About Victor

Victor cut the cord and canceled cable in 2008. He got tired of consistently poor customer service and even poorer programming options. Working experience in IPTV and antenna installation made the transition to off-air TV and streaming internet services a natural progression for his broadcast reception at home. Here at KickOutCable.com, Victor is right at home, continuing the effort to share the secrets of cord cutting that the cable companies don't want you to know.
Archive by Author

Al Jazeera America’s Programming offline

This week, Al Jazeera America announced a full schedule of programming to “provide live news and investigative, documentary and discussion programming that fulfills its promise to provide unbiased in-depth coverage of domestic and international news important to its American viewers.”.  That’s all fine and good, except they’ve removed online access to their internet broadcast for all of the United States as part of their marriage to content aggregators.  As Al Jazeera announced, starting today, you’ll only be able to view their content on your cable provider.  This is obviously a step in the wrong direction for those of us looking for more one-off options, not further content aggregation.

They go on to implore us to request access be included our “local television provider”, intending on petitioning the Time Warners and AT&T’s of the world to put them back in the line-up.  They’ve even created a landing page for interested viewers with provider listings as applicable and forms for requesting if not.

While I’ve not been an avid viewer of the news outlet, I did appreciate the outside in view offered on stories.  Blocking of the  Al Jazeera live stream broadcast to the US has simply provided more oversight opportunities for stories to the Fed and big media, while limiting access to their most staunch viewers.  I’d expect a change in distribution here sooner than later.

 

 

Comments { 250 }

Roku 3 Review

The Roku 3 was released in March of 2013.   The box offers modest hardware improvement over the Roku XD, and saw the debut of the a newly designed interface.  If you’re not familiar with the Roku line of product, they basically make Set Top Boxes that allow you to easily connect to your TV to Netflix, MLB, Hulu, Plex, home movies or one of some 700 plus channels identified in the device guide.  Sounds neat right!

Here’s a quick rundown of the Roku 3

Neat Features includeRoku 3
-Headphone jack in the remote
-Plex integration
-RF remote

Things we expected the Roku 3 to do, and it did
-Resolution supported are 480p, 720p and 1080p
-Audio Support is 7.1/5.1 Surround Sound
-HDMI output of course

Things we didn’t expect from the Roku 3
-The bluetooth remote of the Roku 2 is gone, replaced as noted above with a 5GHz ISM spectrum RF remote.  This is a plus for remote cabinet / AV console mounting
-Dropped 480i/NTSC support

ProcessorThe Processor
This is the first set top box that Roku has produced using a dual core processor.  The Broadcom ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core processor get’s it done on less than 250mw per core and runs 32-bit processors with the ARM v7 instruction set.  What that means to us in plain English is the box is adequately powered to provide a good user experience and interface operation.

The Remote
The remote on the Roku 3 is RF AND IR.  That’s really cool for those that use all-in-one remotes like the Harmony.  What’s even cooler is that the IR remote from our Roku 2 works on the 3 as well!  Dual spectrums remote make the Roku 3 easy to control with the remote of your choice!

Plugs and Slots
The USB port will support local drive mounting and allows the box to play files directly off the attached drive.  File formats supported include MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264); Audio: AAC, MP3; JPG, PNG.  Additional storage is available thru the MicroSD slot. Roku 3 with HDMI This slot can be used for channel storage or additional games.  A nice feature for quick and easy viewing of camera pictures .

The User Interface
The new tiled interface allows for much more imagery during channel browsing.  This is nice for quick searching through your favorites.
The search functionality really works well.  Once you’ve entered your search term, the Roku 3 will search across all available mediums, Netfilix, Hulu Plus, Plex to find the title you’ve searched.

The Viewing Experience
It works.  Just like previous versions of the hardware, the actual viewing experience is largely dependent on your internet connection, and has little to do with the the actual set top box.  This box has adequate power to decode the video and present to your panel.

Things we wished the Roku 3 would do, but it doesn’t
-DLNA
-Provide broader file type support for local media playback, and trans-coding capabilities

While the Roku 3 is an obvious improvement over earlier models, unless you’re just needing another STB, waiting to see what else the market brings may be your best move.  On the other hand, if you don’t have a Roku at all, buying the Roku 3 at $99 is a safe purchase indeed.

We would love to hear about your experience with the Roku 3…good, bad, or otherwise…

Comments { 204 }

Redbox Instant on Trial now

Redbox is debuting their new Instant program now, with a free one month trial. The program branded as Redbox Instant is similar to the Netflix we all knew and lost…a mere $8.00 per month get’s you instant access to over 4,500 movie titles and access to physical DVD’s from that red box thing chained to the pole in front of your neighborhood grocery store.(are they all chained up, or just the ones in my neighborhood?)
And, as if that wasn’t enough, for an additional fee of $1.00 per month, you can have access to blue-ray disc as well!
Now, we just need Redbox to make the full court press on content, and they will be pillaging customers from Netflix right and left.

We’d love to hear your experience with the Instant Trial/Service.

 

Comments { 220 }

2013 March Madness – How to watch online

Well, it appears we’re moving in the wrong direction as it relates to the NCAA tournament, and it’s availability for those of us that have “kicked out cable”.    Unlike previous years where streaming was free for all, this year the NCAA has announced  that tourney games will only be available to subscribers, and not even all of them!

Contrary to what’s written in a Time.com article, the cost is free.  Great you say right!?  The coverage is free ONLY to cable subscribers!  Nice huh.  It get’s worse for the subscribers…the streaming isn’t available to all subscribers, only  77% of them will be able to use the viewing pass for the NCAA Tournament this year.  The balance of the cable subscribers seem to be stuck in purgatory with a cable company that didn’t get the paperwork completed in time for this years tourney.  Irrelevant for Cord Cutters, but an interesting tid-bit of info.


For those with cable subscriptions

Cable subscribers can view all of the games online, thru one of the following methods.

NCAA Website streaming - this site will show streams and highlights of all games depending on your cable subscription

NCAA iOS Application for iPhone, iPad, iTouch and other i devices – Download the 2013 NCAA Tournament application for Apple devices

NCAA Google Android OS - Download the 2013 NCAA Tournament application for Google Android OS devices

Cord Cutters options for 2013 March Madness

All is not lost for Cord Cutters.  Games that are scheduled for CBS coverage will still be viewable live on the NCAA website, although we wouldn’t encourage choosing that over beautiful unadulterated Over the Air QAM modulated High Definition signal received by your handy HD Antenna, if you have the choice.  Unfortunately, the game schedule for CBS is pretty light, as compared to TNT, TruTV and TBS.    The current schedule notes CBS broadcast games which will be streamed for free.

For what it’s worth – 4 Hours Free Streaming

The NCAA has baited everyone this year with a twist.  The world, including those of us without cable, will be allowed to view 4 hours of the tournament for free.  That’s right, free.  This 4 hour period does not include replays or highlights, so time watching those won’t deduct against your 4 hours.  Once the four hours has expired, you’ll be able to continuue listening to the games via the NCAA March Madness Live Radio…or rush out and subscribe to the Cable Conglomerates for unfettered access to the tourney this year.

Keeping this post open

I’m going to keep this post open, and notes fresh, as the tourney get’s underway.  Any news on viewing options for the tournament will be added here as I find/hear about them.  Please share with us how you’re watching the 2013 March Madness in the comments section below.

*Update, with the Sweet 16 brackets filling up, no new streaming options have arisen.  My picks aren’t aren’t going so well;  thinking about the particulars of watching live sports on Roku devices and streaming espn on Roku.  NCAA, if you’re listening, what we want is High Definition NCAA on Roku next year, please!  until then…Good luck with your brackets!

Comments { 611 }

XBMC now “plays” with Apple TV 2

Apple TV 2 owners listen up!  XBMC development has recently squared things away with the Apple TV 2 and iOS thru 6.1, bridging the ecosystem gap between Apple content and the rest of the world.  Now, the fantastically easy to use interface of XBMC is available to your AppleTV, along with a plethora of additional content and viewing/streaming options!  Here is a quick write up on the install of XBMC on an Apple TV.

Star Strek on XBMC

XBMC, for those of you who don’t know, is a free, open source, cross platform media player that will stream almost all popular content formats, from most all popular online and network streams or disk.  XBMC versions 10 and up provide support for the Apple TV to render 720P H.264 encoding directly from the stream.

 

We are working to get our hands on an AppleTV 2 to do some testing on this setup.   Codec support is supposed to include MPEG-1, MPEG-2, H.263, MPEG-4 SP and ASP, MPEG-4 AVC (H.264), HuffYUV, Indeo, MJPEG, RealVideo, RMVB, Sorenson, WMV and Cinepak.  Please send us your notes, feedback and experience  relevant to this setup!

Comments { 268 }

FCC kills clear-QAM

The FCC just released an interesting Order in which they granted the cable operators the right to encrypt basic channel packages on digital systems, IF they comply with certain consumer-protection measures.  Under the auspices of gaining provisioning efficiencies for the cable operators, the FCC goes on to point out that the ruling will have an impact on a “small number of subscribers who currently view the digital basic service tier without using a set-top box or other equipment”.   This ruling also impacts Cord Cutters that pull local channels off their cable line.  Protecting that “small number of subscribers”, they went on to say that if the cable operator decides to encrypt this tier, they (the 6 largest incumbent cable operators) will be required to comply with additional measures to ensure compatibility with third party equipment currently being used to view basic packages now.  Boxee, HTPC, Hauppauge users, this FCC order will have to be addressed sooner rather than later it seems.

The FCC Media Bureau hypothesizes that allowing encryption of the clear QAM signals would reduce cost, improve customer service, and reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, via the newfound capability to remotely handle connect and dis-connects.  All you cable folks should start seeing lower cable bills and improved service soon…keep waiting.

Consumer Protection Measures were implemented by the FCC to “reduce burden’s on subscribers” during this transition period.  This is where things get interesting for us Cord Cutters.  The FCC is requiring cable operators, again the 6 largest incumbent, to provide equipment that is compatible with IP-enabled clear-QAM devices provide by third parties.

Boxee has been fighting the good fight for us here…or at least it seemed that way early on in the banter.   Letters sent to the FCC by Boxee advocated an approach that would “guarantee that by July 2013 Boxee devices can access basic tier signals without additional hardware”.  Essentially, the FCC ignored Boxee’s request for compatibility by means of a hardware-free solution.  The FCC states “Under the equipment measure we adopt today, the vast majority of consumers will be able to access service that is encrypted using a commercial available security technology or via equipment with standard home-network capability in much the same was as they do today.”

What this all means for Cord Cutters is a little unclear at the moment.  What’s evident, is that our beloved clear QAM signals pulled off that cable line for free are soon to be gone.  Boxee, Hauppauge, and HTPC owners listen up. Installing an HD Antenna may be your only option to receive broadcast quality local channel content.

We’d love to hear your comments on the FCC clear QAM encryption ruling and how you feel it will affect your content viewing.

 

 

Comments { 192 }

OTA Subscription Free Dual Tuner HDTV DVR

Kicking out cable requires planning and preparation to really enjoy the effort.  Part of this planning entails recording OTA (Over The Air) content at the time of broadcast.  Viewing recorded content makes the most out of time spent watching the glowing rectangle.  Given this, it’s logical that the DVR is an essential for every Cord Cutters toolbox.

The Channel Master CM 7400 is a DVR that’s up to the task of recording TV, in addition to a few other tricks. With dual ATSC Tuners, a QAM Tuner and a dual channel DVR, this unit has more ways to ingest and present 6Mhz of video bandwidth than you can shake a stick at.  Want to record two games at once, no problem.  Want to watch a recorded show while recording two more, you got it!   Pause, rewind and record live TV, it’s all snap with the CM 7400.

 

So What’s in the box?

Ok, this is not your typical un-boxing, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to list out the box contents and a few surprises.  Channel Master has set itself apart here, and deservers a few bonus points.  I won’t give it away…you figure out what the **surprise** is!

Channel Master CM7400

CM 7400 Credit photo: Channel Master

  • Channel Master CM-7400 DVR Tuner extravaganza
  • User Guide and Quick Start Guide
  • Universal Infra Red Remote
  • AC Adapter
  • AA Batteries
  • **Composite and Stereo Cable**
  • **RF Coaxial Cable**
  • **HDMI Cable**

When is the last time you’ve seen cables, especially HDMI, included in a product like this?  Good job Channel Master.  I’ve always considered it a “FAIL” when manufacturers retail a product costing hundreds of dollars and can’t seem to include a required 10 dollar cable.  We’re looking at you HP…

 

Network Connections

Network connectivity for the CM 7400 is established via wired or wireless connection.  The wireless connection is achieved thru the array of antenna integrated across the back of the device.  The DVR can be connected to most types of wireless networks including 802.11 b, g and n.   If you’re fortunate enough to have an actual physical network connection in/around your media center, the wired RJ-45 connection will be your preferred method for network and internet connection.

 

AV connections CM7400

AV Connections Credit Photo:Channel Master

Video and Audio Connections

Video and audio connections include HDMI, Digital Audio, Stereo Audio, RCA component and composite video, RF loop thru output and RF Antenna/QAM input.  While HDMI is sure to be the most commonly used format, having the composite video could be very handy for specific applications, like side jacking a Sling Box into the system.  I’m glad they included a QAM tuner, even though I don’t imagine it’s a widely used function.  Those with broadband cable internet service may see unencrypted QAM signaling on the cable line.  If your cable provider is sending QAM in the clear, you can use the DVR to tune and record those programs. If not, your relinquished to the to most outstanding quality of all, that pure uncompressed  OTA content received with your HD antenna.

 

The setup

The CM-7400 uses a setup wizard to walk you thru configuration of network connections, finding channels on your antenna or cable, and video settings.  The process is quick and painless, taking less than 5 minutes from start to finish, depending on your area.   The receiver is quiet sensitive, finding more channels with reliable signal than my LG TV using the integrated ATSC tuner.  There’s just no more to say here…plug it up and start using it!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention heat here.  Once installed, I noticed this unit runs hot.  Probably 20 degrees warmer than my Marantz receiver.  Channel Master has addressed this directly, stating it’s ok, not to worry.  Frankly, I’m not surprised.  With the amount of electronics crammed into this little box, and the lack of a fan, high temperatures are expected.  Channel Master is standing behind the product with a full 1 year warranty.  Moving along…

 

Recording Capacity

Capacity of the internal 320GB hard drive works out to about 35 hours of HD recording and up to 150 hours of SD recording.  While this time could vary depending on content type and encoding used, the storage provided has been more than adequate to keep pace with our viewing habits.  Multiple users are reporting that the internal hard drive can be replaced with a larger “off the shelf” drive, thereby increasing the internal storage capacity with the twist of a few screws (and the new drive of course).  The USB port allows for connection of an external USB drive, from which you can play recorded content, and update the firmware.  Additionally, there is significant discussion surrounding the use of the e-Sata port for expansion storage space, however reports on success are varied and and have yet to be addressed by the manufacturer.

 

electronic programming guide

EPG Credit Photo:Channel MasterThe Guide

The Guide

The programming guide, or EPG in geek speak, is a big feature of the unit.  Using the PSIP standard (Program and System Information Protocol), you are able to view meta data including program title, time to air and play time, all from information received in the actual MPEG stream received from broadcast stations.  The guide of this unit is the object of much consternation given that the forward looking capability is only several days, not weeks in advance like cable or satellite boxes.  Channel Master must have anticipated this as they’ve capitalized on a premium EPG service that runs $49.99 a year and offers 14 days of program guide listings, and enhanced search functionality, in addition to a few other use nuances.  While the Premium guide ads some nice value, we’ve found the subscription free EPG to work plenty well enough to keep hands out of pocketbook.  Especially since there is always the option of using the DVR like a traditional VCR and configuring time/date based recordings for shows scheduled weeks out.

 

VUDU Guide

VUDU Credit Photo:Channel Master

Over The Top Streaming Content

VUDU is a OTT (Over the Top) content streaming service that boast more HD title films than any other provider.   The CM-7400 has integrated VUDU directly into the hardware.    Simply launch the app, choose your move, and begin streaming full 1080p HD movies directly to your TV.    You will want to make sure your internet connection is up for the job here, or you may experience some buffering.

The VUDU service is available without a monthly contract and, and the movies are typically priced similar to other services in the market (iTunes/Netflix/Amazon Prime).  The quality of content viewed thru the VUDU service is outstanding.  Full HD 1080p with Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 Surround sound leaves little to nothing to complain about.

At roughly $350.00, the CM-7400 is by no means a small investment. However, I feel that when balanced with the value it brings to the table in making quality recordings of broadcast HDTV, dual internal tuners and the integrated Electronic Program Guide, these things add up to making this unit an invaluable tool for a guy determined to Kick Out Cable. I’d love to hear about your experience with DRV’s, VUDU and recording HD tv. Please leave a note in the comment section below.

Comments { 244 }

Dish pushes for content de-bundling and Over The Top delivery

Last week, Bloomberg published an article stating that Dish was in talks with Viacom about licensing an Over The Top service, to deliver smaller packages at lower prices. They went on to say that Univision Communications and Scripps Networks Interactive were also involved in the negotiations.  The big cable providers see the numbers.  Just this past year, both total number of cable subscribers, and average time people spent watching traditional content has declined roughly 1.5%.  The tide has turned for the big content providers, and no-longer will mediocre programming supported by poor service retain customers.

Internet TV delivery

These conversations are, or should be, of particular interest to the cord cutting community. Over the last decade, content aggregators, your local cable company, have raised package pricing far in excess of inflation.  At the same time, consumers are watching less and less of the packages they purchase.  By the numbers, the average person watches just 16% of the channels they receive in a typical cable package.  This is down nearly 10% from 10 years earlier.  These trends, specifically the phenomenal pricing increases, have led to special attention from the FCC and potentially regulated de-bundling.  While regulatory oversight of cable aggregator bundling practices may be beneficial, the real win for consumers will come when content owners, the likes of Disney/ESPN/TBS, begin to offer their content directly to subscribers bypassing the aggregators all-together.

The demand on service providers to make content available over the internet, and playable on tablets and phones alike is strong and getting stronger. Like land line telephones, soon the day will come when it’s more of an oddity than the norm to have cable delivering TV to your house.

Here’s to hoping Dish, Univision and Scripps have great success in de-bundling our most valued content and freeing those still tethered to cords.

Cord Cutters Unite!  Follow us on our Facebook page for more conversation with like minded “cord cutters”.

Comments { 253 }

How to watch NFL without cable

Football season can be very demanding for sports fans, so preparedness is crucial.  A good game plan is required to ensure no action is missed.   For a “cord cutter”, the inevitable question arises, how can I watch NFL without cable?  No worries, I’ve listed out a few plays that will have you warmed up and ready for the bone crunching entertainment!     As  we’ve said before, no solution is perfect, but watching sports without cable is totally doable.

Typical antenna installed at chimney

Typical antenna installed at chimney

The Antenna Play

Your first play for watching the NFL without cable starts with a basic HD antenna.  Choosing the best HDTV antenna to start with helps ensure this effort provides good results.   These antenna are not terribly expensive, and once properly installed, will provide you some of the best quality images you’ll see anywhere.  Typically much better than Comcast or DirecTV can provide.  You’ll be pleaseantly surprised how good the picture quality is, and the price is hard to beat!  I’ve installed entire systems for less than 50$, your mileage may vary.

The NFL Sunday Ticket Play

Your second play for NFL without cable works on games that aren’t on your local broadcast stations, like those on Sunday. Currently, DirecTV offers the NFL Sunday Ticket as an ad-hoc service, meaning you don’t to be a subscriber to get this package.  The Sunday Ticket gives you live access to every out-of-market game, every Sunday!   Here’s the catch!  DirecTV states “It’s available to anyone that cannot get DIRECTV at their residence due to line-of-sight issues.”   Hint: This is easily overcome for most folks, especially those that live in apartments or condominiums that don’t allow balcony or roof attachments for dish mounting (in spite of FCC regulations deflating this position).   DirecTV is not interrogating subscribers on their reception capability when signing up for the Sunday Ticket App, they just take your money and give you access.

While the price is a little steep at $250.00, I appreciate the fact that they’ve reduced the package by $100.00 from last year. As an aside, I’ve heard multiple reports that the price is negotiable ($200), so don’t hesitate to ask for a discount.  The same subscription also allows you to view the games on your PS3, so at least the money has dual purpose, if you have a PS3 at the house.

What about picture quality?

Picture quality is outstanding on the iPad!  On occasion, I experienced a slight degradation in quality, but it seemed to only be intermittent, and not very frequent.  Overall, I’d say the stream is very watchable and provides a good user experience.  The user interface is easy to navigate and obviously customized for the online viewing experience.  I imagine at some point they will rework the app to include more stat’s and hopefully some fantasy football league data.

Airplay button

The AirPlay button

That little square with an arrow pointed up is the AirPlay button.  And if it worked all the time, it would be great!  Unfortunately, streaming these games to your TV using AirPlay is getting very mixed results from folks. Apparently the NFL has blocked AirPlay streaming from within the App, but some users are reporting AirPlay Mirroring to work. Mirroring requires the use of a special cable that connects your iPad directly to the TV using an HDMI signal. While the quality should be good, I don’t think the screen resolutions will match up properly, so you may have only a small portion of your TV screen showing the game. I’ll be picking up a cable to try this out for myself.

Also worth noting is that the iPhone 5, and it’s counterpart, iOS 6, are in no way compatible with the NFL Sunday Ticket version 1.8.1.   Actually, any device running the new iOS 6 breaks the app.  If you have an iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, or iPad, DO NOT upgrade your device to iOS 6, or you will be left in the cold waiting on a new release of the Sunday NFL Sunday Ticket App.

If you have comments or suggestions on using the NFL Sunday Ticket App, we would love to hear from you. I’m especially interested to hear about successful use of AirPlay to view Sunday Ticket on a TV.  Drop us a note in the comment section below.

Comments { 248 }

An Apple a Day Keeps Commercials Away!

While not directly related to Cutting the Cord, Apple’s latest patent work certainly moves towards giving you a little more control over your TV viewing experience. The Commercial Killing Patent explains a process to automatically switch between broadcast media and locally stored media. While the process description begins with discussing  radio broadcast as subject example, language referencing video is clearly present throughout the Patent.  How fantastic would it be to have previously selected content displayed in place of that Erectile  Disfunction commercial that just interrupted your Sunday night Football game!

This Commercial Killing Patent from Apple would definitely change our media consumption experience, if it ever get’s to market.  So the question is, Would you miss watching commercials?

Comments { 232 }