My Cutting Cable TV guide

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

Swedish Royal Wedding on 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, 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 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?

[/caption] 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 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

Random 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.]]>

Watch France 24 on your computer with a desktop widget

When 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

[/caption] 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

[/caption] 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.