I Cut the Cord… No More Cable TV!

November 28, 2013

Well, I finally did it. I cut the cable TV cord so no more cable TV for my family. Instead, we will be streaming movies and TV shows on-demand from Netflix and Hulu Plus via the Roku media streaming device.

Cable Cord CuttingSo, I needed to call Comcast and have them downgrade my current “Triple Play” service to only Internet access, removing the Cable TV and Phone services. After reading all the horror stories online about people fighting Comcast to do such downgrades, I had to mentally prepare myself for battle.

I first tried to downgrade my Comcast service by using the 24/7 online chat system, but I was promptly told that I would need to call the Comcast offices to change my service. Obviously, they want to talk with you live to try to convince you to keep your services or offer you some special promotion to maximize their services being used. I was told to call the 800 COMCAST number between the hours of 8a – 7p EST. So, I did so first thing the next day but kept getting a recorded message stating I needed to call during business hours (ugh). After repeated attempts, the office appeared to be open at 7am PST, afterwhich I was able to talk with a Comcast representative to downgrade my service.

The process actually went quite painlessly. I was very courteous to the Comcast representative, explaining I need to downgrade my account to only keep the Internet service to save on cost. He explained the different promotions and tried to help reduce the cost, but I ultimately told him my family doesn’t use Cable TV or the phone services very much and we still need to save on cost. So, he gladly made the change. In the end, it wasn’t as much of a hassle as I thought it would be after reading so many online postings about others trying to change their services with Comcast. I think the key was me being courteous and respectful on the phone, which never hurts when you want to have something go smoothly.

Side Note: I came across this posting by someone who wanted to downgrade their Comcast service to Internet-only. As you can see, the person who wrote this posting was extremely nasty and belligerent to the Comcast Representative via the online chat system when he tried to downgrade. In the end he states how horrible Comcast is, but in the chat conversation he posted he was the one who appeared horrible. The Comcast Rep’s responses were very professional while he was being a giant ass about it. Now, I may sound like I’m defending Comcast, but in reality you can read his posting and decide for yourself. Sugar goes a long way when you’re trying to get what you want!

So my Comcast service was changed to Internet-only for a price of $65 per month, with a $7 charge to rent their cable modem. I also pay an extra $10 per month to get “Blast!” feature which boosts my download speed to 50 Mbps (which is what I had previously). So my overall bill dropped from $245 to about $96 when I include the taxes and surcharges.

I did get an email from Comcast a few hours after the changes were made showing the new charges. So, everything was good. Except….

This morning I found another Comcast email in my inbox that showed different monthly charges than what I expected from previous day’s email confirmation. This new email shows I’m paying $129.90/mo for “High-Speed Internet” instead of the $65/mo that I was quoted yesterday. What’s with that?!! So I initiated an online chat with Comcast and the rep stated from her records it shows I have the expected $65/mo service, not the higher service. She suggested the system may still be updating with my recent changes, although I checked yesterday online and it showed Internet service-only with my account. I also checked my account online while I was on chat this morning, and it showed both Xfinity TV and Internet services active! So overnight, the Comcast system reactivated my Cable TV service and sent me a new email confirmation.

So at this point, I’m going to wait a few more days and check my online account again. Hopefully, Comcast’s system will have processed everything correctly and I’ll see the correct charges on my account, otherwise, I’ll be back on the online chat again trying to straighten it out.

TV Commercial Cutting…. I Give Up!

November 24, 2013

images-1In one of my recent past postings, I mentioned my efforts to reviving the TV Commercial cutting methods and techniques I’ve used in the past. After spending several days trying different options on my iMac, I’ve concluded that it’s a lost cause. Although I was finally able to get mencoder compiled and running correctly on my iMac (running the Mavericks OSX), it still didn’t seem to work properly at cutting out video segments. Also, the Comskip application that I used to identify commercial segments didn’t seem to work very well for my recently recorded TV shows with the EyeTV HD software and hardware.

I can only guess something changed in the EyeTV software where the video file recorded format is a bit off from what it was in the past. Such a slight change seems to be causing issues with the Comskip program identifying the commercial cut points. One thing that I did learn, is that the program called ffmpeg is what powers the mencoder software, and ffmpeg is much more efficient at cutting out video segments without having to transcode the video again.

But, from my previous posting you’ll see that I’m in the process of cutting off my Cable TV and going with Internet media streaming. So, I’ll soon be in a position where I won’t be recording shows anymore with my iMac system and watching what I want, when I want (on-demand)!

Roku Comments

November 24, 2013

imagesAfter using the Roku media streaming device for two days, I’d have to say I’m impressed at its ease of use and amount of available content. This is coming from someone who’s used an Apple TV device (similar media streaming) for the last year. Roku doesn’t actually provide Internet media services, but instead is a device where you can sign up to “channels” which do provide the media. For example, you can use Roku to access Netflix movies or Hulu Plus TV shows. In addition, there are several other channels available to stream movies and TV Shows as well as anything else you can think of. For example, weather information, current news, documentaries, music– the list seems endless.

I was using the Roku 3 model which I purchased from Costco for $95 US. The advantage for buying from Costco, is that you get a free HDMI cable, free copy of Angry Birds Space game for Roku, and a 1-month trial subscription for the Hulu Plus Channel.

Setting up Roku was a breeze, and I was online and adding channels within 15 minutes. Last night my son was watching several Disney videos, Arthur TV episodes, and a few other animated movies off Netflix. If you’re considering cutting the cable TV cord from your current cable/internet provider, I highly recommend checking out Roku.

Cable TV Cord Cutting…. Switching to Roku!

November 24, 2013

images-1I’m currently a Comcast subscriber signed up for the “Triple Play” plan, which gives me Cable Internet, TV, and Phone service. Over time this service has risen to a cost of $246 per month, so I’ve decided to investigate alternatives to reduce this monthly expense. I normally don’t watch much live TV shows, but I do use my EyeTV HD device connected to my Apple iMac to record cable TV shows. I just have a handful of shows that I record and watch, such as:

The Walking Dead
Hells on Wheels
Almost Human
Ask This Old House

I also occasionally record various movies that pop-up on the cable network schedule that I find interesting.  My wife has a more extensive list of shows she also records with her iMac, and my son usually watches cartoons on Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network to pass the time. But, $246/mo is really steep so I’ve decided to dump the Cable TV and Phone and only keep the Comcast Internet service. Unfortunately, Comcast is the only viable internet provider in my area so there’s not much competition in pricing available. But if I switch to an Internet-only service with 50 Mbps download speed, I believe I can reduce my monthly expense down to around $100 per month (including the city and state taxes and renting a cable modem).

So that saves me $146 per month which is a significant savings. But, what about access to the TV shows that my family watches? That’s where Roku comes in!

Roku is like a mini-computer system with an on screen menu system allowing you to stream various video content from the Internet to your TV screen. You need to connect Roku wirelessly (or wired) to an active Internet connection, then you can watch a multitude of shows from several free “channels”. The biggest difference from regular Network channels is that everything is “on-demand” so you don’t need to wait for a specific day or time to watch a particular show. You can stream any video content to your TV through Roku, at any time.

Roku advertises they have over 750 channels available, and after a weekend of exploring I do agree they have a tremendous amount of video content available. However, even with all the free stuff to watch you will probably still need to use some of the paid channels to get the most current TV shows and movies. For example, to watch the most current episode of my favorite shows I will need to subscribe to a channel called Hulu Plus for a price of $7.99/month. Hulu Plus is good for regular over-the-air network shows (like ABC, NBC, FOX, etc) but it isn’t good for cable channels such as AMC. For cable channels shows, you’ll need to pay $1.99 for each episode you want to watch from services like Vudu or MGo. This seems to be the standard method similar to what is offered through iTunes and the Google Play Store.

Now when I go down my specific list of shows, Hostages, Revolution, and Almost Human are all available under Hulu Plus for the $7.99/mo price. Ask This Old House is aired by PBS, which has a free channel on Roku also. So it’s the AMC shows like The Walking Dead and Hells on Wheels that will cost me $1.99 per episode to watch. So for these shows I can either pay the price to watch them this season, or wait until the season finishes and watch them for free on Netflix (another subscription service for $7.99/mo that I’m already signed up on and can view through Roku).

My wife is in a similar situation, where the majority of her shows are covered under the Hulu Plus service and a few of them are only available by the $1.99 charge. In the grand scheme of things, even if we pay the nominal charge a few times a month to watch a few selected paid shows we will still save a lot of money dumping the cable TV channels and going with Internet streaming services.

So, I think we’ve concluded that we can get by with our home entertainment by cutting the cord from Cable TV and going with the Roku system. My next battle will be with Comcast when I actually change my service to Internet-Only, since I know they will be trying hard to keep me as a Cable TV subscriber and keeping their monthly charges as high as possible!

Commercical Skipping: Round 3

November 10, 2013

tv_setSomeone recently responded to a previous posting asking some questions regarding identifying commercials in TV recordings and cutting them out on a Apple Mac system. So, I dived in and try to come up with the necessary software and procedures to doing so. Unfortunately, I’ve seemed to run into a few snags and can’t get it to work. Here’s what I found out so far:

In the past, I’ve used the following software to do my bidding:

  1. Comskip – A Windows DOS program that scans through a MPEG2 video file and identifies the cut points for the commercial segments.
  2. Mencoder – A Windows/Mac OSX program that can take the commercial cut points from Comskip and cut out the commerical segments, creating a new video file with no commercials.
  3. Handbrake – A Windows/Mac OSX program that can convert your new video file into any format you want (Optional).

These are the three programs that I have used in the past to do my video commercial cutting. Because Comskip is a Windows DOS program, I have to use a program called Wine which allows me to run this DOS program on my Mac OS system.

Below are the steps I followed to get these programs installed on my iMac system:

1) Download and install XQuartz on your Mac OSX machine from this link:


If you’re running the new Mavericks OS update, make sure you install XQuartz version 2.7.5 rc4.

2) Install “Brew” on your Mac OSX machine. Installing Brew will make it so much easier to download and install other software packages. Go to this web site and follow the instructions:


This site will discuss how to install Brew, and also the Wine software for running Windows exe files.

3) Install “Wine” using the instructions from the link in step (2).

4) Get the latest version of Comskip from this site:


If your video recordings are HD, you’ll need to get the “Donor” version of Comskip. This means you’ll need to click the “Donate” button and pay a nominal fee to have access the the enhanced version of Comskip (which should be faster, also than the standard version).

Read the rest of this entry »

More Windows Phone 8 Thoughts

November 3, 2013

imagesLast night I spent a few hours lying on the couch playing around with my recently purchased Nokia 520 smartphone. This is a low-cost device running the Windows Phone 8 (WP8) operating system, and I was using it in WiFi mode (since I don’t have a cellular plan for it). I purchase it to check out the WP8 OS and make a decision whether I want to port some of my apps over to that platform.

The 520 was really snappy as I used it, jumping from app to app with very little delay. I brought up the CNN and USA Today apps and read several news articles. I checked my Outlook email, and looked over my calendar events for the upcoming week. I ran the Weather Channel app to check the weather for tomorrow, and played around with the Nokia Maps app to see what new restaurants may have opened up around my neighborhood.

One of my favorite sites is wpcentral.com (which exclusively discusses WP8) and I ran their app on my 520 to read some forum postings. I have to admit that the WP8 version of wpcentral’s app doesn’t seem to work as well as the Android version (strangely ironic).

I also spent some time running the “Nokia Trailers” app, which allowed me to play several upcoming movie trailers (everything worked smoothly with no glitches).

In working with my Nokia 520 I concluded that it is truly a very useable device for my basic needs. Hopefully, Microsoft will continue to develop and polish WP8 and make available new cool hardware to run it.

Aging iPads and Tablets

November 3, 2013

imgresMy son has been using my wife’s original first generation iPad for running games and watching Youtube videos, but this 1st gen iPad is showing its age since it cannot install certain games that require a gyro or front facing camera. As such, my wife suggested that she upgrade her iPad to the newest one and hand her current iPad 2 down to my son.

In a previous blog posting I talked about  AT&T excellent smartphone trade-in program which netted me $500 US by trading in some old used smartphones. I recently discovered this also works for tablets and iPads as well. When I checked how much a used 1st gen iPad would fetch, AT&T’s trade-in site gave a value of almost $200 US. That’s actually pretty good for an iPad that’s been around for a while. I also checked a pristine Blackberry Playbook tablet that I got free as a developer and it was only worth $10. My 1st gen Kindle Fire tablet also had a similar value of $12. Such a big contrast in value between the iPad and lower cost Android powered tablets.

AT&T also is offering $100 US if you sign up for a 2-year agreement for cellular data for Tablets, so I probably will do that to help defray the cost of a new iPad for my wife. Gotta love those trade-in programs, since it’s much less hassle trading your old devices than try to sell the on ebay or other used devices site.

Number of Apps – Really That Important?

November 2, 2013

images-1It seems the measure of how good a smartphone OS is, is tied to the number of available apps for that system. The Apple iPhone is considered the best smartphone because it has the most apps in its app store. Android follows behind with its massive number of apps, and in far third place is the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 with its small number of apps. But, does having say 1 million available apps make one smartphone OS better than another that only has 200,000 available apps?

In my opinion, no. It’s not the quantity of apps but the quality and depth that is important. If I have a smartphone that has all of the apps I need, then I should be content. Case in point, I don’t care about Facebook or Twitter, or any other social media apps. What’s important to me is a good news app, something for podcasts, email, and web browsing. I also want a good notification system so I don’t miss appointments, emails, or if my wife sends me a text message. So if I can satisfy my app needs, then I’m good with that particular smartphone OS.

In Microsoft’s case, I’ve found that WP8 has a good deal of solid standard apps available. They have Evernote, CNN, USA Today which I use on a daily basis. I also found a good podcast app, as well as the Weather Channel app. What’s also nice, is that Nokia offers numerous good quality apps with their WP8 smartphones. Apps such as Nokia Music, Mapping and Navigation apps, as well as an assortment of photo editing apps. Understandably, my app requirement may be different than your’s, but it does show to me that you can’t judge a smartphone OS by strictly the number of available apps.


Developing Apps for Windows Phone 8

November 2, 2013

imagesI decided to check out what it would take to begin writing apps for the WIndows Phone 8 smartphones, and here’s what I found:

  1. You need to have a desktop machine running the Windows 8 Pro 64-bit OS. The “Pro” version is required if you want to use the WP8 emulator for testing your app.
  2. To use the WP8 emulator, your desktop machine must have a CPU and motherboard (and BIOS) that can use “Hyper-V” or virtualization. If it can’t, then you can’t use the WP8 emulator for testing your app.

In my opinion, these are pretty heavy requirements for developing WP8 apps. First, you need to have the “Pro” version of WIndows 8 on your desktop machine which I don’t think most people have. Most new desktop and laptops seem to be shipping with Windows 8 Basic from what I’ve seen. Also, to run the emulator you need a machine that can do virtualization, which limits you to Intel i3/i5/i7 CPUs and some specific AMD CPUs. Even if your computer has one of these chips, the motherboard needs to support virtualization as well as the BIOS (which most laptops can’t do).

These requirements really restrict people from creating WP8 apps if they don’t have the required hardware and OS. It particularly affects me, since my main computer system is an Apple iMac desktop computer.

In contrast to writing Android apps, you can do so on a Windows machine, Apple Mac, or Linux machine. There are no special hardware requirements that I know of. So, why make it so hard for developers to switch to WP8?

In my case, I would need to purchase a copy of Windows 8 Pro, and either install it as a 2nd OS on my iMac (via Bootcamp), or try to run it in a virtual emulator (like VMWare Fusion, which I would have to purchase). Or, buy a laptop or cheap desktop system that had the necessary hardware requirements. This slowly becomes a big investment, which I’m not sure I want to do at this time.

Windows Phone 8: A Contender Now?

November 2, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 4.32.45 PMIf you visit your local AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint store, you’ll see that most customers are hovering around the iPhones or Android Phones, or maybe around the iPads and Android tablets. What you don’t usually see, are people hanging around the Windows Phone displays at these stores. That’s because for the longest time Windows Phone 8 (WP8) smartphones were thought of as inferior phones. They were usually the bulkiest, shortest battery power, heavy, and just down right non-appealing. But WP8’s have come a very long way with Nokia building and releasing some nice hardware. So, is WP8 ready to compete with iPhones and Android phones?

I decided to revisit writing apps for WP8 devices again, since I’ve been reading of the renewed enthusiasm in several tech blogs. So I started my investigation by reading forum postings at wpcentral.com, as well as other independent web sites. I also purchased a Nokia 520 smartphone for $90 US off-contract from AT&T to check out the WP8 OS first hand.

I also visited my local Microsoft Store to check out the various WP8 smartphones available. While there, I also examined the new Windows 8 touchscreen laptops. So, here’s my assessment after researching the current state-of-affairs for WP8.

So for some positives, it seems that Nokia has released some very nice hardware for the WP8 phones, and I was suitably impressed.  The WP8 OS runs very snappy on the WP8 hardware (even on my low-end Nokia 520). I was able to jump from app to app with virtually little delay. I swiped from one screen to another very smoothly and quickly. If you haven’t seen WP8 in action, the UI has a lot of “fly away” elements when you go to different screens or start up/close apps. This can seem cool at first, but then it became a bit jarring to me coming from an Android phone. But, after a while the visual animations started to grow on me. The OS in general is very nice and fluid, and for some apps very colorful and appealing. But in other cases (like the settings screens) the apps can also seem very plain jane compared to iOS and Android.

For some negatives, I found the lack of a notification center screen bothersome. On my Android device, I can swipe down from the top of my home screen and check my pending notifications. On WP8, you don’t have such a feature. Also, there are no quick toggle switches available that you can quickly turn on/off things like WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. You are forced to go to the main settings screen and drill down to the desired option to change it. Having the ability to lock the screen from auto rotating is also missing from the current release of WP8 (although it should be available in 2014 when the next update is scheduled to be released). These are some examples of small things that Microsoft needs to fix quickly for WP8 to make it a full fledged contender to compete against iOS and Android.

So in general, I felt that the WP8 OS is very usable but still needs some polishing. There’s the issue of WP8 integrating with the Google/iOS/Microsoft online ecosystem, and the smaller number of available apps when compared to iOS and Android (which I’ll discuss later in another posting). I personally won’t switch from my HTC One Android phone to a WP8 phone just yet, but I might at some point in the near future if Microsoft  picks up the pace and continues to improve WP8.