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Cord Cutting Update #4 December 15, 2017

Posted by rluhman in Home, Technology.
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Well we did it.  I contacted AT&T and we cancelled U-verse TV.  The only thing left with them is our internet.  When I called they of course tried to come up with various packages to try and keep me with them.  All of them would cost more than just cutting the cord and going with what we have set up for streaming.  In the process they did bump our internet access from 18mb to 24mb for the same cost we are paying now.

We were thinking of moving to Toast.net for internet service, but now I need to do some evaluation to be sure.  The upside of Toast.net is that there is no data cap.  AT&T has a 1000gb cap.  From studying our usage so far it looks like we would able to fairly easily stay under the cap.  They both charge $60 for 24mb download speed.  But I think we might be able to use 18mb download without any buffering issues.  During our testing period we did not notice any buffering.  If we do decide that 18mb will work, Toast.net offers 18mb for $50 a month with no cap.  We will have to think about that some more.  It might be worth going to Toast.net just to avoid the data cap.

So how much do we think we will actually be able to save by cord cutting?  Here is the breakdown we are looking at:

Here is how our AT&T bill breaks down: (more…)

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Cutting the Cord Update #3 December 6, 2017

Posted by rluhman in Home, Technology.
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OK, so far I’ve got an antenna installed in the attic.  I have that attached to a Tablo OTA DVR which is then connected to our home network.  I have the Vonage phone service installed.  The last main piece for cutting the cord is to get a set top box and decide which live TV streaming service to use.

Roku just updated their line of set top boxes for 2017 and the Roku Ultra price has dropped to $99.  I ordered one from Amazon and got it a couple of days later.  I opted to get the Ultra since it (and the Streaming Stick+) supports 4K TV and its remote can power the TV on and off and also control the sound.  Unlike the Streaming Stick+, the Ultra also has an Ethernet port, a micro SD slot, a headphone jack for private listening, and a remote finder feature.  For many people the Streaming Stick+ will be good option and costs about $30 less.

I hooked it up to the Samsung in the bedroom and the set up was very easy.  I had to create a Roku account on their website during the setup but that was no problem.  Part of the set up was to get the remote set up with the TV so it could operate the sound and turn the TV on and off.  That went easy as well.

I installed the Tablo app on the Roku and connected to the Tablo that is upstairs.  I went to the guide and picked a channel and started watching TV from the antenna.  Very nice indeed.

Now, what live TV streaming service should I pick?  Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Playstation Vue, Hulu with Live TV, or Fubo? (more…)

Cutting the Cord Update #2 November 30, 2017

Posted by rluhman in Home, Technology.
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We have moved our landline phone service to Vonage.  It went very smooth, after one bonehead mistake by me.  I went online and ordered the Vonage service on a Sunday.  I went with the 1 yr package since that included free hardware and activation.  In most cases you can keep your existing number.  Since we chose to do that, after ordering the service, I was directed to an online form where I entered our current provider and a few other bits of information.  This allowed them to handle the number switch for me.  It generally takes a week for the switch to take place.  I was just hoping that the hardware would get here before the number switch took place.  I was notified by email that the switch would be taking place on Friday.  That gave them four days to get the hardware to me.

I actually had nothing to worry about since the little Vonage box arrived on Wednesday.  Now I just had to wait for AT&T to do the switch.  On Friday morning I got up and checked the phone and sure enough there was no dial tone.  Also the Phone 1 indicator light on my AT&T router was no longer lit.  It was time to install the hardware and see if it all worked.

I followed the instructions included with the Vonage box, and then unplugged the phone line out cable from the AT&T box and plugged it into the Vonage box.  The lights on the Vonage box started to blink, but they were not blinking the way they should be.  I also noticed that the broadband indicator light on my AT&T modem was not lit anymore either.  What the heck did I do?  It didn’t take long to realize that I had plugged the broadband cable into the Vonage box instead of the phone line.  I put the broadband line back into the router and waited for everything to hook back up.  I then moved the REAL phone line from the router to the Vonage box.  I took mere seconds for the Vonage box to sync up and show the proper status lights.  I picked up the phone and had a dial tone again. Yea!!!

Not so fast, I could make calls just fine, but if I called my landline number all I got was a message that the number was disconnected.  Crap!  Was I going to have to call Vonage and find out what was going on?  I didn’t have time right then to do anything, I had to get over to my mother’s house to help her with some things.  I figured if it was still disconnected by the time I got back then I’d call Vonage.  Well by the time I got back home everything was working fine.

One more thing to check off the list.  Now on to the set top boxes (Roku).

Cutting the Cord Update November 27, 2017

Posted by rluhman in Home, Technology.
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Well I am continuing to build and test what I need to cut the cord with cable.  Last time I talked about Plex and how I was using it to test my antenna and store all our DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s.  Now I’ve picked up the Tablo 4-tuner OTA DVR.  I decided on the 4-tuner rather than the 2-tuner since there are times that what we would be watching on our two TV’s and also might be recording so that the 2-tuner version might cause conflicts for us.  The Tablo DVR’s do not include their own hard drive to store your recordings, so you have to buy one separately and connect it to the Tablo’s USB port.  I picked up a Seagate Expansion 3TB external drive.  This will give me a ton of space to store any recordings without having to worry about losing shows we haven’t watched yet.

The Tablo is a whole home DVR.  It connects to your antenna to get the TV signals and then can either record the show to the hard drive or stream the show to a smart TV or streaming device that has the Tablo app.  Set up was pretty straight forward.  I did have to reboot the device after initial set up to get it to use the hard drive for recordings, but after that everything has been smooth.  It has a traditional grid view for selecting shows to watch or record and it also allows for viewing the guide on a show by show basis.  Both our smart TV’s have the Tablo app so I was able to test it with our TV’s without having to get a streaming box.  It has been working well.

We will still need to get a Roku streaming device since neither smart TV has apps for the popular streaming services like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, or Playstation Vue. (Actually that is not quite true anymore, our Samsung TV in the bedroom just added the Sling TV app.  But our Vizio in the living room still does not have it.)

I’ve also decided to switch to Vonage for our landline service.  I can get very comparable service to what we have now and save about $10 a month.  That more than pays for one Roku box.

Things are still looking good for cutting the cord soon.  I’ll get the next few pieces soon and see how they work.

Getting Ready to Cut the Cord November 16, 2017

Posted by rluhman in Home, Technology.
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Some time ago I wrote a post about an HTPC (home theater PC) that I was building.  The intent was to use it as a DVR on our cable system via a Ceton TV card.  After quite a bit of trouble I finally had it ready to go using Microsoft Media Center to control the DVR and playback.  Well, about the time I got it ready to go, Cox Communications decided to implement switching to their cable system.  This required that I get a switching box to use my Ceton TV card.  After trying three different switching boxes I could not get the box to work with my Ceton TV card.  So the HTPC basically became just a PC attached to our TV.

Since that time Cox has raised their rates to the point I had to switch providers.  We now have AT&T U-verse which uses a streaming technology for cable TV delivery rather than the traditional cable.  So I still can’t use the Ceton TV card on the PC.  Our two year discount with AT&T has run out and their charges for cable TV are just as much if not more that Cox was.

Paying nearly $170 a month just for cable TV is stupid.  So I have decided that it is time to cut the cord and go with streaming TV.  I have been investigating this now for about the last 6 months trying to determine all the pieces that we need to get the TV service we really want.  As part of this investigation, I discovered some software called PLEX.  PLEX at its most basic is a personal media streaming server.  The cost for PLEX is free.  There are a few more advanced features that require a $5.00 a month PLEX Pass subscription.  Not a bad investment for what you get.

I used the Media Center PC that I mentioned above to install PLEX.  I did upgrade from an AMD A4 processor to an A8 processor and added an additional 8 Gb of memory.  I also replaced the DVD drive with a Blu-ray drive.  I have ripped most of our DVD and Blu-ray collection and put it on the PLEX server.  It puts a very nice front end on the media and automatically downloads some additional meta-data about any media you put in the PLEX file system.  You can access the media via the web or apps that are available on Windows, smart TVs, streaming boxes, X-box, and smart phones.  All my testing so far has gone well. (more…)