Monthly Archives: June 2018

Back To The Future

Back to the future. When we lived in ‘Tosa, we had Time Warner internet and cable. I wasn’t overly impressed with their customer service so when we moved here, we went with Time Warner Internet but switched to Direct TV for our video. About the same time we got fed up with signal degradation during storms, AT&T Uverse service rolled out and we’ve been satisfied customers ever since.
Recently, we realized that we only watch local news, PBS and stream stuff from Amazon Prime and Hulu. No need for the AT&T channels, lets look at options. My two previous posts talked about my experiments with Over The Air Digital  TV, a Tablo DVR and Roku at each TV to manage the data streaming. I’m happy to report it  works great and called to cancel my TV package. AT&T: “we can do that, but we’ll have to charge you more for Internet. A lot more. And, there will be a data limit”.

Since I’m well aware that Spectrum can provide Internet service at 100MB (vs 18MB that AT&T gives me) with no data limit. And, the price is actually a few bucks cheaper than I’m currently paying for AT&T Internet (before the increase they told me I’d face by dropping TV).

I was happy with Time Warner’s  internet service before and I know Charter/Spectrum (who bought Time Warner) has put a bunch of enhancements into their system. I have no reason to  believe that I won’t be happy with Spectrum Internet service when it gets installed and I will be cancelling my entire AT&T packcage as soon as the Spectrum installer leaves.

The AT&T service rep told me I’d be back. Somehow, I doubt it.

Cutting the Cable (part 2)

So, you may be wondering, what does it take to “cut the cable” and transition to Over The Air Digital TV? Here are some suggestions:

Your starting point is to understand what DTV stations are available in your area. There are many resources available for this. I chose to take advantage of the FCC database:
Note that this isn’t a perfect science. The map says I’ll get a lot of channels with great signal strength. Click on a channel in the list and the map tool will put that channel’s broadcast tower location on the map with a line from your location to the tower. Look along that line to see if there are any big hills in the way. I’m cautiously optimistic that a good antenna will allow me to pull in some of those channels although I’m not expecting the signal strength advertised.

While you’re reviewing the channels that you might get based on the map, note whether stations near you are broadcast on UHF, VHF or both frequency ranges. In general, VHF signals can travel longer distances and get “past” things like hills and valleys. UHF signals can get through smaller openings (e.g. windows) so often penetrate buildings better. Most Digital TV antennas are “dual band” and can receive both VHF and UHF signals. This means, by definition, that compromises were made at design time to accommodate both. If you plan on an outside antenna and aren’t too concerned about size, select one that includes elements for receiving both UHF and VHF signals on separate parts of the antenna. If you’re buying an inside antenna, consider one that’s rated for longer distance, has a built in signal amplifier, etc. They’re slightly more expensive but they’re a one time cost. Consider buying your antenna from a source which accepts returns so you can “trade up” if the first one you buy doesn’t work for you. The first antenna I’m going to try is an indoor antenna: the Winegard FlatWave Amped FL5500A. (I do not get any benefit if you click the link or buy from Amazon). I’ll let you know if/how it works for me.

The next choice you need to make is whether you will be connecting the antenna directly to your TV or if you want to put the signal into some sort of recording/distribution system. Since I want to be able to record shows, I had to find a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) that was capable of recording OTA programming. I chose the Tablo 4-tuner DVR so we can record multiple shows from different channels at the same time. This DVR can “distribute” live or recorded shows to multiple TVs which is also important to me. In order to save recorded shows, the DVR needs USB storage. Hopefully we’ll never run out of room with a 4TB Seagate drive I use these for off-site backups of our home storage server (all my pictures, music and documents). They perform well and I’ve never had any problems with them.

The final step is getting the signal from the DVR to the TVs. Some newer TVs may be capable of communicating with the Tablo DVR directly. Game systems like the Xbox One are also capable of communicating with the Tablo. Since we have three different TVs I would like usage to be consistent across them. That means adding some sort of receiver at each of them. I settled on Roku devices which will also add the ability to watch Netflix and Hulu to our oldest TV and may fix the issues that one of our TVs has with the Hulu library. There are several different models of Roku devices. Although they’re more expensive, I wanted to use the wired network within our house for better performance. I picked the Roku Premier+ 4K/UHD model. This is a case where last year’s model is actually a better fit for me than the current year’s products so I actually save a bit.

There’s one more decision that we can’t make until the pieces arrive and I get them set up. The Tablo DVR has a “channel guide” feature. It allows you to select live programming or schedule recordings from a built-in programming guide. The box includes a free 24 hour rolling window of programming information. If you want to record something further in the future, you need to find the programming information somewhere else and program the record start/stop date and times OR buy a subscription to a 2 week rolling window of programming information. You get a 30 day free trial of the 2 week window and I’m pretty sure I’m going to choose the one-time payment for a lifetime subscription.

You may be asking, why go to all the fuss? Remember I said cable TV is expensive. We have one of the most basic packages available and it costs about $65/month to put it on our 3 TVs (in HD, with whole house DVR). The components I’ve described in this blog aren’t cheap, but they’ll be paid for in about 11 months with the savings from not paying the cable man for TV. If we don’t buy a permanent channel guide subscription, payback drops to about 9.5 months.

Cutting the Cable (part 1)

Like many of you, I’ve been a bit frustrated with the fact that our “cable” bill keeps going up. I’m not going to name my provider since I’ve been generally happy with their service over the years, but now that the kids are gone, the cost of putting the few shows that my wife and I watch on the screen seems outlandish.

Last weekend we were visiting relatives in another city and my Mother-in-law asked me some questions about cutting her cable and switching to Over The Air (OTA) High Definition (HD) TV. I looked at her bill and realized she was paying for all kinds of stuff that she didn’t need. I told her I’d research where her broadcast towers are and make an antenna recommendation.

As we talked about it, I told her that I’ve often thought about it, but really like the “whole house DVR” feature (we have 3 TVs, one in the loft, one in the living room and one in the rec room and periodically play stuff on all of them). Another complicating factor is geography. We live at the edge of the terminal glacier, with hills on 3 sides which block line of sight to the broadcast towers.

However, while I was researching antennas, I discovered that there is a “whole house DVR” setup for cable cutters. An hour worth of research later, the UPS guy will be delivering some “Christmas in June” to our house tomorrow. If it works, my next post will be about the system and my experience putting it together.

As they say on TV, “Stay tuned!”