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iptv

My Cutting Cable TV guide

So if you’ve found this page you are probably interested in cutting the cable TV service but still having access to your favorite television programs.  You’re in luck, because with recent developments in the world of IPTV there is MORE to watch on the Internet than you could ever hope from your local television company.

This step-by-step guide should get you started. There are some things you can do without if you want, but this is some of the basics of cutting cable TV and saving quite a bit of money.

1) What kind of TV do you have?

Most importantly, what type of connections do you have on the back of your TV.  For most of you, you will find any/some of the following:

  1. HDMI (best and most common on TVs < 5 years old)
  2. DVI (good and common on TVs <10 years old without HDMI)
  3. Component (Red/White/Yellow/Green/Blue. Common on HD tv’s)
  4. RCA (Red/White/Yellow, common on TV’s before HD)
  5. S-Video (Yellow circular plug, somewhat common on TV’s before HD)
  6. Coaxial / SCART (Basically standard on all TV’s in the last 25 years).

An HDMI connector will look like this:


 

 

 

 

 

A DVI connector and cord will look like this:

 

dvi_d_socket 111dvi dvi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) What are you going to connect to the TV?

You have a wide range of devices you can connect to your TV.  First, and probably easiest, is an old computer that you might have lying around, such as a laptop you no longer need or a desktop. Find a place for it behind the television and connect it via the HDMI or DVI ports.

Other options include what are known as “streaming devices”. Apple TV is an example of a streaming device, as is the Roku and Western Digital Live devices. These connect to your home network and then to the net to bring you content from all over the world. I personally prefer a Mac Mini as it gives me more options for content to watch.

If you do opt for an old computer, you should consider buying a wireless keyboard and a mouse, or more preferably a trackpad. Why a trackpad? It looks better on your couch and it doesn’t get as thrown around / beat up as a mouse.

And as strange as it sounds, there is a great deal of content that is “over the air” for free. You should consider attaching an antenna to your TV to pull in a number of free signals from the major networks, PBS, and the independent channels in your area. Because cable companies compress the quality of the HD signal over their lines, you may found that HD over the air is actually clearer than what you were getting with cable.  To see what signals you can get over the air, check out the broadcasters Antenna Web site and input your details.

 3) What are you going to watch?

This is where it gets fun, and this is also where you start to make a change in your viewing habits.

With a standard TV, you can turn it on and just leave it running, flipping channels as you feel like it seeking out some content. But when you make the switch to Internet TV, you find yourself watching only “what you want to watch” rather than having television on as an ambient background noise. Sure you can put on a stream and have it run all day, but generally you’ll find yourself turning it on and off as needed.

You can start by getting some sort of media management program. You can use iTunes to download and rent movie and TV shows, or you can look into some other media management tools like Plex or the open source XBMC. You can also use your web browser and look through sites like:

  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Amazon Video
  • ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox
  • A&E, Discovery, History Channel, etc.

For live television, you can find streams on many of the websites for television stations, but you can also look at streaming specific apps like Livestation and LiveStream, but also sites like JustinTV and UStreamTV.

There are also what are known as peer-to-peer streaming apps, some of which have content that is not copyright safe but still stuff you would like to watch.  PPTV and Sopcast are examples of these programs.

4) Going International

There are literally dozens of channels from around the world that have streaming content available, such as the BBC iPlayer and the ABC (Australia) Player. However, many of these are geographically restricted to people who have an IP address in that country.

To get around this, you need a VPN or DNS redirection service. While there are a few you can find for free, if you really want higher quality, you should consider paying for a service like Overplay.net.  This gives you a VPN to over 65 countries and can open up a whole world of content no matter where you are living. For example here in Hong Kong I’m streaming BBC 1 ‘Breakfast’ as I type this article.

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 3.14.04 PM

 

 

Read more about my adventures with IPTV as a replacement for cable by searching here.

http://penguinsix.com/?s=iptv

Read about cutting cable and going fully online for your television.

 

Swedish Royal Wedding on SVT.se online comes to the rescue of hopeless romantics everywhere.

Normally, it doesn’t take much to get me to watch pretty much anything on the net involving Swedish women.

So things were a bit stretched last night when I found out this was a Swedish woman who was now off the market as she was getting married, but pretty much everything else on TV was worthless so we dove in headfirst to coverage of the Princess of Sweden’s wedding on SVT.se, the Swedish broadcaster.

SVT was pumping a very high quality stream out LIVE of the Royal Wedding, and though we had some buffering issues thanks to our subpar ISP, we managed to get through most of the wedding without too much hassle.

But for those who missed the wedding ceremony, you can go to the archives on SVT.se and find coverage of the arrival, first kiss, dance, cake, horses and Royal Yachts and all that.

SVT Royal Wedding Coverage.

Of course it is in Swedish so listening to it makes about as much sense as reading the product inventory of an Ikea, but you’ll get the general idea here and there.

3D TV or Die: Television’s last gasp gimmick to slow IPTV?

Are you really going to wear these?
Are you really going to wear these?

So everyone who went to Vegas came back talking about 3D televisions, and I guess I probably should as well.

The folks who saw 3D tv and who were awestruck basically fell into two categories:  gamers and sports fans.  The gamers were really excited about some of their favorite titles ending up in HD, and the sports fanatics were basically just a bunch of drooling jibbering idiots (according to Leo Laporte of Tech TV during one of his posts).  Oh yea, and porn too.  But we’re not going to go there.

But it might also be about keeping one step ahead of the streaming IPTV services.

Print never had a chance, music took solace (wrongfully) in the idea that mp3’s were of such an inferior quality that people wouldn’t give up CD’s for the sound, and radio went down a long dark road to HD nowhere thinking that was the solution to the problem (as they saw it).  TV moved up to HD quality a few years back, forcing everyone to buy a new television and forestalling, temporarily, the IPTV movement.  Just when bandwidth got to such a level to support some good quality streaming (such as Twit.tv) they raised the bar to a quality level that as some have said, once you have seen it is hard to go back to standard digital.

But now HD streaming is becoming more and more popular.  Hulu is offering HD streams of TV programs, Youtube is as well.  There are TV programs such as FILMON that allows HD streaming of content that is pretty impressive for live quality.

Perhaps this whole 3D thing is just another attempt to push the bar a bit higher–to differentiate IPTV from 3DHD.  Make it harder for the computer folks to keep up with what the television networks are offering, and you are able to stay in business a few more years as an over the air / cable broadcaster.  Stay alive until the new new thing is out, or until TV figures out streaming in such a way as they can make a decent profit from it and avoid the piracy concerns they have.

Or maybe it is just a gimmick.

As for me, no way I’m buying a 3D TV for at least a few product cycles (i.e. until they get a standard, and work out the kinks).

Increase size of subtitles in BBC iPlayer

bbciplayer01Random tip of the day.

One of the odd things I’ve noticed with the BBC’s iPlayer downloader is that when you play back videos in full screen, the font size of the subtitles can be ridiculously small.  I looked through the settings trying to find a solution, but there didn’t appear to be on easy way to do it.  I then stumbled across an easy solution.

Switch from fullscreen to the smaller window’d viewer.  Then grab the bottom right little corner and shrink the box even further, to the smallest size as possible.  Suddenly the subtitles will be quite large.  Then hit the fullscreen button.  Viola, you’ll have large subtitles on your playback.

Go figure.

China’s CCTV iPhone application review: an embarrassment to American television networks.

China’s CCTV has just released a new iPhone application that really blows away most other TV iPhone applications that I’ve seen.  Of course, there is this caveat–it’s all in Chinese, and pretty much not worth much to those who don’t speak Mandarin (with the exception of sports content), but the application is chock a block full of content from all of the CCTV networks, providing catch up of TV series, news clips, etc.  It’s amazing that so much content can be made available online, and should serve as a bit of a template for American television networks seeking to release mobile applications.  Of course in a country in which IP rights are more of an afterthought rather than the first thought, you can develop the cool applications first and worry about the rights issues later.

cctv2cctv1

Watch France 24 on your computer with a desktop widget

picture-1When it comes to IPTV, the US has Hulu, and the rest of the world has the really cool stuff.

France 24, the France’s government-funded answer to CNN (and in English too)  has been doing some cutting edge stuff like being one of the first ‘live streaming’ applications for the iPhone.  Now they have a desktop widget that will put France 24 on your desktop with relative ease.  Just click to get the widget and turn your PC into a tv (albeit with only one channel)

Living without Cable TV–Month 2 observations

 

Doctor Who live and direct from London via the net.
Doctor Who live and direct from London via the Slingbox in my UK office.

Wow, it’s been over two months since I made the decision to cut the Comcast cable to the house and just live in an IPTV and ‘Over the Air’ world.  I hooked up Mac Mini’s to each of the TVs (god I wish Apple would really delve into the market of guys who have Mini’s on their TVs instead of the comparatively crippled Apple TV).  I also have an EyeTV attached to one of the Mini’s which is providing me with TIVO like functionality for those channels I get over the air.  

 

How has it been?  I haven’t even noticed the difference.

Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, but seriously, I have not missed much.  I have the basic TV and some over the air TV from an antenna.  This is giving me the networks (though not in HD) and some PBS stations.  From Livestation and TVUPlayer I’m getting some live stations, and even some sports (watching cricket the other day–ha).  By far the biggest loss has been CNBC which is not part of the basic package and was nice background noise during the day.  But for news I’m getting by with a wide variety of options, from France24 and AlJazeera English service online, to my link up with the BBC (which is kind of tricky).  

My biggest expense monthly was movies, but between Redbox and Netflix (now streaming live to the TV) I’ve got more content than I know what to do with.  I initially resisted the Netflix, feeling that with shipping times and whatnot I wouldn’t be able to watch more than $9 worth of movies a month vs. the Redbox ($1 or free, if you had a code).  Well that’s not the case.  Netflix has a facility within the 1-day mail delivery to DC so I get films basically overnight from Netflix, and with the streaming option I get a whole catalog of movies (though most are generally B-grade movies, there are a few gems inside).  

I have one negative–too much content.  I mean, I don’t have time to watch everything I would like to watch.  Between podcasts downloaded and shows TIVO’d and movies I can watch on Netflix, I never want for something to watch.  Seriously–there is more than I can handle.

The big test will be football season.  We’ll see how far net streaming of college football has come.

Thus far, I’ve saved over $300 in two months on cable TV and haven’t looked back.  I’ve actually received quite a bit of fan mail from others who have done the same.

If you are looking to do the same, this would be the setup I would recommend:

  • Mac Mini (the entry level is fine, you may want to add more memory but your call)
  • EyeTV Hybrid (this connects the cable from your antenna or ‘lifeline’ service to the Mac’s USB)
  • A DVI cable or a DVI-HDMI cable and convertor to connect to your TV
  • A Bluetooth Mouse & Keyboard (honestly, it’s so much easier than using the remote)

Al Jazeera English now over the air in the USA

aje
Doha Calling, Doha Calling

Al Jazeera’s English service is very slick, very professional, and if you want, very biased (depending on who you talk to).  But for most Americans without FTA dishes or access to some IPTV programs, they never had an opportunity to judge for themselves.  Until now.

MHZ Networks, a non-profit in DC that rebroadcasts nearly 10 foreign news services is adding Al Jazeera English service to their lineup, so says the Washington Post.  MHZ currently offers Russia Today, France 24 and Euronews to name a few, but AJE will certainly be  a eye-catching event.  

I’ve watched AJE sporadically over the last few years on the FTA dish and later on Livestation and other tv players.  It’s not my first choice for news (it is heavily focused on the Middle East, no surprise) but it isn’t bad nor is it as biased and opinionated as the more famous network Al Jazeera, called the Bin Laden channel by many of its critics.

Anyway, Comcast and Verizon Fios should see the new channel soon.  No idea when we’ll get it out here in the sticks (and since I don’t have cable I probably never will figure it out).  Still worth checking if you want to hear a different slant on thing.

A week without cable

Well, I survived, more of less.

When I was in Hong Kong, there were basically only a few channels of English programming. BBC World, CNN International, DW (English and German), the English Premier League soccer channel and ATV, which showed reruns of 24 and a few other tv shows. In fact, while I was over there I started watching the ‘Drew Carey’ show simply because it was on (and later, because it actually was quite funny at times).

That last little bit is kind of funny. After the cable was ‘cut’ the TV turned to static. I then connected the wires and whatnot and ran the auto-tune on the TV to find the channels. When it has finished it stopped on the ‘ION’ Channel which is a DC-based repeat channel, and believe it or not the opening credits for the Drew Carey Show were playing on the TV. Talk about a weird flashback.

It hasn’t actually been total, as we’ve been able to get some digital feeds from over the air and through other means, so TV hasn’t been totally ‘gone’. But on those few occasions when I flip on the TV (which now runs through the computer, btw, rather than through the TV tuner) I’ve pretty quickly been able to ascertain ‘there is nothing on worth watching at this moment’ pretty quickly. I’m sure I probably could have seen Notre Dame’s horrible loss in hockey last night, or a better movie than the one I watched last night had I still had all the movie channels and the on demand library, but I don’t think I’ve missed all that much.

I’ve been doing a lot of TIVO’ing off of the over the air signals and integrating with Boxee, Hulu and Front Row on the Mac. There is a pretty cool media interface set up now where we can flip between all the content we’ve recorded and even more that is online (note to apple: Boxee will kill you unless you expand Front Row to include online content). We’ve grabbed a large number of Thomas the Tank Engines (to replace the ‘on demand’ feature we had before) and also a couple of MI-5 episodes and Mystery, a show we like to watch when relaxing. We’ve watched two DVDs this week and, perhaps thankfully, I spent two nights going to bed about 8 pm with the kids (so that I could be more functional at 5 am when they awoke looking for their trains).

One week down, many many more to go.

Slingplayer for iPhone

From the about fricking time department, word has come from the TUAW that the much anticipated Slingplayer application for the iPhone has been submitted for approval with the overlords at Apple HQ. Slingplayer is a tool of many an expat used to ’sling’ back television content from a central location (i.e. their parent’s house) to their current assignment overseas. It’s also used by people in offices, geeks in college, and plenty of other folks who need to move their video content from one place to another (myself included).

When the iPhone first came out, we heard rumors that Sling would do an application, but that was off/on/only if jailbroken/on/off/on again, or something to that effect. There are already several other live TV apps for the iPhone that are out, but few that will have the functionality as basically getting your cable TV on your iPhone.

And this is the week I got rid of cable in the house. I think the Slingplayer is still in a pile of cables behind where the Comcast box once stood. Guess I have to rewire things.

Comcast has left the building

Well we had a bit of a grace period while they worked out just exactly how to disconnect things, but just a few moments ago the remnants of the CNBC feed disappeared into static. It’s kind of like a power failure–there is no more cable in the house.

We got by pretty well last night. We sat down and booted up Hulu to watch the NBC Show ‘Kings’ (which we actually kind of liked). Tonight it is Quantam of Silence — the first James Bond I haven’t seen in a theater since I was an infant (because we had a newly arrived infant that prevented me from getting out to the cinema). Tomorrow may be a better test when I’ll be relying on IPTV in total to keep abreast of the news.

The BBC is coming in pretty well. Here’s a picture of last nights 6:00 news streamed live into the house.

No more Comcast cable as of today.

I dropped off the Cable Boxes this morning. It’s been a long friendship between me and that lovely pice of coaxial, but I realized if I’m truly going to get a taste of what else is out there, I’ve got to eliminate the ‘easy’ way of watching TV–flipping on the cable–and try the new new thing of IPTV.

It’s actually not going to be that tough, when you get down to brass tacks. I took a look at the list of channels that I have and separated the list into ‘Never Watched’, ‘Rarely Watched’ and ‘Watched Regularly’. The findings were somewhat interesting:

Of the 229 Channels, there are:

56 regularly watched channels, of which 30 were movie channels.

28 rarely watched channels, such as only when the Tour de France was on, or one specific show.

127 NEVER watched channels. I never ever switched over to these channels in the five years of having cable.

So my bill was $152 for 56 regularly watched channels, the majority of which were movie channels. I’ve already got a substitute for movies (Netflix, Redbox, Hulu and Joost) and the other main substitute, news, is being replaced by some online options, including adding the BBC 1-4 to my computer.

The hole where Comcast once was

The hole where Comcast once was

Because I was going to cut my TV service, I would lose the ‘discount’ on my Internet. The discount was $17, and Comcast basic analog service (over the air channels) is $18, so I just went ahead and said ‘give me the channels anyway’. I still will pursue an HDTV antenna to see if over the air HD is possible out here in the boonies.

So now the real test starts more or less tomorrow (it takes a day to cut off service and I’m sitting here drinking up the last few moments of live CNBC as the market rallies). The upstairs TV is now neutered as I haven’t got the new computer set up upstairs (I need to fish the Ethernet cable through 3 floors of the house, something the wife isn’t really keen on my doing just now). But we haven’t watched the TV upstairs in about a week or so anyway so we should survive.

How to live without Cable TV and migrate fully to IPTV

So I’ve decided to do it.

A news junkie cutting the cable and going without the joy that little coaxial brings into my home.

But fear not, I’ve made alternate arrangements for my ‘tv’ viewing.

Here we go:

Hardware:

I have a Mac Mini in the garage that currently serves as a ‘development’ server for my websites. It’s coming out of the garage and will be connected via DVI cable to the TV in the house. The Mini is great for this as it has a very low electricity usage footprint, something like 30w or so. I may end up boosting the memory to 4gb if playback suffers, but we’ll see. I will likely reduce the image quality on the display to 780pixels or so, which is still pretty good but nothing like HDTV. Reducing the resolution means those small streams that show up as a tiny ‘box’ on my computer display will be somewhat larger and more lifelike on the big screen.

I have a ‘big dish’ outside that gives me access primarily to foreign television over the Ku band. This FTA ‘free to air’ system brings in 1000 channels or so, but most are not in English and it’s not like the stuff you see on your regular television. I also have an eyetv attached to the Mini for recording purposes. I’ll be able to record ‘over the air’ content that comes down, which should include the big networks and PBS.

Movies:

Joost, Hulu, Redbox, and Netflix are all in consideration. Of course most of the movies on the first two I’ve seen before (and don’t really need to see again) but Redbox ($1 a night movies) and Netflix ($9 a month) are offering up first run movies. If I get Netflix streaming working I’ll have a bunch of other content as well.

Shows & Software

Hulu is best for this. I’ll be watching a great deal through Hulu I suspect. Boxee will also come into play for some playback, mainly the podcasts I like to watch. I’ll be using the Boxee iphone remote for much of this, and the Mac Mini has a remote as well I can use.

Live content

I will be using Livestation for many of my live TV programs. This will give me some news channels to watch and occasionally some other content. I also will be utilizing a number of streaming websites that have video content. As I have a computer in the UK I’ll also be able to watch some content from the BBC, which should help feed the ‘news junkie’ monkey on my back.

HDTV

Really, there is not much of a substitute for this. But given the fact that Comcast seems to be degrading the quality of HDTV, I’ve started to notice the channels that once made my jaw drop are now looking little better than standard digital channels. If I throw an antenna up on the roof I may be able to pick up some HDTV over the air, but just like the switch from ‘full quality CD sound’ to ‘MP3′ I’m not entirely sure I’m going to miss HD content right off the bat. (I may consider a PS3 or something else with a Blue Ray so I can watch some HD stuff now and then.

Cultural change

By far the biggest problem is going to be the lack of ‘ambient’ television. For me to watch anything is going to require that I ’seek out’ a channel or programming and call it up through a variety of means listed above. It’s not going to be an idiot box that you just flip on and have the content there. It’s going to require a more active solution to find programming.

That might not be a bad thing. Everyone has at one time or another ‘watched something just because it was on’. I think that will be eliminated in my new IPTV world.

So the countdown has begun. IPTV only in this house starting next Monday. $152 in savings per month starting next Monday. We’ll have to see how much time we save once we start to use it.

Cutting Cable TV to save money (and time)?

When I first set up my home office, I made sure that the desk was turned in such a way that I could watch the big tv that was in the adjacent living room. If something was interesting and I wanted to watch, I could just look to the side of the monitor and see what was playing. But recently, as part of a furniture rearranging, I started to think about how much TV I actually watch, and what ‘type’ of programming that is.

Basically, my TV watching breaks down into these categories:

  • Live. News and sports. I catch CNN and CNBC during the day, and watch college football and soccer programs from around the world, though not with the religious fervor I once did.
  • Programs. We watch very few programs. Battlestar Galactica (ending next week) and 30 Rock (though usually on Hulu).
  • Movies. I love movies. I have three movie channel packages (HBO, Cinemax and Starz) which not only gives me some great films now and then but also access to the On Demand library (which we probably use more often than making time for shows).
  • Ambient. Sometimes I just have the TV on to add noise. I watch CurrentTV and whatever movie happens to be playing. The other night I actually watched a full episode of CSI, just for the heck of it.

Cutting the cable will do away with ambient TV watching. I won’t just go to the TV to ’see what is on’ or to have background noise. That can be somewhat replaced by Internet programming and our FTA satellite (though that is a very limited selection). Live programming, such as sports and news, will also be drastically affected. I can get CNN online, sometimes, but CNBC does not appear to be online with any live regularity, unless I want to watch CNBC India. Sports will also take a hit, though that can be ‘dealt with’ via a wide variety of ‘grey area’ websites that allow you to stream live football over the Internet.

Programs and movies are two that can be easily replaced by the Internet. I think we can use Hulu and Boxee for the network shows, and I’m considering getting a Netflix account that will not only send us first run DVDs but also allow some streaming content to come into the house.

We will likely lose the ‘HD picture’ quality that we’ve become accustom to, but to be honest, with our TV now nearly 7 years old and with Comcast degrading their HD signal more and more, it’s not as awe-inspiring as it once was. Maybe I’ve gotten used to the HD picture or maybe it’s not there anymore. With a PS3 or some other Blue-ray solution we’ll still get some HD content in the house from time to time (but I should probably get a new TV).

So with the above factors, I’m considering the switch to be basically a ‘wash’. I’ll lose some features I currently have but replace a few features with free substitutes via the Internet.

So what’s the financial upside: Pretty interesting.

Our current cable bill is $152 per month (Internet is a extra and we will not drop that).

This includes:

  • $60 Basic Service
  • $20.90 Digital Plus
  • $5 Digital Sports
  • $15.95 HDTV
  • $34 for Movie Channels
  • $7.50 for HD boxes.
  • $10.56 in taxes.

That works out to $1828 a year for cable TV service, which sounds like a lot. I would guess we watch / have on the TV for 2 hours a day, so say 60 hours a month. Basically we’re paying $2.50 per hour watched for TV service. Cheaper than going to a movie at the theater, but not entirely sure if this is really needed.

To switch out I’d have to pay

  • $10 per month extra to Comcast for Internet but no TV service
  • $9 per month to Netflix for movies.
  • $500 for a new computer to hook up to one of the TV’s upstairs so I can do Internet over that TV.

$728 over the first year.

That’s still a savings of $1,100 over the course of the first year alone.

Will have to debate if that is worth it.

Live TV on the iPhone – Some new developments

While poking around the app store yesterday, I came across a few new applications that have tremendous promise.

France 24 in the news section offer live streaming of the France 24 (think CNN of France). The buffering is pretty quick and the quality is not bad. France24 is a different take on some of the news out of Europe and this lets you watch them on your iPhone via wifi pretty easily. Free app and worth a download.

France24 is only on limited cable systems in the US, with service in Washington and New York that I know of. They had some great coverage of some stories like the Bettancourt rescue in Columbia and they also have some good culture shows from Europe that are worth watching.

TVU is p2p video streaming company that allows you to watch tons of content from around the world, some of which is probably not authorized by the copyright holder. The app is in beta and released, but will likely have a few new developments that will make it much more useful (such as widescreen, which I haven’t figure out how to use just yet. Lots of Chinese channels (as I’ve said before, the Chinese are light years ahead of the US on IPTV — light years). Amazing what developments can be done when DRM is not the first consideration.

We’re still waiting for livestation.com to come out with their app (in development) and I guess we are still waiting for the Slingbox app, promised for months and months (but no where in sight just yet).

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