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!

Advertisements

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. ┬áMy 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.