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How to watch the US Open Online

Watching on the PC

This year, once again, the US Open is streaming all the matches for free this year on their website.  To view them, all you have to do is visit their streaming page, where they have current live matches showing as well as previously played matches if you need to catch one you missed earlier.   Watching on an iPad

For viewing oTennis Ball in Handn an iPad, IBM built the  iPad app for the 2014 US Open that provides full access to events happening at Flushing Meadows. This is definitely the best viewing option for “on the go” viewing and keeping tabs on your favorite player from mobile.

Watching on an iPhone

There’s also an iPhone version, which is also usable on iPads  and iPods, is also available although the screen size definitely makes tracking the flying balls a less than optimal situation, we suppose it’s better than not watching.

For Android viewing

Android users, again developed by IBM, can download the US Open app here.  While the app is built on the same premise and design as the afore mentioned Apple product apps, the Android app seems to suffer from resolution issues and crashing.  Let us know if you have better luck.


IBM has done a great job with these apps.  The US Opens willingness to support over the top delivery is great news for cord cutting tennis fans and another fine example of content owners straying from the traditional means of distribution…those nasty cable conglomerates.

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3 Easy steps to watch Downton Abbey Season 4 – For the Cord Cutter

With the 2014 season of Downton Abbey underway, we figured it was time to revisit ways those of us based in the US PBS viewers can get access to the new Season 4 episodes coming out.  If  you’ve gotten used to waiting for episodes of Downton Abbye to show up on your local PBS affiliate, you’ll really appreciate this tip for ipad computer or TV viewing.

Step 1.  First, navigate over to Tunnel Bear and download their VPN client.  This is a piece of software that resides on your iPad, PC or Mac and allows you to navigate to overseas sites, and appear to be local to that country.  This is key for viewing the Downton Abbey shows coming from the UK.

Step 2.  Once you have the Tunnel Bear application installed, you are required to acknowledge and complete the registration process by replying to an email.  Simply click the link received in the registration email and the install is complete.

Step 3.  Start the application and choose your target country from the drop down box.  Click “On”.  That’s it.  Your computer now appears to be in the country you chose from the drop down box.

Start watching Downton Abbey Season 4.  Navigate to and start catching up on all the episodes you’ve missed of the critically acclaimed Downton Abbey series.   Now, keeping up with the episodes is simple.   5 minute setup and you’re watching on your Downton Abbey on your iPad, PC, Android or computer connected TV.


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Watch TV Online – Top 10 Online Content Distributors

Watching TV Online - Unlike traditional over the air and cable TV service, watching TV online offers a more pleasant viewing experience given the latitude of control over time and variety.

The key to watching TV online and cutting the cord is knowing where and how to get the content you’re after, and how to view it on your TV.  We’ve culled the net and outlined our Top 10 Online Content Distributors as a starting point for cutting the cord and watching TV online.  The follow-up on this article will list our Top Set Top Boxes for 2013/2014.

We expect to regularly update both Top 10 Online Content Distributors and Top Set Top Boxes on a regular basis as technology and content companies offerings progress.

Lady watching tv onlineTop 10 Online Content Distributors 2013/2014
1. Hulu
Hulu Plus provides well organized movies & tv shows for your online viewing pleasure.  Streaming is done at 1080P “when available”, which in my experience is mostly for the content we watch.  While they do show ads, yes we said ads, somehow the content selection has been able to negate this factor and brought Hulu into the regular line-up for watching tv online in our house.  Shows like Sleepy Hollow are available to steam the day after airing on networks.  The last 8 episodes aired are available for streaming.  Cost is 7.99/mo
Aereo offers online tv viewing of major networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and PBS.  Additionally they have syndication rights with MOVIES!, MeTV, Peachtree TV and Antenna.  The service also includes a variety of news, multi-lingual, weather and religious channel options including Accu-Weather, UniVision, MundoFox, and Jewelry TV.  The downside is the service does not offer contiguous coverage of the US, although they state services are rapidly expanding.  Streams are delivered at 720P HD format “when available”.  The DVR functions included in Aereo are primitive, but better than nothing.  Including Dual Channels, pause, time forward and back, single and series record options, the DVR offers all the basic requirements, and nothing extra.  Cost is $8/month, which isn’t bad if you live outside a market and are looking for easy ways to view those college basketball games in your home city via online TV.
Media Streaming
FOX delivers ads at the start of video play.  Only one!  The encoding is among the best for the big name networks, ESPN and family aside.  The browser player integration is also one of the easiest to use.  The downsides for watching TV online here is the selection of content.  Most shows are locked from viewing for a month or more post original show airing, without logging in.  Cost is Free.
4.  This service also includes ads. Three at the start, one of which includes the notification the video includes ads, and then minimally throughout play of the video.  The encoding is heavy on motion and some pretty obvious processing is being done with images, but the delivery is suitable for a laptop or pc monitor.  Cost is Free.
Netflix is still a go to source for movies and series of recent and afore times.  1080P steaming capable, as well as 3D, depending on the set top box capability.  The inventory of content for online tv viewing is respectable, although delayed for currently aired shows by at least 30 days.  Whether you’re looking for full seasons of older shows like “Cheers” or newer content like “Dexter” or “Breaking Bad”, you’re likely to find something that fits the bill and meets your time-shift viewing requirements for watching TV over the net.  Netflix continues to develop original content as well like “House of Cards”, Disney’s “Marvel Comics”, and “The Short Game” by Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel.  Cost 7.99/mo.
Streaming TV online6. Amazon Instant
The content available thru Amazon is massive.  If you’re already doing business with Amazon for online shopping, taking advantage of the Instant features for watching TV and Movies online is only logical.  Streaming is formatted at 720P resolution.  The download to TiVo service formats video at 1080i.  In addition to your computer, Amazon Instant is available on a miriad of devices including Roku, Multiple TV Manufacturers like Samsun, Phillips, etc.   Check here for device compatibility.   Cost 79.99/year
NBC also delivers ads at the start of video play.  You can actually bypass these ads by not enabling in your browser when the request.  You’ll just stare at a blank screen for 45 seconds while the ads are not showing.  We think this is an improvement of experience in many cases.  Encoding is acceptable, although clearly pixelated.  Cost is Free.
YouTube offers tons of older content that you’d forgotten how much you love.  And, a lot of new content that will make you wish you could recover the time just spent watching it.  Finding online tv shows is easy with a little google-fu.  Shows like Taxi, Laverne & Shirley, The Brady Bunch, Star Trek, Sons of Anarchy, How I met your Mother, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Family Guy…I could keep going.  Cost is Free.
Online TV9. BBC
The recently launched iPlayer expanded coverage, but still limits content distribution for TV play over the internet.  This is supposed to be changing soon, widening access to the British shows we crave.  Shows like East Enders, Atlantis , The Graham Norton Show and Match of the Day fill our viewing schedule from this EU Content Distributor.  Users outside of BBC proper distribution area may look to some alternate DNS services to get around content blocking by country.
10. AcornTV -
Acorn TV is a streaming service based out of the UK and carries a nice line-up of British Comedy, Drama, Mystery and Documentaries.  Content includes programs like Doc Martin, Mid Somer Murders, Going Postal and Joanna Lumley’s The Nile, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries and Doctor Zhivago  As a quick aside, keep an eye on OnCue, an Urban Themed channel making it’s home on YouTube and owned by the same folks that are behind the AcornTV station.  Devices supported on AcornTV include Apple TV and the Roku.  Streaming is presented up to 1080P.  Cost is 2.99/mo or 29.99/yr.  This covers shipping of Blu-Ray and DVD disk, which is a pretty sweet deal.
DNS –  Sometimes, Content Distributors block content regionally.  Alternate DNS servers, also known as DNS Redirects, can help you watch regionally blocked content, on any device, including your Apple TV, Roku, Chrome Stick etc.  Using alternate DNS service to watch TV online is a better approach than setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) because of the bandwidth consumed with VPN.   Sites offering DNS services are plentiful.  UnBlockUs tops the list for user interface and uptime, although at 4.99/mo the cost is a little steep.  They do offer a free trial if you want to see it work before you commit.  For a free service with good support for Europe to get back across the pond, check out Tunlr,
How we watch TV online?
Now that we’ve outline our top go-to sites for content, it seems prudent to take a minute and review the hardware we use to watch TV online.  The main viewing space in our house is the living room TV,  a Samsung 50″ plasma.  The Samsung TV is internet connected, and utilizes the Samsung Smart TV interface which includes portals for Amazon Instant, Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.  This one device supports the majority of content viewing on this TV.  We have an Apple TV setup for iTunes content viewing, and Aereo Air Play casting.  A mac mini running Plex Media Server and Client servers in-house content to this TV as well.  This Plex server also offers nice channel presets which are handy for viewing networks and independent channels like NBC, CBS, FOX, Weather Channel etc.  Although this is configurable thru the Samsung TV, we like the Plex interface better.
Set Top BoxThe landscape for set top boxes and online TV viewing is vast and growing exponentially.  No one TV or set top box is the end all solution for online viewing in today’s market.  If you haven’t already started watching TV online, choose a set top box that supports some of the content you already know you’re interested in watching and begin to discovery the newest way to watch TV…online.
We are constantly evaluating new ways to watch tv online and would love to hear how you’re handling your over the top tv delivery.  Share how you watch tv online below.
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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 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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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AirPlay to Xbox

What is AirPlay?

The Apple iOS/OS feature AirPlay allows users to stream video, audio and pictures from one device to another wirelessly, anywhere on the same network.    Apple tweaked the existing AirTunes protocol in 2010 to include video  and pictures in addition to audio, coinciding with the renaming of AirTunes to AirPlay.  Apple has since begun licensing AirPlay  to 3rd party manufacturers, increasing the number of AirPlay options in the marketplace.  This development is in addition to unlicensed development by folks like the XBMC Dev Team and others.  All of this means AirPlay is a must have in your media distribution tool-kit.

AirPlay ScreenShot

AirPlay screen

How does it work?

The Apple protocol, AirPlay, consist of two components.  A Media Pitcher and a Media Catcher.  The Media Pitcher prepares the media for transmission and sets up the stream.  The Media Catcher receives and presents the media to the connected device.    The two devices work together to stream and present media across a network, wired or wirelessly.  So, that football game your streaming on your iPad can be beamed to your TV using AirPlay.

The list of partners Apple has formal integration with is healthy, including top brands like Denon, Marantz, B&W and JBL to name a few.  While others work is less formal arrangements to  research and reverse engineer the inner workings of the AirPlay protocol.   All of this developer and manufacturer attention means the market is recognized and the technology is here to stay.  This is good news for those of us that enjoy beaming our content all over the house using a mis-match of hardware.


AirPlay and Xbox

Xbox’s running XBox Media Center (XBMC) have long been an integral tool in the “cord cutter’s” arsenal.  XBMC is a cross platform entertainment media hub, similar to Plex Media Server.  This media hub  dynamically indexes and presents a rich visual interface that allows users to browse all of their media using a remote control for interaction.  XBMC makes streaming our content across networks simple and beautiful.   Now with version 11 of XBMC, AirPlay is integrated and takes “in home media distribution” to a new level!   This current release allows your Xbox running XBMC to act as a Video Catcher, playing streams it receives wirelessly from your AirPlay device!   While the support is not complete, and a work in progress, the current implementation is stable and supports video, music and images on most all platforms, including Android!

The Future of XBMC and AirPlay

Who know’s what the future holds for AirPlay and Xbox.  What I know is that wireless transfer of media in-home is here to stay.  Apple recently included AirPlay in their OS and iOS updates.  The XBMC Dev team is actively meeting to strategize future releases.  Given the activity on both sides, Apple and XBMC, I’m expecting solid progress and additional integration.

Tell us about your experience with Xbox, XBMC and AirPlay in the comment section below.

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How to use a Mac Mini as a Media Server

What is a Media Server?

A Media Server is a computer whose purpose in life is to stream your video, audio and pictures to you, on demand.  Let’s say you’re on the road traveling, and you want to watch a football game you recorded two days ago.   No problem with a Media Server.  Just launch the iPhone app, browse to the  Sports directory on your media center, and click play!  Kind of like cable, except different and better!

Plex Main Screen

Views of Plex

Is the Mac Mini Media Server Material?

The Mac Mini has always been an enticing piece of hardware that demanded unique applications like serving media. The Mini footprint is compact, and it’s operating system is solid, making it a perfect fit for this type  of “set it and forget it” application. While the hardware itself is a perfect fit for the “Media Server” job, software is needed to round out this kit and convert the Mac Mini into Media Server.  Before we get into that, let’s talk processor cycles (horsepower).

What kind of horsepower does this Media Server thing require?

The newer Mac Mini models have more than enough power to transcode several streams concurrently, in addition to serving several additional streams to clients at the same time.   In other words, a new Mac Mini will have media streaming to all 3 TV’s in the house, and your iPhone, with no trouble.  But what if your Mini isn’t brand new?  If you have a older (2-3 yr. ago) Mac Mini, you should be fine as well, just know that the Mini may not handle as many concurrent video streaming sessions, but will still certainly get the job done for 1-3 TV viewing.  The biggest advantage of a newer model Mini aside from horsepower is the HDMI outputs, allowing for streaming of full HD resolution to your TV.

Why Plex?

There are lot’s of media servers out there, but the ease of use and functionality makes Plex an excellent choice for newbies and techies alike.  This should be no surprise as the software builds on the XBMC code that’s been serving media for years.   Aside from the obvious features including streaming video and media players, the notables of Plex are are;

  • Access you content anytime from anywhere with virtually no configuration
  • On the fly transcoding for mobile or lightweight mediaplayer
  • Playback of archived HD content to basically any device on your network capable of receiving video streams like the Roku and XBox media players including soft clients
  • Ease of Operation using a Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
  • Playback of audio and images from media server
  • Centralize Library Management System puts all of your media at your fingertips
  • Automatically retrieves meta data from the internet for your content
  • Automatically updates when you add new content to your media files
  • Dynamic device recognition and transcoding by defined bit-rate
  • HDHomeRun Integration for OTA streaming of your favorite football game.

The Plex interface displays your content in an easy to view graphical interface  allowing you to search by name, author, cover and more.  Browsing your home movies, iTunes content Hulu or the latest videos on YouTube has never been easier, and the visual organization of the Plex interface makes sorting thru your media collection a snap.

Plex Menu

What is Plex?

Plex is really a two products designed to work together to stream your video, audio or pictures to you using a rich graphical interface.   The two products work together to provide an end-to-end solution for media consumption.  The first product, Media Server, creates the streams of media for consumption.  The Server also indexes your media, creates the menu system for your local content (movies, pictures, etc) and integrates with a plethora of online content providers, the likes of Hulu Plus, iTunes, Amazon Prime, PBS, CNN, Fox News, HGTV, Food Network, BBC, Netflix and more.  The second product, Media Center, or desktop Plex client “catch’s” the video streams and displays them on the screen.  Mobile Plex clients catch streams from the Plex Servers for mobile devices.

Plex also ties your online viewing experience to your home “media room” viewing experience by offering a synchronized bookmarking service of sorts.  Setting up a My Plex Account will allow browser queue management and sharing of your content. In other words, you’ll be able to save videos for viewing later on another device like your television at home while you’re sitting on the couch.  Sounds great right! It is.  And it’s easy!  Keep reading.

Installing Plex – Media Server Software

The installation and download for Plex, the Media Server Software couldn’t be easier.    Once the download is complete, fire off the install and let it do it’s thing.  When you are asked to locate your media, simply click to the directories where your video, audio and pictures are stored and the setup wizard will ingest the media and prepare vivid and informative menus indexing all of your content on the fly.   Adding your myPlex credentials in the Preferences menu allows you to publish your Plex server on the internet for remote viewing using a Plex client.  This publishing uses UPnP to connect thru your home router, so be sure UPnP is turned on in your router’s configuration.   Once the setup is complete, the next step is to load a Plex client.

Installing Plex – Media Clients

mobile plex client

iPhone Plex Client

Having completed the Media Server install,  jump back to the Plex site and download a Plex mobile client or a Plex desktop client.  These clients are the virtual set top boxes used to catch and play the streams being sent from the Media Server.  With the heavy lifting done, this part of the setup is simple business.  After installing the client of your choice, simply add your myPlex credentials in the application preferences and you should be able to connect to your Plex Server straight away.  Streaming video from a mobile device could take some tweaking to get it just right, but the default bandwidth settings worked for us, even with less than 5 bars signal.  Catching up on Dexter episodes just got a lot easier! And, the On Deck and On Shelf features allow you to start watching a program on your phone, and finish watching it on your computer or home television. Reminds me of that DirecTV commercial where the guy pauses the robot war to resume watching it in the other room.  The On Deck and On Shelf features really are cool!

Have you Plex’d your Mini?

We’d love to hear about your Mac Mini used as a Media Server or Media Player.  Comments or suggestions are welcome in the area below.

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How to Watch the 2012 Olympics Live without Cable

NBC Streams to Pay TV Subscribers

NBC has extended viewing rights for their Live Video feeds to any “subscriber” of their MSNBC AND CNBC programs, on Cable, Satellite or Telco TV providers.  What this means is if you have BOTH of those services at home, you are also able to view the 2012 Olympics Live Video Feeds. You must be a Pay TV subscriber to view their 3500+ hours of streaming video content this year unless…

NBC Provides Live Video Tease

Even though NBC is requiring Pay TV Authentication to view their live video streams, they are letting you watch the stream without the afore mentioned authentication for a short period of time…but only a few hours…and only if you can get it to work. Basically they are saying, if you don’t know the password to authenticate with your content provider (DirecTV, Cox, ATT, other) they will give you a temporary pass to watch live streams. This same temporary pass seems to be available on the mobile app, but with mixed results in performance, and working at all.

A Better Way to Stream the 2012 Olympics

Anyone with an internet connection in the UK is able to watch live streams of the Olympics at Those outside of the UK however, aren’t able to view the live streams due to geographic blocking by web servers.  Sometimes, locations are blocked inaccurately, due to poor reporting by ISP’s to IANA about how they have allocated IP address space around the world.  If this is the case for you, there are a few ways around this geographic blocking issue. Below, we’ve listed two.

1. Sign up for a VPN service. This will allow you to view the BBC site, and appear as though you are in the UK. Setting up the Witopia VPN Service is fairly straight forward with solid FAQ’s for help, and online assistance if you get stick. During the signup process, you’ll have the option of choosing which country and city your want your traffic as coming from, avoiding the geographic blocking being employed by the BBC website. Once you have the VPN setup on your computer, simply point your browser to and start streaming those 2012 games.

2. Sign up for a DNS Routing service. These types of services, like the one above, works behind the scenes to make your traffic appear to be coming from an un-blocked location. The added benefit to using a DNS Redirection services is that you connection isn’t slowed down by the added layer of a VPN as in the first solution. Additionally, there’s no software to install. Setting up this service is even easier that the one above. Start by setting up an account at The signup is quick and easy, basically just asking for your email address, and the country you want to show your traffic as coming from. Choose the UK as your “location”, then move on to your computer network settings to make the DNS changes that are necessary.

You’ll need to change your Adapter settings, DNS entries toMake them and UnBlock has detailed how to documentation on their Support Center if you need more info.

DNS entries for unblock

The setup process is complete. Point your browser to and watch the 2012 games, without cable!

How has your Olympic viewing experience been?

We’d love to hear about how you’re watching the Olympics and from where.  Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.

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