV. That’s $60 for internet and $20 for content which equals $80/month. On the other hand for the same $80 you get the same internet connection and 400 plus channels of live TV.

So how or what do you win? The cable companies are still getting their money, and you are getting less content.

The Fix

There is only fix for this situation and that is competition. The removal of restrictive deals with cities which give monopolies to the cable companies and the Federal Government with laws and regulations that stimulate competition. This is a much harder problem to fix if you really want to cut the cord and not be at the mercy of the cable companies.

A small hope for a small number of consumers is to get the internet only, put up an indoor/outdoor HD antenna, and get free live HD programming which an old law says broadcasters must continue to provide.

Good luck.

Homemediaguy

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Every day you hear and read about cord cutters and how happy they do not have to pay for cable TV. Whoops! They still have to pay for internet access, which makes sense. When you think that most people leave their TV’s on for the noise factor even when they are not watching but listening to TV; streaming content is the de facto standard of video delivery. What most people do not think about is the cable companies realize what’s coming and have postured themselves to never having to reduce revenue. How can that be?

Easy. There are three elements to the “bundle” package most people subscribe to with their cable company. Phone, TV and internet. As the demand for 40 good channels on cable, they end up paying over $200 a month for those channels, a phone (which is becoming more irrelevant due to cell phones) and the ubiquitous internet connection.

If you look at any cable TV companies web site, they offer internet only services for around $50 a month. Wow. That’s a lot for something that just sits there until you use it. And you’re right. Where there is competition and adequate regulation you can get faster internet for about half the price if you lived in Europe or Asia.

As people look to dump the TV part of their package, they find that they still pay a high amount to stay in the internet streaming game. Add to that that companies like Comcast are starting to limit the amount of data you can use each month with your internet connection, we are headed right back to where we started. Comcast is offering an unlimited internet connection in markets with data limits (like your cell phone data plans) for an additional $30 a month. $50 + $30 = $80, ouch!

So let’s look at online streaming. First, there is no one content provider that offers you all your local stations and a few more. There is no one out there that can put this simple package together. Then you have to pay another $30 on top of the $50 for internet connections, because streaming all day will bust your monthly cap.

Should you decide that you can change your viewing habits (yeah right) you could still cut the cord and have almost everything you have today regarding TV content. Moving to an over the air option (OTA) gives you FREE local TV in 1080p HD.

Let’s compare OTA to the “bundle” and see:

Now Instead try this:
Cable provided phone Cell phone
Cable channels A regular in attic TV antenna
Cable DVR Tablo DVR

It’s really not that hard to make the switch if you change your “viewing habits”. I used to record 6 or 7 shows I loved and went crazy finding the time to watch it all. So I stopped watching all of them and spent time with my wife and dog every day doing stuff. Real life stuff. You can do this too.

It is true not everyone can put an antenna in their attic or on their roof and get a good TV signal, but it doesn’t cost much to try. There is also websites you can search for that can tell you before you spend any money on an antenna (ex. http://antennapoint.com/).

Tablo.tv makes great DVR’s to hook your antenna to and record all your favorite shows.

This approach leaves you with only a monthly internet bill much lower than you pay now for the “bundle”.

Let’s look at some numbers:

Cable Bundle Number of Channels Internet, TV, Phone Cable Boxes 1DVR & 2 Boxes Taxes & Fees Monthly Total
Introductory Price 400  $              89  $               25  $   20  $        134
Normal Price  $            225  $               25  $   20  $        270
     
     
Cable Internet Only 0  $              50  $                –  $   12  $          62
Streaming content        
Sling TV 23  $              29  $                –  $    –  $          29
Netflix 1  $              12  $                –  $    –  $          12
Amazon 1  $              12  $                –  $    –  $          12
Monthly  $        385
One Time Cost  $           –  
Over the Air Live TV Number of Channels Internet, TV, Phone Cable Boxes 1DVR & 2 Boxes Taxes & Fees Monthly Total
Antenna 20-40 $50 – $100  $                –  $    –  $           –  
DVR (Tablo & Roku 3 TV’s) $550  $                –  $    –  $           –  
Phone (Use cell phone) $0  $                –  $    –  $           –  
Internet only $50  $                –  $    –  $          50
Monthly  $          50
One Time Cost  $        650

Take a few minutes and think about how much TV is a part of your life and the money you spend on video content. Then decide. Good luck.

Homemediaguy

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One of challenges people face when deciding if they want to cut the cord is how to replicate what they have with cable TV with regards to content and ease of use. I have been using Plex for over 2 years and consider it my go to channel for a lot of my content. Paired with my Roku 3 boxes for my TV’s, I have it all. An inexpensive indoor TV antenna give me live TV all day thus I don’t miss anything from cable.

For those of you who live in areas that a TV antenna doesn’t get you live TV, there is always Sling TV through the internet.

So why do I like Plex so much? I have over 120 Roku channels that has great content like Crackle, Internet Archives, Tubi TV and more. I like the old TV shows and movies from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and the Roku does a great job giving it all to you. But when you add the Plex channel, you get a whole other list of channels that Roku may not have. There are channels like “Filmon, Let me Watch This & Ice Films” that have tons of movies that you didn’t even know existed. I am talking about really good movies, not something that didn’t even make it to DVD. I have over 20 Plex channels which I usually go to when I switch on my Roku box and watch TV.

Plex comes in two components, the server which can run on an old PC or laptop and apps for Android, IOS and Roku. The Plex server +is free. The apps are $5. Well worth the money. If you do a search for Plex on the internet you will find tons of information about all of the ways you can hook up and watch your content from anywhere, including your home movies and pictures. It takes a little effort to use all of Plex’s capabilities, but to start, just load the channels portion of Plex.

There are also unofficial Plex channels that offer more great content. The three channels I spoke about earlier are unsupported (unofficial) channels and work great. There are a number of ways to add channels to Plex. With the official ones, you can go to the Plex app on your Roku, or to the Plex web interface on your PC where the server is running. With unsupported channels (www.totalhtpc.com/plex-unsupported-appstore) you download the channel you want directly from the web (Github has a ton) and copy them to the Plex plugins directory. To get to the Plex plugins directory, right click on the Plex icon in the system tray and select “open plex plugins directory”. Copy your channel file to the directory and you are all set.

By the way some Plex channel file names like “unsupported library bundle-master” need to be renamed to “unsupported library bundle” without the master word in the name.

Good luck and have fun.

Homemediaguy

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There is a lot to understand when it comes to getting content (video, pictures, music, etc.) over the Internet. Streaming, media servers, buffering, paid and free and much more. Basically there are two ways to get content.

Streaming

When you stream content, the movie is sitting on a server somewhere besides your house, and is constantly sent (streamed) to your home so you can watch it. Netfix, vimeo, HBO, and others are the providers and they send you the content you asked for. You run into issues when the content provider has problems providing the stream which is usually a blank screen for a few seconds. This is called buffering and happens for many reasons such as too many people streaming the same content and the provider does not have enough processing power, or servers to meet the demand. Small pipe sizes (not enough bandwidth from your ISP) and a number of other reasons.

Media Servers

The alternative is to play content locally. That is, the movies, pictures and music reside on a device in your home. How you get this content to your home varies (DVD to digital, bit torrents (illegal), purchasing digital media (legal).

The media server approach offers a number of advantages such as:

  • No buffering
  • You own the content
  • You can share your content
  • Easy to troubleshoot and fix

Now you have to decide what hardware and software you will use if you decide to move in this direction.  I have provided a brief comparison of the types of media servers available below. Most if not all the solutions you see for sale on the web fit into one of these catagories.

  Seagate Personal Cloud Raspberry PI2 Android PC Windows Media PC’s
Price 4TB  $199 $39 + 2+20+10 $99 $300-$500
OS Android Linux Android Windows
  Windows 10
Server Software Plex Server Rasplex Client Plex Client Plex Server
  Kodi Kodi Playon Media Server
 
Hardware

Processor

Marvell ARMADA 370 88F6707 A1 SoC @ 1.2 GHz

Cloud Drive won’t be able to transcode media for Plex in real-time, but that the device will be able to transcode in advance to have the media ready in the formats you’ll need.

A 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU

1GB RAM

Quad-core 1.6GHz CPU RK3188, Cortex-A9 (28nm) 2GB RAM Passmark score over 2500 (Intel i7).

Seagate Personal Cloud

The simplest way to go if you don’t want to make your home media system a hobby. The Seagate drive allows you to load a limited number of apps including my favorite media server Plex. With the Plex Roku channel and apps for Android and IOS, you are ready to go.

Pros: Simple to set up. Only one piece of hardware and not a lot of cables hanging around.

Cons: Users are having a difficult time getting the Plex app to work on the Seagate. I have gone to both the Seagate and the Plex forums.

Raspberry PI2

A popular linux box that has hundreds of uses (google it). There are a number of media server apps that can run on this platform. The best news is that a free copy of Windows 10 can run on this device.

Pros: A real linux PC the size of a deck of cards with all the connections you will ever need. Windows 10.

Cons: Limited RAM.

Android PC

There are a ton of android PC’s out there; and they are sometimes labeled as gaming consoles. They are inexpensive, small and can provide what you need to run a media server successfully. You can also run one of the best media servers out there called Kodi. TVADDONS offers a pre-packed version of Kodi for free that is very simple to install.

Pros: Small, inexpensive, will suit most folks who stream content and have a limited budget.

Cons: There is one drawback when you want to watch movies. Remember, transcoding is not supported for ARM and PPC models. Transcoding is a big deal when you watch movies. Click here to read what the Plex Server page says about transcoding (converting movie formats on the fly).

Windows Media PC’s

In my opinion the most expensive and high maintenance way to go. But if you are into high end video and want the best quality results on your TV, then spending the money for a custom built Windows PC is the way to go. You can use older PC’s to start with and when you have everything running right throughout the house, perform the upgrades you need to max out the performance.

Pros: Most people have or use a Windows PC. You probably have an older one sitting around you can start with. There are companies who make small footprint PC’s like Zotac (http://www.zotac.com).

Cons: There are always upgrades and the required reboots by the app creator or from Microsoft, so you will have to login and perform these functions to keep things running smoothly. Other systems do not require this step.

Homemediaguy

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The Popcorn app lets you watch full length films on a number of platforms from anywhere. Unfortunately its illegal. I am not a proponent of illegal anything, but as part of my efforts to inform potential and existing cord cutters of news in this arena, here it is.

There is a new player in this space that specializes in allowing you to watch 50 channels of live TV including HBO, ESPN, AMC and others. It is called cCloud (http://ccloudus.github.io/#) and it is also illegal, but very ingenious.

It operates on a number of platforms (see below) but the number of channels on the Roku device was linmited to 10. cCloud says this is because Roku places a limit on the number of channels that can be hosted for each account. cCloud is looking for people to host the other 40 channels.

cCloud Platforms

Getting back to the concept. I tried a few of the channels and found that the streams were generally good; unlike Pear where finding really good content is hit and miss at times. Some of the channels you can stream from cCloud include:

  • FX
  • CNN
  • MTV
  • ESPN
  • CNN
  • HBO

Too bad someone can’t convince the content owners like ABC, CBS, etc. to use a technology like this legally to offer cord cutters options they are demanding.

Homemediaguy

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Everywhere you look there seems to be cheap, even free alternatives to cable TV. Most content providers offer only on-demand type content with live streaming only available with in indoor or outdoor HD TV antenna.

We scratch our heads saying what is everybody so excited about when they dump cable for the alternatives? That’s what I have been asking myself more and more. Right now I cant dump cable TV because we watch a lot of shows on TV5Monde (French TV) provided by Comcast. The channel isn’t available except through a cable TV company.

  1. What does this have to do with calculating cord cutting. Two things:
  2. You have to be able to get to the content you want with live streaming (TV5Monde does this through cable companies).
  3. You have to consider what your internet connection costs are when they are not “bundled”.

Let’s do the math. Cable First.

Typical bundle

Cost: $89/month

What you get: basic cable with phone and internet.

Why you hate it: RENTING cable boxes by the month adds another $20-$40 a month.

Cord cutting

Cost: $50 – $70/month for high speed internet alone. Sure the prices vary greatly by location and speed, but every internet provider (cable company) I checked with charges this amount for high speed internet only access.

What you get: varying speeds and nothing else.

What else you need: Content providers can be free or charge you, sources such as Netflix, Sling and other providers. This adds another $8 – $30/month.

So let’s compare the dollars:

1.      Cable Cost
Internet $89
TV Included
Phone Included
Cable Boxes $20 – $40
TOTAL $109 – $129
   
2.      Cord-cutting  
Internet $50
TV (Netflix, Sling. etc) $8 – $30
Phone (Vonage) $15
Cable Boxes None
TOTAL $73 – $95
   
3.                Verizon local package (internet and 20 local live stations). $59
Cable Boxes $20-$40
Phone from cable company $20
TOTAL $109 – $129

Not a whole lot of difference when you add it up. The calculation above uses numbers specific for my situation. Yours will be different. You might be surprised when you run your own numbers.

The first thing that comes to mind when you look at these numbers is why is the internet cost so high? There are companies who still offer DSL internet service which may not support multiple video streams to your home. DSL costs $25/month. Is it worth paying double to get the speeds we need for video? We don’t really have a choice.

The largest part of the savings equation is the elimination of the cable box rentals. Ouch! Switching to live TV with an indoor/outdoor antenna or HuluPlus eliminates that pesky monthly charge.

I just posted a great Cord Cutting calculator published by theverge.com that shows you what channels you can get from each provider and the cost for each. One thing they did not include is the non-tangible factors that play a BIG part on who you select.

There are really only three considerations you need to take into account when deciding to cut cable. They are:

  • Do I want live streaming TV?
  • Do I want DVR (ON Demand)?
  • How easy is it to surf channels (which we all do frequently)?
  • Buffering (it happens to everybody – Why?)?

The DVR capability in the IPTV world translates to ON-DEMAND when you look for it on the web. Almost all video on web pages (live cnn.com is the exception) is on demand. Julu, HuluPlus, Snagfilms and all movie web sites are also on demand. That is great if you never have the time to chill out on the couch for an afternoon to bum out and watch TV. But if you do want to surf the channels with no particular type of content in mind; you are out of luck unless you get an HD over the air antenna and grab free Live HD programming from your local stations. Just like your parents and grandparents did years ago.

I have put together a simple chart to get you started on how you want to migrate from cable TV below.

Source Live TV View Later (DVR) Channel Surfing Comment
Cable TV Yes DVR Easy
Over the Air Antenna (OTA) Yes Tablo.tv device Easy
Roku Box No Yes Hard On demand only viewing
Web sites (Casting from device) Maybe1 Yes Hard On demand only viewing

Almost all web sites do NOT have live streaming but a limited number of sites broadcast live such as CNN.com. When you watch a show like “Scandal“, notice the web page address. Each episode has a different web page address so you cannot just lock that web page into a ”favorite” using apps such as Plexit, PlayLater, etc. You have to go to the web page with the latest episode and mark it each time. Not really user friendly.

Homemediaguy

Click on the “Follow” button on my blog to be notified of future blog posts.

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Theverge.com has a Cord cutting calculator they published this week (http://www.theverge.com/a/online-tv-stream-price-guide) that lets you see what channels you get and how much their respective services cost. It’s real handy to determine which provider CBS all access, HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue) gives you what you really want to watch. I have included screen shots below.

Blog Amazon Services w Price 031915 Blog CBS Services w Price 031915 Blog HBO Now Services w Price 031915 Blog Hulu Plus Services w Price 031915 Blog Netflix Services w Price 031915 Blog Playstation Vue Services w Price 031915

Homemediaguy

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The excitement about the potential death of cable TV and the rush of new internet based content over the Internet has ignored one very important cultural factor that many of us old timers enjoy when we have a free afternoon. That is channel surfing. The ability to casually browse through the channels looking for something new or old that you can watch right now. You are not sure what you want to watch, just something comfortable. It could be a murder mystery, or an action film. You will know it when you see it on the program guide.

Aahh yes. The program guide. Unless you have recently purchased a Tablo.tv recording device and have an over the air antenna, THERE IS PROGRAM GUIDE for IPTV. The whole premise of IPTV is that you pick your content provider (Roku channel or website) and pick your content (NCIS, Glee (HuluPlus) or another show or specific movie) and watch it.

You say well I get the little graphic icons I can browse through and pick something that looks interesting. That is true, but have you ever noticed how long it takes to scroll through all those graphics? I have over 100 Roku channels and another dozen Plex channels to browse. Going through a few of them can easily kill 20-30 minutes. A lot longer than the 5-10 minutes you would normally spend with the program guide you currently use.

Not a big deal? It is if you are married and have kids all looking for something different to watch and the remote is in your hands. Try it sometime. It can be challenging to say the least.

The point is the cultural and behavioral changes you will have to make to completely dump cable and not use the Tablo.tv/over the air option could be dramatic.

How do you fix this problem? As far as I know you can’t. If anyone has any ideas please let me know.