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Entries in Tech (2)


We've Cut the Cord

For quite some time, we've been paying US$194 per month to the local cable company for TV and Internet services. It's the same exact amount each month (to be precise, it's been $193.92. We also have an Amazon Prime membership which includes some video streaming, but I don't include that in the total, since we'd signed up with Prime early on - before they included any media. And we subscribe to Netflix, so that adds $10.69 (including tax) to the monthly bill. So our total for connection and content has been $204.61.

That is WAY too much! I've loosely explored cord-cutting (dropping Cable TV) in the past, but I finally decided that we needed to get this expense reduced appreciably.

Many friends and family shared ideas and experiences, and the Internet provided far too many choices regarding just how one might do this.

Our requirements:

  • Be able to watch local broadcast channels - the local affiliates of the big networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS)

  • Be able to record shows from those channels

  • Be able to watch English Premier football (soccer)

  • Have access to a number of cable channels that we enjoy (e.g., HGTV, DIY, Comedy Central, Travel Channel, etc)

  • Ideally be able to record some of the streaming content from those cable channels

  • Access to HBO

  • Fairly easy to use. For us, this means some type of system where I can write up a little cheat sheet - a card I'd print about the size of an index card - to indicate how to watch or record which type of content


I'm not going to list everything we researched. A quick web search will give you more than you probably have time to read. For us, the system we've implemented is comprised of the following pieces:

The above are one-time purchases. Monthly costs are:

  • Broadband Internet service - 100Mbps, with wifi. ($64)
    Once I configure our own wifi I'll drop that little bit of the service, and the rate will be $60/month

  • DirecTVNow - 100 channels plus HBO ($43 - including tax)
    This is the various cable channels we like, including the NBC channels that show English Premier League. As a bonus for us - since AT&T is our mobile service provider - we can stream any of the content on our phones for zero data charge.

  • Netflix ($10.69)

So the bottom line:

  • We were paying $206.61 per month

  • We'll now pay $113.69 per month (soon as I configure our own wifi)

  • SAVINGS: $92.92 per month. That's not quite my dream of saving $100/month, but pretty dang close!

The one-time purchases total at $440. WIth monthly savings of $92, that means that in just under 5 months, the savings will have covered the cost of the new bits, and thereafter we save $92 per month.

Additional details:

  • The HD antenna is mounted in a window in an upstairs bedroom (we live in an attached home - 8 townhomes per building. The bedroom that we use as a fitness room had the best reception). This antenna brings in High Definition broadcasts from the local network affiliates. I drilled a hole through the exterior wood-frame wall of the bedroom upstairs, bored a hole through the masonry wall downstairs, and then routed a coax cable from inside the bedroom, out the wall, along the ceiling, down the exterior wall, and into the living area to hook to the TV. I already had the tools to put the ends on a coax cable, the hammer drill to bore through the stucco and cement block, various caulk and fasteners, etc. If one did not have those tools, it would have been a very challenging task.

  • PlayOn TV was a one-time lifetime license. The software is Windows only, and requires a PC with a quad processor and enough disk space to store recordings. My main PC has a peppy CPU, 32GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive internal, and multiple external, so that's no worries. I've set up a few shows to record automatically (Big Bang Theory, Daily Show with Trevor Noah, etc), and that works quite well. We can manage the recordings from an app on our Android phones (I assume they have iOS apps as well), and can stream to the TV via Chromecast (we already had the Chromecast)

  • TiVo has multiple models, and multiple competitors. The Roamio works with the HD antenna, also works similar to a Roku for managing streamed content from Amazon, Netflix, etc), and the $350 price we paid include lifetime TiVo guide subscription, so it is truly a one-time payment.

  • DirecTVNow can be accessed on PC, Tablet, or phone. It does not work on our Chromebooks, and I've complained to them about that. It's $35 for 100 channels. HBO is $5/month (as is Showtime if one wanted that). This is an introductory offer, since the streaming version of the product has not been around more than a couple of months; "full" price will be $60 I believe. They say that those who sign on for the intro deal will keep the lower pricing. They also say that they'll have Roku compatibility very soon; that'd be nice, as we currently stream via Chromecast, and direct ethernet connection from router to Roku and then HDMI to TV would be ideal. And they're supposed to offer a DVR feature sometime in 2017 -- which I interpret to mean by 31st Dec 2017 :)

The TiVo remote also controls TV power, and allows us to control the volume (via our Yamaha amplifier). But we do still need to use the Yamaha remote to switch among HDMI feeds (TiVo, Chromecast, Roku, DVD player). It's not absolutely ideal but still pretty easy.

In our case, we typically only watch TV in the main room. We don't have a TV In the bedroom, and the TV in the "Dungeon" (the upstairs exercise room) is used mainly to play workout DVDs. But I will hook up another Chromecast to that one so that I can watch football (soccer) matches whilst running on the treadmill. Others will have different needs, their own preferred solution, their own budget. But at present, I am extremely happy to have made the decision and cut the cord!

That white rectangle in the top left of the window is the HD antenna. I do still need to fasten the antenna cable to the window well and do a few other finishing bits.

 The box on the bottom right with the green light is the TiVo Roamio.

Here's the antenna cable (coax extension) out the upstairs wall and along the roof...


And now ...time to pour a beverage and kick back :)



In search of the perfect smartwatch

Oh, and I'm possibly getting back to blogging :)

I currently own and use several wrist-worn devices, including (left to right) 3 watches: a Pebble, a Mio Alpha, and a Polar -- and my Fitbit Flex:

This is rather ridiculous. The Pebble is my daily wear watch, as it displays the time, and offers notifications from various phone apps (caller id, text messages, Facebook, etc.). The Mio watch is a fantastic heart rate monitor for running and biking - but is terrible for weighlifting and HIIT workouts (Hi-Intensity Interval Training). So for non-running workouts, I have a chest strap heart monitor that works in conjunction with the Polar watch.

The Fitbit Flex is very simple; the "display" is just 5 dots. The more dots that display, the closer I am to my daily goal of 10,000 steps. And I love the vibrating alarm that will wake me without disturbing my wife. There's also quite a bit that I can track via a phone app (or web app). But even after the years that I've had the Fitbit, I still struggle to master just how to properly activate it to see my progress; it requires some magical sequence of just the right tap-tap-tapping - and perhaps burning some sage or something. I rely more on the phone app to view / manage Fitbit data and functions.

And so, even though each of these has value in its own right, I wonder if technology has yet reached the point where I can find my ideal watch / fitness band. My requirements (in particular order):

  • Android compatible. I am not at all an Apple fan, and will only consider something from Apple if it interfaces flawlessly with Android and does not require me to have any manner of Apple account or iTunes, etc.
  • Displays the time
  • Allows me to change the watchfaces at will. I prefer an analog clockface most often, but at night prefer a digital display
  • Backlight
  • Audible and vibrating notifications, with the ability to manage those the same as I do on the phone. For example, I'd want the morning alarm to be vibrating only. Most notifications, if active, should be silent and without vibration, but I'd want calls / texts from certain Contacts to be able to alert me with an audible tone and/or vibration
  • Step-tracker
  • Caller ID
  • Mic and speaker. Yes, I want the Dick Tracy watch phone :) And I want to be able to say, "OK Google, send a text to so-and-so", and speak my message
  • Reliable heart rate monitor for running, walking, resting, and HIIT workouts
  • Ability to view / manage data via phone app and via web app
  • Battery that lasts at least a day (if quick-charge is available), or a battery that needs only infrequent changing.
  • Water resistant. Water proof would be nice, but I mostly just want something that is sweat proof, and can handle being out in a Florida tropical rainstorm.

Nice to have would be GPS, compatibility with Runtastic, and some manner of social networking (I really like the Fitbit community features).

SO ... I'll be doing my own research of course, but I am eager to hear from others. Anyone have any rave reviews to share - or any horror stories?