I’m not a cord cutter, but I play one with my TV

The Problem: Here’s the scenario. We have DirecTV with five boxes and DVR services. But only three boxes can be active at the same time. The fourth and fifth boxes remain in the cold. And only so much recording can happen at one time with similar limitations.

We have a household with three adults and a 10 year old. The 10 year old believes the best way for something to happen is repeated random button smashing, because a half second delay is too much delay. He never lived in the days where dad’s used kids as remotes. “Go change it to channel 3”. 
So, what’s that mean? It means that sometimes, I’m unable to watch or record what I want due to the competition of resources or the errors of button smashing that arbitrarily records or deletes things. 

Considering the Options: I took a moment to evaluate what I actually record and realized that several of the conflicting programs were on over the air broadcast networks at the same time as other broadcasts that were being recorded. 
I’ve always been a believer in OTA (over the air) antenna’s. I had already confirmed my area receives pretty darn good reception of many channels that are HD quality. I considered using an old VCR to record shows, but the one I had wasn’t able to record from an antenna (coax) cable. And I wasn’t about to spend large amounts on old technology like VHS to record programs. 
Step One- A recorder: My search took me in the direction of an ATSC Tuner that also allowed for recording to USB storage. I ran across one that was about $40. An “Iview 3500 STBII”. Between the users guide and a little trial and error, it turned out to be relatively easy to use. It records in MP4 format on a USB attached storage. And for the heck of it, I thought I’d try connecting a USB hard drive and surprisingly, it reads and writes with no problem. It won’t read AVI files, but that’s not important.  
As for connections, there is a straight forward coax connection, an HDMI and RGB with audio. I experimented with signal quality and found the signal from the STBII using a coax connection to the TV was fuzzy and degraded. The absolute best connection from the STBII to my TV was via an HDMI cable. 
I used online TV guides to find the shows, times and days of the week and set up the scheduling for recording. 
Step Two- Antenna: At first I experimented with some inexpensive OTA antenna’s attached to the walls of my second floor office with thumbtacks. You can pick these up discount stores for less than $10 bucks or look at my earlier post where I made my own. 
The reception was ok, showing occasional interference on some channels. Ultimately, I needed to improve the signal strength if I wanted fairly reliable quality recordings. 
To do that, I decided to go higher. We have a two story house with an easily accessible attic. I sorted through the houses pre-laid coax using some coax trace tools I picked up and attached an old home made antenna to those that led to my office using pushpins as mounts to the rafters. 
Step Three- Results: were stellar. The recordings of shows via the OTA antenna and STBII are as good or better than my DirecTV DVR. 

The Pros: cheap, easy, no subscription fees and excellent quality.
The cons: The DirecTV DVR service makes it a heck of a lot easier to record first run only shows on all cable included networks like AMC, Comedy, premium sports, etc. without having to set record up for a specific time. In fact, it will auto correct from season to season if the show is in a new day or time and stop recording when the season ends. None of that automated programming is available with the STBII. You have to manually manage it yourself. 
There are other boxes out their with far more sophistication. Like the HDHomeRun which records shows and makes them available through your wifi for playback. Or the TiVo which has intelligent scheduling and allows for remote playback also, but has a subscription service. 
And then there are the home grown solutions where someone sets up a computer for recording the shows to a NAS and it provides the same functionality with no subscription, but no intelligent scheduling either. 
Conclusion: The Iview 3500 STBII is an inexpensive means of augmenting our current service, not a replacement. Glad I have it. Fits my needs, but not replacing my full service provider any day soon. 

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.