Dreams of a DVR

‘Cord Cutter Curious’ part 4.

While going about the business of “replacing” our incredibly expensive TV service with antennas, the wife asked that we keep the capability to record the shows she loves. Fortunately, they are on major networks available on the antenna.

In the interest of being geeky and maintaining marital bliss on a budget, I did a lot of research.

My first move was to buy a simple `over the air` (OTA) tuner with software capable of acting like a digital video recorder (dvr). An iView Premium Digital Converter (3500STBII).

The principle is simple enough. It’s a black box controlled by a remote that connects to an antenna in line with a TV. If you’re old enough then you remember how old fashioned VHS recorders were set up. With the tv on a certain channel (3 or 4) then your box would display from the tuner box whether it was broadcasts or operating menus with your remote.

The model I chose was arbitrary, but I wouldn`t recommend it. The menus are not intuitive, controls without the remote are limited and video playback is played back in a horrendous format that is much smaller than our screen format.

To play back video, you can use the set top box or you can pull the USB stick out and plug it directly into the USB port of a tv or media center. In fact, the playback from the set top box was so poor, I did that very thing and was astonished at the quality of the playback. Vivid picture and colors.

I set this up to auto record on the timeslots where her shows normally air. No, unlike a full featured DVR it can not record just new episodes or first run episodes. You pick a timeslot to record a channel and it records that timeslot on that channel. If something completely different is aired, that gets recorded. Nothing fancy. Ultimately, after a few months this failed and the recordings we mere clips of a few seconds.

I believe it’s a handling of the recorded memory problem, but frankly it was more problematic to try troubleshooting extensively. So I abandoned that effort.

Now for more homework and a whole lot of time. I wanted something more full featured. I own a Raspberry Pi 1, 2, 3B and 4 and was aware there might be a way with their help. The ideal would be to set up one as a PVR with a USB tuner that could record shows with the help of the freely available enhanced program guide (EPG). The recorded shows would also be available for replay through some of the key TV`s through our home network directly or via a device like a ROKU.

We’ll cover that more in the future. Tune in again for another Cord Cutter Curious installment.

Mini Digital ATSC HD Pad TV

It was football season and I had plans for camping. And I realized, in this world of modern technology why can’t I watch the locally aired games?I had a very old rechargeable LCD TV with a small screen about 4 inches, but the battery was shot and replacing it would cost a lot.

Enter the great new idea of an Android plug in that allows you to receive local broadcast TV. I’d seen an article or two and Youtube videos on these and thought, hmmmm, great idea. Lightweight, small, I could keep things charged with my existing USB supplies when needed.

After hunting online I couldn’t find a retailer that carried them. But when I went through eBay, I found a few and decided to give it a try since it looked like the one I saw in the article. After all, eBay has a buyer’s guarantee and the seller had good reviews at the time. I made sure I researched the details to confirm it was designed to operate in the US. And I had good luck in the recent past with eBay (recently having purchased a bundle of ten iphone cords for $10).

I made the commitment on December 29th.

Mini Digital ATSC HD Pad TV Tuner Receiver for Android Phone Tablet PC Antenna
Item # : 351612560729
Sale price: $31.33
Quantity: 1
Sale date: Dec-29-15 13:36:01 PST
Seller: wuyouguo2110

It arrived surprisingly quick having originated from China. I believe it was January 5th. Immediately I tried to put it to use. It required you to download an App from the Google play store. And this is where things began to go wrong.

The app in their broken english instructions didn’t exist on Google Play here in the US. I emailed the seller (wuyouguo2110), but would always have to wait at least a day for a response (another part of the world, okay I get it). We went back and forth. They tried sending me a link to an app that turned out to be absolute spam and I had to factory reset my tablet to prevent being hijacked. They made available a demo of a raw apk android file through a file drop service and, although it appeared to install properly, was absolutely useless. It never detected a single station and I have excellent reception of several channels.

I had hoped to do a positive review on YouTube, but no such luck. Here is the actual review.

And that’s where things really went wrong.

According to what the seller says, they never received it, but “no worry friend, we’ll refund you as soon as we see it”. He sounded earnest so I didn’t press right away. After significant delays and ‘no it hasn’t arrived yet’, I opened a case for eBays guarantee to be initiated Feb 28th and it was denied.

I called eBay customer service to understand the entire situation. That’s when I got the explanation about timelines to support everything. Apparently their guarantee is only supportable within 30 days of the original purchase. That’s the only date they care about. Which means if you get stalled even the slightest because your dealing with China, better ask immediately instead of waiting like I did.

So I asked if there is any way I could at least leave a rating on the seller and they said no. That has to be done quickly also. Great (that’s sarcasm of course).

Fast forward to late March and still nothing from the seller (wuyouguo2110) either to acknowledge receipt, issue a refund or forward a replacement that might work.

To sum up: As for eBay, to be fair, I used them in a very limited fashion, with maybe two purchases a year on average. And this has been my very first bad experience. Does it mean I won’t use eBay again? Possibly. Does it mean I learned an expensive lesson? Yes. Does it mean that I will jump onto eBay looking for great idea products that I can’t find via US suppliers? No. I’ll wait for a reputable retailer.

ATSC Tuner via Android for the US summary: 
       So far, I haven’t seen great reviews on anything for the US. That includes all the retailers I’m aware of including eBay, BangGood and Amazon. Youtube shows a lot of options, but separating it out will take too much time.

My eBay lessons learned: 

  • eBay is like a garage sale, buyer beware.
  • eBay support is limited in time and function.
  • Deal with US Only sellers. Less expensive and faster shipping that can be tracked.
  • Read return and guarantee’s BEFORE you buy if it’s something important or a service you use regularly. A point for eBay or any online supplier.
  • Deal with a reputable retailer before turning to eBay if you can find what you need that way.

17 January 2018: Update – I’ve since canceled my eBay membership. Better reliability and quality support can be found elsewhere.