Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cutting the (Cable) Cord – The Final Chapter

There. I did it. I made the call to Verizon. Traded my Phone-Internet (25/25)-Television bundle to just Phone-Internet (15/5). Pulled out the cable box and digital converter. Flying solo now (eek! I feel a breeze). So my bill for the bundled services had been $30-$35-$60 plus boxes, fees and taxes. Now it'll just be $30-$50 plus fees and taxes. The lady explained that there was a $40 discount on the internet service with the original bundle (!) but I figure I can still live with $540 more in my pocket every year.

One of my biking buddies lent me his Roku XDS and I had it hooked up and running off my WiFi in about 2 minutes (thanks, Steve!).

*** Father, it has been at least a month since my last posting ***

I wanted to make you aware of the passage of time because it has given me the opportunity to fully vet my experience. Overall, it has been great. I receive about 20 HD stations in the range of very good to great signal quality. ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, and local stations. I record the shows in my kids 2nd floor study, edit them and either copy them directly to my laptop to play on my TV or copy to an external hard drive to attach to the laptop later. The files are big, about 5GB for a 43-minute show, so they won't copy onto my thumb drive. But boy, are they purty.

The Roku has also provided a third and a forth method but with caveats. They use what's called a private channel that you can subscribe to through the Roku. A programmer called NoWhereMan has created a channel that accesses the content from the EyeTV application (Nowhere DVR). It's a great idea. You can watch live HD TV through it or view your recorded shows. Only problem is that it requires re-encoding for the iPhone. What I mean is the channel uses the iPhone encoded version for streaming — you don't get the full HD version. Also, I found that even with this low-resolution version, playback stutters. This is odd since I get better streaming quality with the live TV option and it doesn't stutter.

Nowhereman also sports a USB channel (USB Media Browser). You simply plug in a USB thumb drive or external hard drive and it reads the files off and allows access — but only for files it supports. This would have been the solution for me, but it doesn't understand the .eyetv package format. So sad. Maybe a future update will take care of that. (On the newer Roku models, this is a built-in feature).

Lastly, content. I somewhat bemoan the loss of the SyFy and USA channels, where several of the shows I had been watching will now be harder to access legally, but Hulu may be able to fill the gap somewhat there and we also picked up Netflix streaming only option. With Netflix, $7.99/month buys all the video goodness you could want, as long as what you want is on there (I'm not knocking it, that's the way it is with all the services). If you are a season or more behind shows you like, this is a great way to catch up, watch other shows that you've never seen, or relax with an old favorite. And playback options? TV, iPad, Wii, PS3, XBox, Blu-ray player, computer, wow. Video looks great on the New iPad (dumbest name in the world). More on that later. My only complaint really is that if they re going to make a show available for streaming, make every episode available. Don't leave out a show here or there (only available on disc) and certainly don't leave out the pilot. Who ever heard of wanting to watch a show for the first time and skipping the pilot?

A note on internet service speed. Don't let Comcast and Verizon sucker you in to getting higher speed internet access. Speed is determined less by the provider than it is by the server on the other end that you are accessing. The fastest download speed I have ever encountered was through Steam, the online game store. And that was a little over 3MB/sec. So if you have even just a 5MB/sec. download speed, you're covered. The only reason you might want a little more than that would be if you had a lot of users in your family or wanted to have faster upload speeds.