Cord Cutting 14 Months Later

Fourteen months ago we cancelled AT&T U-Verse.  We kept AT&T for internet access only.  We now use Vonage for our land line.  Yes, I know we could have dumped the landline too, but what can I say, we’re old and set in our ways.  We just can’t quite give up the landline yet.

We were originally paying $60 a month for SlingTV but since the Olympics ended, we dropped the Sports Extra package and we’re back to paying $50 a month.  Since we have an antenna in the attic, SlingTV works fine for us.  We get nearly all the channels we used to watch on cable.  SlingTV recently added some of the Discovery networks so now I get to see Deadliest Catch and Gold Rush.  Those were the main two series that I had to originally give up to cut the cord, now I have them back.  Yea!!

We started out using a Tablo 4-Tuner for our local TV.  The only channel that gave us trouble at first was KOTV.  It would sometimes drop out and become difficult to watch.  I’m convinced that it has to do with a combination of the frequency they transmit on and the fact that we are in a river valley and there are hills and trees between us and the tower.  About 10 months after cutting the cord KJRH started giving us problems.  It was not all the time, but seemed to happen mostly during primetime.  Since it came in clear for 10 months, I really think that someone near us is creating some RF interference with the frequency that KJRH transmits.  That made two of our most watch networks nearly unviewable, NBC and CBS.

I had to find a solution.  We tried a free trial of PSVue since they carry local channels and it worked fairly well, but to get some our favorite shows would require subscribing at a level that would cost a fair amount more that what we pay for SlingTV.  Other live TV streamers had similar problems for us.  We needed a solution for the antenna.

I had a spare PC that I had built a couple of years ago to use as a media center PC.  When Microsoft dropped support for Windows Media Center that was the end of that experiment.  Now that PC was going to get a new purpose.  I had heard about Plex so I downloaded the Plex Media Server and installed in on the PC.  I bought a Plex Pass so I could experiment with Live TV and DVR.  I then purchased a Haupauge WinTV HD Dual USB tuner to use with Plex.  Once the channel scan was finished, I tried to tune into KJRH.  Wow, it worked with a nice picture and no sign of interference.  Then I checked KOTV, again a picture that was watchable.  We are down to two tuners, but if it becomes a problem, I can drop in another WinTV USB tuner and we will be back to 4 tuners.

Now we can watch OTA TV via Plex on our Roku boxes.  Occasionally we get some pixelated bands across the screen when the signal gets bad, but most of the time it comes through just fine.  I am disappointed that we don’t use the Tablo anymore.  I really like their user interface.  But Plex works well and we are getting used to the interface.  Using Plex for live TV is easier now since the latest preview version has a traditional grid guide.

We have yet to come close to using up our 1 terabyte per month limit with our streaming.  We have two TV’s that we stream, although we mainly use just one.  We might get closer to the limit if we were not using our antenna as much as we do.  If we did get too close, I guess we could switch from AT&T to Toast for our internet access, they have the same speeds as AT&T for a bit less money and they have no limits.

Bottom line is we are still saving nearly $100 a month vs cable and can watch virtually everything we used to watch when we had cable.  If we ever give up the land line we will be saving $120 a month.  That may be an option to consider.  At this point, I’d never go back to cable.  We are not in any long term contracts.  We can change anything with our TV packages whenever we want, no contracts at all, just month to month.

A Short Cord Cutter’s Tale

Well we have had a bit of a glitch lately.  I realize that being a cord cutter things don’t necessarily go smoothly all the time.  Instead of one provider you basically have several and, of course, they don’t really coordinate with each other.  They are all independent companies after all.

I had heard that Roku was requiring their app providers to update their apps to use the new Roku API’s.  They were soon going to phase out the old API’s and the only choice for providers was to update their app or have it removed from the Roku channel store.  For some providers that would result in a complete rewrite.  I get it.  I was a software developer before I retired.  I understand that API’s evolve and that can force you to update and sometimes rewrite your app.   It’s painful but unavoidable since you don’t have any control over the API provider.  This is just some background for the below description of the pain we went through when PLEX recently updated their app for the Roku player.

Back around mid December I started our Roku and opened the PLEX app.  I immediately noticed that the app had been updated.  I had heard that a new app was rolling out but I had not yet seen it.  Like it or not, now we had it.  I went to Live TV and selected our favorite channel and after a few minutes boom an error page popped up.  I tried to go back to the channel but I couldn’t get it to load.  I exited the app and opened it back up and was able to get back to the channel.  Then after a few minutes, sometimes maybe as long as an hour, boom another error screen.  This was making watching Live TV a very frustrating experience.

At least the recordings were working and they would play back fine.  Because of the problems, most of our Live TV watching went back to the Tablo.  We just had to put up with the garble on NBC and CBS.  (Those two local channels worked OK on PLEX, until the update that is, when no channel worked right.)

I went to our PLEX server and did some checking and noticed that there was a new update waiting to be applied.  I updated the server thinking that it would go just fine and maybe it might help the app work better.  I’ve not had any problems applying server updates in the last year we have been using PLEX.  Then a day or so after the update, I went to the PLEX app to view a recording and there were problems with the recording.  Not just the one recording, but many other recordings that were supposed to be made.  I immediately went to the server to see if it was just a PLEX app bug or if it was a server problem.  Unfortunately, it was a server problem.  This just wouldn’t do.  I got online and found out how to roll back an update.  Once that was done, I checked the PLEX app and the recording problems were fixed.

I logged in to the PLEX Forums and posted a message about the problems we were having hoping to get a response from someone (hopefully from the PLEX Team) on how to get all this fixed.  Maybe I could even find out how to roll back the PLEX app update.  I found out that I was not the only one having these problems.  At least my misery was shared.  I kept checking back each day, and then someone posted about going back to use the PLEX Beta app.  It was working for them, no Live TV playback issues.  This was fantastic news, I figured out how and installed the Beta app on my Roku.  Sure enough, no more playback problems.

In the meantime, PLEX pushed out a new PLEX Media Server update.  I crossed my fingers and applied the update.  This time there were no problems.  At least I didn’t have to wait long for them to fix the server.

I kept going back and checking the forum for updates and someone on the PLEX Team said that they had updated the Preview app and that we should try that.  I installed the Preview app a few days ago and have had no problems with playback and also got the long wished for TV Grid for selecting shows.  I thanked the PLEX Team for listening and working on the bug.  Hopefully it won’t be too much longer and the release version of the app will get updated.

I really like PLEX and want to continue using it.  The 5 dollars a month for a PLEX Pass is well worth the value returned.  Hopefully for the next update they will do a bit more beta testing before they unleash it on the rest of us again.

Until the production PLEX app is finally fixed, we will continue to use the Preview version.  Now everything is back to normal and our TV viewing has become routine again.

Cord Cutting Update #4

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: Continue reading “Cord Cutting Update #4”

Cutting the Cord Update #3

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? Continue reading “Cutting the Cord Update #3”

Cutting the Cord Update #2

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).

Yet Another Way to Fail When Flying Rockets

Jolly Logic Chute Release

Early in 2016 I bought a Jolly Logic Chute Release.  The device is about the size of a small matchbox.  It allows you to turn any rocket (that the device will fit into) into what is essentially a dual-deploy rocket.  I have several 2.5  to 7 inch diameter rockets that deploy their parachutes at apogee (the highest point of the rocket’s flight).  Depending on the altitude the rocket reaches and the wind it can result in a long walk to retrieve the rocket.

Enter the Jolly Logic Chute Release.  This nifty little device uses a rubber band and pin that wraps around the folded parachute preventing it from opening.  Then when the rocket descends to a pre-selected altitude the pin will release and the parachute will unfurl and the rocket will land safely at a distance that is much closer that it would have otherwise.  I used it quite a bit during the 2016 flying season and had only one failure when the rubber band released from the Chute Release, but somehow entangled in the parachute which caused the parachute to fail to open.  I have avoided stretching the rubber band that tight since then and have had no problems.

That is until this last flight in November 2017.  I had missed all the 2017 season due to back problems, but I finally seem to have that managed and I went out fly on the last launch on the year.  I carefully folded the parachute for my LOC Precision Minnie Magg and wrapped the Chute Release rubber band and pin around the parachute and locked in into the other side of the Chute Release.  I then did my usual shake test to be sure the parachute would not slide out from the rubber band and everything was fine.  Out to the pad I went and we launched it on an Aerotech I161 motor.  It boosted beautifully into the clear November sky, arced over popped the nosecone and bundled parachute out at apogee.  It fell down to abour 400 feet when the Chute Release did its job and released the parachute which opened perfectly and it landed a few hundred feet from the pad.  What a great way to end the season.  A perfect flight.

At least it was until Continue reading “Yet Another Way to Fail When Flying Rockets”

Cutting the Cord Update

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.