Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

Cable-less… 1 Year Review

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Thanks to Stephen for reminding me to write this post. His timing is excellent as it was _exactly_ one year ago today that I posted about our Adventures in Digital Media.

The best summary is probably simply: We’re still not paying the cable company for television.

From this you can probably conclude that our experiment was not a complete disaster. There have been some pitfalls, but I think we’re smoothly in the groove of our new media lifestyle. I don’t see us switching back any time soon, particularly since more and more content creators are:
a) providing shows directly to the internet
b) providing a way to watch shows on mobile/network players.

Details follow…

Four Days at Dragon*Con

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

As some of you are aware we periodically attend an amazing indescribable convention of fellow geeks called Dragon*Con in Atlanta, GA.

If you’ve ever wanted to see what this is like, you might start with this video special (aired on PBS over the last year or so). It’s a bit under one hour long and is in documentary format.

Geek Cred Intact

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

So far today I have:

  • Discussed D&D miniature color schemes via email.
  • Watched The Man Trap streamed over the internet in Dolby surround on my TV via Netflix.
  • Noticed that the planet orbit scenes in same were remastered CGI.
  • Was actually disappointed by this (but not disappointed buy the sound cleanup)
  • Watched Season 4 of The Guild via internet streaming to my PC via Netflix
  • Am about to hack numberless goblins online.

Oh yeah, AND: filled the kiddie pool, took N kite flying, swung wildly on the swings, pushed N&R (at the same time) on the swings, ate two (cooked one) grilled meals on the patio, played three games of dominoes and read Chapter 9 of Charlotte’s Web at bed time.

How was your Saturday?

What?! Time Warner actually wants money now?

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

So we’ve finally received an actual bill from Time Warner again. This bill, due in August, is for the sum of $6.50. We have finally exhausted our forward payments as a result of cutting the purse strings of the larcenous grand duke of television.

So figuring that our last payment in April (for May’s service which was cancelled) was $114.76 and our current monthly bill is now only $34.95… we received the expected 3 months without a payment (May, June and July). In addition, since we cancelled slightly before the end of the April payment period we were pro-rated some amount of that payment. Rather shadily, Time Warner only issues a statement when you owe them money, so the exact machinations that went on in the May payment period are not available to me. I even called back in May only to have them explain “You don’t owe anything so there’s no statement.” To which I replied “So how do I know how much money you’re crediting… or taking?”

So the tally is now:
Four (and a bit) months savings (including August bill) on Time Warner: 3.25*($115-$35)=$340
Four months subscription to Netflix:[1]: 4*($8)=($32)
Live hub hardware: ($180)
PlayOn subscription: ($60)
Dr. Who TV Show Subscription: (~$35)
Universal remote: ($40)
HDMI cable: ($5)
USB TV Tuner: ($25)
Dozen or so DVDs to wipe out or VHS collection: (~$80)

So after only 4.25 months we’re within $117 of breaking even… and that’s including the extra hardware we bought AND the DVDs.[2] My initial prediction of 6 months looks to be right on track even with all of the extra expenses along the way.

My only complaint so far is that the Netflix service has been somewhat unreliable in the last few weeks. We’ll see if this persists.

  1. We are unaffected by the recent controversial pricing change as we had not subscribed to the DVD service. You may recall that we no longer have a DVD player in the entertainment center. []
  2. I realize that this was a bit of an OCD thing since by the time we ever watch them on the Hub, they’ll probably be available for streaming via Netflix. Whatever. Many were had from Goodwill via eBay so the money will go to a good cause. []

Cable Free, the continuing saga.

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Since my last post on cable-free TV watching, we’ve made a few additional adjustments.

As promised, we ditched the cable box/DVR. As expected, the Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote is a dream. I recommend using the downloadable PC-based configuration software vs. the web based software, because you get access to more features. Trade-off: It’s a bit less user friendly.

Somewhat unexpectedly, K decided to subscribe to PlayOn for Hulu and CBS show access. ($39.99 for one year). As always happens, two days later the service ran a sale. I received the sale notice via email on the account we had used to initially register the trial. The lesson here is, if you’re considering PlayOn, wait for them to send you the sale flyer!
For $20 more, we could’ve had the ‘permanent’ service at the sale price of $59.99. I contacted PlayOn customer service and although they could not change the license they had already distributed, they were willing to refund us the money once we subscribed under the sale terms. We did so, and they promptly refunded the original subscription. Nice! I honestly wasn’t planning to buy the service out-right, since ‘permanent’ in the world of e-commerce is really only as good as the company persists… or upgrades to some other capability that will inevitably require an upgrade. We also figure that Hulu will be available directly from our WDTVLiveHub any day now. In any case, the break even on the ‘permanent’ versus the yearly subscription is about two years. In any case, it’s barely even one cable bill.

We are, of course, still getting our broadband from Timely-Warning, but it was nice to see our online balance go from over $100 to negative $63. Annoyingly, the PDF version of our statement is not available online right now so I can’t post a clip of it for extra gloating. Suffice it to say they won’t be getting a check for a few months.

Another addition to the household electronics was this USB TV Stick from KWorld for $25 (sale price). This little gem is a digital decoder for on-air or unencrypted cable-TV that is Windows Media Center compatible. Plug it in, hook up the provided cheesy TV antenna,[1] install the driver and fire up WMC. WMC requires a small amount of setup, but is pretty straightforward. At this point you’ll have a fully capable single channel live TV on your PC. The reception is not as good as our TV with rabbit ears, but pretty close. WMC provides an internet-based ‘guide’ with search, category and other nice features. You can easily click a show and select ‘record this series’ like we would have on our TW provided cable box/DVR.

The bad news is that Microsquish saves the recorded files in a format (.wtv) that our Hub won’t play. The good news is that Win7 provides a converter to another M$ format (.dvr-ms) that our Hub WILL play. I’ve been working some scheduled-task batch file madness to automatically convert these and move the files to a share the Hub can see. This looks like it’s working, but since most shows have just finished their seasons, I’m not sure how much testing it will get.[2]

Again, our total outlay is $180 for the WDTVLiveHub, $5 for an HDMI cable, $41 for the universal remote (ebay), $25 for the USB TV Stick for a total of $251. We’re paying Netflix $7.99/month. Assuming we save $40 a month, on a cash only basis, we’ll break even in 6 months. Stay tuned.

  1. A small telescoping jobber that looks like it belongs on a 25 year old transistor radio. []
  2. If this works I’ll share the script in case others find it useful. []

Adventures in Digital Media (Take 2…)

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

So we’re a bit over two weeks in on the digital experiment and we’ve decided to ditch the cable TV.

After the initial few days, we completely redid the entertainment center. VCR: Out. DVD Player: Out. DVDs: Out. CDs:[1] Out.

What’s left: Sony 32″ LCD HDTV, WD TV Live Hub, Sony A/V Receiver, Cable Box/DVR and a 10+ year old FM antenna.

The cable box is going back to Time Warner next week… and we will be adding a Harmony 650 programmable universal remote (shipping from eBay).

So what’s in our entertainment domain now? Details below.

  1. Which were technically in a shelf next to the entertainment center. []

Adventures in Digital Media

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

So K and I are beginning an experiment which, if successful, may lead to the termination of our cable bill. We are, as my friend Stephen put it, ‘going a la carte’.

In addition to hopefully reducing our monthly costs, we are also hoping to consolidate our video and music collections such that they can be accessed throughout the house.

The first step in this process was the acquisition of the Western Digital TV Live Hub. This is a set-top box[1] about the size of two DVD boxes. It contains a 1TB drive (which we are rapidly filling), USB ports for additional external storage and Gigabit network for accessing network file storage or online services (e.g. Netflix, Pandora). It costs about 3 months cable bills.

We have activated a trial of Netflix (which will eventually cost about 1/10 of a cable bill per month) which provides ample streaming access for movies and kids TV shows (timeliness not being a big factor for these).

After some initial thrashing, we have settled on DVDFab for converting our DVDs to playable formats. Depending on the amount of space we wish to commit to, we’ve successfully converted them such that special features and DVD menus are retained. However, as cool as this looks, we’re settling on this not being worth the space required[2] We could recode the DVDs for more compression, but they’re already significantly below the resolution of our TV.

We’ve also activate a trial of PlayOn which allows a PC to transcode and stream various internet video sources (e.g. Hulu, CBS, PBSKids, etc.). Unfortunately, this does not support HD content, although it may be coming in the future. This application costs about 1 cable bill to buy a permanent license or less than 1/10 cable bill per month.

The jury is still out at this point, since there are clearly advantages and disadvantages to consider.

  1. which is actually setting below our ‘set’ []
  2. A DVD with all of the extras can easily reach 8GB, while the movie itself with no additional compression is 1/2 to 2/3 that size. []

German Star Trek ads.

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

If you read the Bad Astronomy Blog, and many of you do, you’ve already seen this. For the rest, here are a series of TV spots for the German SciFi channel. I find the juxtaposition of the modern ads with the now classic shows really amusing.


FlashForward Flaw.

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

So K & I have been watching the show FlashForward. We just watched the latest two episodes. We’re not quite hooked yet, although the last few minutes of the most recent episode may be putting us over the top.

So for those of you who are not watching, the premise is that at one particular moment everybody on Earth passes out at exactly the same time. During the time when they are unconscious, they have a vision of a particular date and time six months into the future. It’s unclear whether the visions are going to happen or are just one possible future, but none of them have been violated yet.

So here’s my primary flaw with this concept… and it’s a pretty big flaw in my mind. Why doesn’t everybody imagine themselves celebrating the fact that what they saw has come true?

If I had a concrete vision of some point in my future and I knew exactly what point in time that was, I would have every alarm clock in my life set to go off at exactly that time so I could validate my vision. I’d anticipate that date and time with pretty much every fiber in my being. If it were a global phenomenon, I’d expect the media to be whooping it up and partying like it was 1999…

Yet, everyone’s vision that we’ve seen so far, is pretty much ordinary… like they had no vision of the future at all. Not that the visions were necessarily business as usual,[1] but they were just regular daily activities.

I’d be pretty certain to be out of the office, or out of town or out of the country if I saw a particular bad thing happening, but most likely I would have expected to be staring at my watch saying: “Look, I’m staring at my watch just like I knew I would be!!”

  1. I won’t go into details for fear of spoilers. []

Be careful what you sponsor

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

So K and I are sitting on the couch watching some of our many recorded back-episodes of Good Eats when on comes the episode, Raising the Bar, about cocktails. It’s interesting enough, but what to our wondering eyes should appear but an advertisement sponsored by “The people of the United Methodist Church”. (edit: not just an ad, a statement saying “this show is sponsored by the United Methodist Church.”) I laughed hard.
I have no disrespect for the UMC, as I was baptized and confirmed in the UMC and have attended at least 4 or 5 different United Methodist churches in my life, but a cooking show about mixed drinks doesn’t seem quite like the sort-of thing they’d want to be associated with. They even serve grape juice at communion.

Maybe it’s an outreach to us poor inebriated TV drink mixing types.

I still think its funny.