2014 Superbowl Streamed for free online

February 1, 2014

Wow! Looks like football fans can watch the 2014 Superbowl for free online without the need of a cable TV subscription at Fox’s web site. You can either watch it from Fox’s web site (and mirror it to your Apple TV if you have a Mac), or watch it on your iPad with the Fox Sports app.

This is a great tip for all Cable TV Cord-Cutters.

All I can say is: Go Seahawks!


One Month with Roku (and no Cable TV!)

December 22, 2013

imagesIt’s been about one month now since I’ve cut the Cable TV cord and have been using a combination of Netflix/Hulu Plus service with the Roku 3 media streaming device. So far, it’s been pretty good and my family doesn’t miss having Cable TV. What I really like, is the headphone feature where you can plug in a set of headphones into the side of the wireless remote and listen to your show without disturbing anyone else in the room. For example, today I was watching the Smithsonian Channel and later AETV in my family room while my son was playing games on his iPad tablet.

Another thing that I like is that the remote is wireless, but not Infrared like your standard TV remotes. So, you don’t need to point the Roku remote at the Roku device to use it. Also, I use an Android Roku app which allows me to pick video content to be displayed on my TV, and I can also use this app in lieu of the Roku remote.

A nice thing about purchasing my Roku 3 from Costco, is that it was $10 below the retail price and included as a bonus a HDMI cable and a free copy of the online Angry Birds Game for the Roku. I’m definitely liking Roku and it’s available content, and not missing Cable TV and its high monthly cost!


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.


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
Hostages
Hells on Wheels
Revolution
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:

http://xquartz.macosforge.org/trac/wiki/X112.7.5

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:

http://www.davidbaumgold.com/tutorials/wine-mac/

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:

http://www.kaashoek.com/comskip/

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 »


Plex – A Fantastic Media Server

August 25, 2012

I’ve come across a cool free media server called Plex which manages and facilitates streaming my video files and music files to my connected devices. I remember looking at Plex a few years ago and didn’t think too much of it, but the version they have now is fantastic. Here’s some of it’s features:

  • Can automatically identify your videos by titles and will pull down poster art and episode/movie descriptions automatically from common database servers
  • Has many grouping options such as “Watched”, “On Deck”, etc.
  • Has the ability to stream video and music across a network (either internal LAN or external WAN) from your home PC, at different transmission speeds.
  • Will transcode videos on-the-fly when necessary based on the network connection speed to the client app.
  • Very easy to use interface on the server and client
  • Client apps available for Android, iOS, and PC devices
  • Media Server program available for Mac OSX, Windows, and Linux systems

I normally take my recorded TV shows (from EyeTV) which are stored on my iMac system and stream them to my Acer A500 Iconia Android Tablet or Google Nexus 7 Tablet in my house. I have been using the streaming capability of the ES Explorer Android app (which simply plays a selected video using its video player), but the Plex system is much more robust. It seems to work great, and what’s even more cool is that I can stream transcoded video to my Android Smartphone or Tablet while on travel from my home iMac even on a slower network connection. Pretty cool stuff. In addition, the Server Interface on my iMac looks great. Read the rest of this entry »


HBO Go

August 5, 2012

HBO has a video streaming service called HBO GO which allows current HBO subscribers with certain Cable providers to watch their content on-demand from the Internet. Yesterday, I realized that I am an HBO subscriber with Comcast through a special Cable-TV-Internet package deal I have with my home service. So, I decided to give HBO GO a try.

First, the service is on-demand so you can watch HBO shows whenever you want. They don’t have everything available that they show on their regular schedule, but they do have a lot of content. For example, they have most of their own HBO Series available (old and new stuff), as well as lots of different movies and popular shows. Also, you can watch these programs either on a PC or Laptop via a Web Browser or on a portable device like an Android phone or tablet (I haven’t tried on the Apple devices, but I’m sure they have it also).

The interface is actually pretty easy to use, and the videos I watched stream well if you have a fast Internet connection. I haven’t tried to stream a video to my Android smartphone using a cellular connection, but I imagine it may stutter a bit depending on the actual cellular signal. In any case, this is a great way to watch a movie or show on your iPad or Tablet at home or on the road (with a WiFi Connection) if you’re an HBO subscriber.


Can’t Remove the Commercials!!!!

July 29, 2012

If you search for “comskip” among my older postings, you’ll see that at one time I had developed a procedure for identifying and cutting out commercials from my video recordings. I used an application called Comskip (which is a Windows app so I ran it using the Wine cross-platform emulator) for identifying commercials in a video, ffmpeg and mencoder for video data manipulation and cutting. Unfortunately, with the upgrade in my video recording software (EyeTV3) these scripts and procedures no longer work.

I’ve spent hours and long evenings trying to develop a new method, but I’ve hit a big roadblock. I can still use Comskip to identify the commercial time points in a video file, but I have no way of automatically editing the video to remove the commercial segments. In the past, I used mencoder to do the video cutting in batch mode, but now it just won’t work with the MPEG-2 file that is created by the recording software. I tried extracting the video from the original MPEG-2 file first and using that in mencoder, but no dice. I can remove the commercials  manually using the EyeTV3 software, but I want an automated procedure that just does it for me.

Unfortunately, other video processing programs such as ffmeg and Handbrake can’t cut out the commercials from a video file as effectively as how mencoder did it. So, I’m stuck now with lots of commercials that I have to manually skip by. It’s not a super big deal, but when you’re use to watching a show with no commericals, it’s hard to go back!

So if anyone reading this blog posting has any ideas or suggestions, please let me know! 🙂

Updated (12 Aug 2012): Ok, I finally figured out how to do this. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, but the following Unix command on my iMac system is what I use to identify the commercials in a EyeTV recorded raw mpeg-2 file then create a new mp4 file with the recordings stripped out:

export DISPLAY=:0.0; /usr/bin/nice -n 5 “/Library/Application Support/ETVComskip/Wine.app/Contents/Resources/bin/wine” “/Library/Application Support/ETVComskip/comskip/comskip.exe” –ini=”/Library/Application Support/ETVComskip/comskip/comskip.ini” /Users/dave/Documents/EyeTV\ Archive/Enemy\ of\ the\ State.eyetv/0000000015cdc458.mpg &> /dev/null; /bin/sleep 10; /usr/local/bin/mencoder /Users/dave/Music/iTunes/iTunes\ Media/Android\ Videos/Enemy\ of\ the\ State.mp4 -o /Users/dave/Music/iTunes/iTunes\ Media/Android\ Videos/Enemy\ of\ the\ State\ \(No\ Commercials\).mp4 -edl /Users/dave/Documents/EyeTV\ Archive/Enemy\ of\ the\ State.eyetv/0000000015cdc458.edl -ovc copy -oac faac -faacopts mpeg=4:object=2:raw:br=164 -srate 48000 -of lavf > /dev/null 2>&1 &

I basically use Comskip to identify the commercials in the original mpeg-2 video file, then use Mencoder to strip out the commercials from the converted video (which was created using HandbrakeCLI, converting the original mpeg-2 file to mp4 format) and create a new mp4 file. The trick, was getting the latest version of Mencoder downloaded, compiled, and installed on my iMac system.


Watching live TV on my iPhone 4

April 17, 2011

At home, I’ve got an EyeTV HD device connected to a Comcast digital cable box for recording TV shows on my iMac desktop computer. The system is entirely automated, where scheduled shows are recorded, commercial removed, and finally converted to iPhone format and placed in iTunes for syncing. This allows me to watch my favorite shows at my leisure, usually at night on the couch or in bed. A few weeks ago I was on a business trip and I forgot to schedule my EyeTV to record an episode of Stargate: Universe, and it was not playing on any local station in my hotel room. What was I suppose to do?

Luckily, I have an app on my iPhone that allows me to control the EyeTV HD software on my iMac at home and also watch live TV through it via the Internet. So, I decided to give it a try, even though the hotel’s WiFi connect speed was incredible slow and virtually unusable. So instead of trying to use WiFi, I decided to just use my cellular connection via Verizon to stream the Live TV from my iMac at home to my iPhone.

Surprisingly, the video stream worked great! I was able to watch my show with no pausing or dropping of the TV streaming image. On a few occasions the image got a bit grainy (heavy pixels), but for the most part it looked just like watching an mp4 video file on my iPhone.

If I do switch to an Android phone in the near future, this will be one thing that I’ll miss. I don’t use this feature a lot, but when I do it works great.


Stargate Universe – CANCELLED

December 31, 2010

Looks like the SyFy channel decided to pull the plug on the latest Stargate Universe series. The producers of this incarnation tried to change the format a bit by making it edgier and darker than the previous Stargate Series, but it was a really slow moving show and I think that coupled with franchise-fatigue really killed it. I watched it weekly because I’m a big SciFi fan and it had some interesting moments, however, with these types of franchise series you see repeating themes with the shows that does get old and tiresome.

Now, if MGM came out with some good Stargate DVD movies (either SG-1, Atlantis, or Universe) I would certainly purchase it. But for now, I think Stargate has suffered the same fate as Star Trek and needs some rest before MGM tries to conjure up a new Stargate series.