Non-tangible considerations when you want to dump cable TV March 2015

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.

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The Verge has a Cord Cutting calculator FREE!

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

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Causes & remedies of video buffering – Not all video streaming is the same

One of the most annoying aspects of IPTV is when you are watching a movie and all of a sudden you see a message that says “reestablishing connection” or your TV screen turns black with a progress bar showing that your movie is reloading. This terrible event is called buffering. It doesn’t matter if you are using a computer, Roku box or any other IP device to get your content. And to top it off sometimes the progress bar gets stuck and you have to restart the movie. UUUGGGHHH!!!

There are a number of factors that contribute to buffering. They can be divided into two categories. The first category includes items you can control. That is your home network. The second category includes everything that you may influence but cannot control.

What you can control – Your Network

WIFI vs. Cat 6 direct connection to your router:

WIFI has about half the speed a direct connection with a network cable has. It is recommended that you use newer router meeting the “802.11n” standard. Run a test. Using your browser go to http://www.speedtest.net/ and run a speed test if you are using a computer, which will tell you what your actual upload and download speeds are at the time of the test. Rerun this test just before you start your movie and you will see it may be different depending on the time of day and day of the week. Run this test using our WIFI connection and again with you network cable connection. If you have a Roku box, there is a speedtest channel you can get for free that will give you the same information from your Roku box (see screenshot below). Roku and Netflix offer the following as a guide for video content:

  • 0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
  • 1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed
  • 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for DVD quality (Roku HD quality)
  • 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality
  • 7.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for Super HD quality
  • 12 Megabits per second – Recommended for 3D quality

I recommend 3.0 Megabits per second as an acceptable minimum. My test results from my wireless computer are shown below. Keep in mind that this test gives you an average over the time the test was performed. I would add a 20% safety margin onto the numbers. So my numbers would be 99.2 download and 154.4 upload. The screen below shows speeds from my laptop computer with a wireless connection. As you can see, I don’t have a speed problem.

Speedtest PC

If you are using a computer to get video to your TV directly with an HDMI cable:

  • Make sure hardware acceleration is shut off
  • Make sure no other software is using up your bandwidth. Programs such as anti virus, or background processes can eat up band width.

Now take a look at the next picture and you will see the upload and download speeds using the Speedtest channel on my Roku 3 device. Note they are significantly lower than my laptop.

Speedtest Roku Screenshot

You should also note that there are multiple results displayed. I would note the slowest download speed of 1.34 Mbytes/sec and 2.27 Mbytes/sec which may give you some buffering. However the slowest speeds were the initial ones. I should be OK with not having buffering issues due to my network or equipment.

Once you have checked your equipment and connection speeds there is not a whole lot left to adjust on your end. One thing to keep in mind though is that if you are streaming different content to you TV’s you need to understand that each stream requires the same 3.0 Mbytes/sec of bandwidth.

Also keep in mind the bandwidth tests you ran are specific to the time of day and day of week you ran the test.

You should not have to check your network or calculate movie file sizes to enjoy streaming movies at home. So the simple steps are:

  1. Check your PC to make sure no spyware, or other applications are running that use bandwidth.
  2. Run Speedtest to make sure you have at least 3.0 Mbytes/sec of bandwidth to your device (Roku, PC, etc.)
  3. Make sure no one else at home is streaming anything

Once you have done all that and you still get buffering, it is most likely coming from the source (the website providing the video). Remember that at the source end, different videos can reside on different servers. So if there are a ton of people hitting the same server your movie is on, then you may have problems.

There is no gauge, guide or indicator that shows you on screen or otherwise how hard a providers server is getting hit; and it can vary over the length of a 3 hour movie. That is why buffering is so hard to avoid. There is an alternative to streaming that most people will not run to right away. That is to host your own movies on a media server at home. Acquiring all the movies you want to watch (many only once) is not an option for everyone.

How can you stop or minimize buffering?

  1. If your network is running properly you might be able to adjust your resolution from 1080p to 720p
  2. Connect your streaming device (PC or Roku) to your router with a CAT 6 cable
  3. Watch streaming content when there is less load on the providers servers (early in the day)

By the way if you are ready to jump into 4K quality content, remember 4K consumes twice the bandwidth of 1080p HD.

Also keep in mind that video content streaming over the internet is at its infancy. Adjusting your expectations for occasional buffering vs. a ton of commercials may be a new acceptable standard. Also remember that content providers server demand and bandwidth is right now the biggest factor in causing buffering. Pick your streaming sources carefully and keep score of which content providers have more buffering than others.

How do you calculate how much bandwidth you need for video streaming?

Suppose the video you’re streaming is one hour long, and the file size for that video is 6 GB. While a broadband connection of up to 10 Mbps lets you easily stream a lot of video content online, you’ll want 15 Mbps or more for this six-gigabyte HD video. Here’s a quick look at the math:

  • Approximate megabytes: 6 GB = 6,144 MB (1 GB = 1024 MB)
  • Approximate megabits: 6,144 MB = 49,152 Mb (1 byte = 8 bits)
  • Number of seconds per hour calculation: 60 x 60 = 3,600
  • Megabits per hour calculation: 49,152 / 3,600 = 13.65 Mbps

When you’re streaming HD content, also consider whether the connection jumps over a wireless router. If so, note that the connection speed could drop over the connection if the WiFi standard isn’t fast enough. You’ll want to avoid slower 802.11b connections, and the newest 802.11n is the ideal choice to keep up with faster broadband services. I got this information from Howstuffworks.com (http://bit.ly/1A69R5I).

Plex Media Server without a computer! About time!

As the personal media and IPTV industry starts to mature, there is always hope that we can migrate away from computers that boot up and require updates to something more sexy like the Roku box solution. Seagate has just taken a major step for those who want to watch their movies, pictures, or home recorded video anywhere and share with anybody.

Seagate has just come out with a line of Personal Cloud Home Media Storage devices that include an operational Plex media server. Holy Cow Batman! That’s right. You now do not need a full blown PC to run Plex at home. The best part is the basic unit is scheduled to retail for $170 (3 TB device). Cheaper than a decent tablet. Are they nuts? No they are smart. The future for home media consumption should not require a PC or daily maintenance and having to worry about viruses. It should be simple and reliable. Like the complementary Roku and Tablo devices are designed to be.

In addition to the Plex capability, you also have your own personal “private” and “secure” cloud storage capability without having to rely on some big corporation peeking into what you store on their cloud storage services.

So click on the link (http://www.seagate.com/products/network-attached-storage/home-network/personal-cloud) to check out this really cool non-PC Plex and cloud storage solution.

Homemediaguy

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Tablo OTA DVR’s take the extra step to over the air broadcasts – An Antenna!

Tablo is well known as the go to company for over the air DVR solutions. They offer two devices which can allow you to record and watch up to 4 channels simultaneously. At the big consumer electronics show this year they introduced a new feature sorely missing from many solutions. Antennas. That’s right plural. The new Tablo “Metro” comes with two antennas and has the ability to pull signals from two separate broadcast antennas up to 25 miles away (http://www.cnet.com/products/nuvyyo-tablo/). The results are broadcast images better than Aereo and Simple.TV. The device sells for a little over $200. A steal to get live HD local programming with DVR capabilities. Tablo has a program guide for $5 a month but you can just knock that off the $200 a month you pay for cable.

Add a Roku box to each TV to tie into the Metro box and you are up and running. Add a number of FREE Roku movie channels like “Directors Cut”, “Archive TV” and a half a dozen others and you won’t miss cable.

homemediaguy

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What is a Media Server and should I have one?

Put simply, a media server is usually a PC which can store your various media files such as photos, music, home movies and purchased movies. You can also install software to manage your media. Media servers can also hold specialized software to allow you access to internet media content not normally available from a web browser.

A good example of the latter is a software package called Playon (www.playon.tv). Once installed on your media server, Playon allows you to access a host of cable channels including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Bravo, LMN and others. The ability to easily install plugins, allows to access channels like TVLand and NatGEO provided by third parties. Playon offers HD programming for a onetime cost. Playon transcodes (converts) your media at the media server, thus requiring a fairly high performance processor. CPU chips with a Passmark score over 2500 are recommended. Since Playon does not have a button available to tell you the Passmark score of your CPU, You have to find the chip information in Windows and look it up yourself. It is well worth the effort if you are building a server to have an idea of your server performance before you start buying components.

My favorite media server application is called Plex (https://plex.tv. It is an open source program that allows you to access your media content on tablets, smartphones, and PC’s from anywhere in the world. You can also share your media libraries with others very easily. There are also apps for Android, IOS and Roku.

These applications also have channels on the Roku devices. Allowing you to take your Roku box with you when you travel and watch your media content anywhere.

Homemediaguy

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Basic TV & Basic Cable for less than $150 (Dump Cable)

I know folks its hard to believe. How bad to you want to dump cable? Willing to spend a few bucks risk-free to see if this option will work for you? Why not? I post different ideas on how to dump cable and each of them costs something different. This option is the cheapest one I know except for buying an outside antenna and getting 22 channels.

Step 1: Buy a Roku box for less than $100

Step 2: Buy the entire Playon.tv package for $50 and install on a PC. This will give you basic cable, Hulu (standard definition) and more. You get 30 days free to see if you like it. Also make sure you use a newer PC. All PC processors (chips) have a rating. If you want to stream video over the internet without buffering or other transmission problems you want to make sure the processor in the PC can handle the video stream so you are not calling tech support alot. If you click on your Windows Start button then put your mouse over “Computer”. Then right click and click on “Properties”. The screen that pops up will tell you the chip that you have in the “Processor” section. Write down what you see there.

 PC Processor Menu Selection for processor typePC Processor Type for cpubenchmark

Then go to http://www.cpubenchmark.net and click on “search for your CPU model”. When the page pops up “DO NOT PERFORM A SEARCH”. Unless you type the exact character string to match thier list, nothing comes up. Look down the list and find your processor. The first column to the right is the “Passmark CPU Mark”. If your CPU is over 1,000 your streaming should be pretty solid. Keep in mind bandwidth, RAM and other stuff may impact your video quality. But if your CPU is over a 1000, give it a try. You get 30 days free with Playon.tv. 

CPU Benchmark 1308
Happy viewing.

Bill, home media guy