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 that includes DVR services. But only three boxes can be active at the same time. The fourth and fifth boxes can remain in the cold while three TV’s are occupied. 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.

Continue reading “I’m not a cord cutter, but I play one with my TV”

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. 

HD Digital TV Without Cable

[Cue Deep Dramatic Narrator Voice] “In a world where there is no cable TV….”

[Cue dramatic apocalyptic background music] 
Yeh, well, it happens.
You’re just going about living your life and something happens. Whether it’s because of some major event from mother nature, a traffic accident that takes a local box or the outcome of some “hey bubba, watch this” event, sooner or later we all have a cable outage. 
So what do we do about it? Well, I’m certainly not inclined to miss a game if I can help it. Nor do I want to be left in the dark if our area is hit with some emergency. 
Do like I did. Make a really cheap antenna in advance. File it away and pull it out when you need it. 
Some people might go “What?! TV without cable? Is that legal?” Yes. It’s legal. People have been doing it since TV’s were invented. The FCC says it’s okay. 
First, I’ll give you the link to the instructions, then I’ll share how I did it differently and how well it worked out. 
The link is to build a DIY Flexible Fractal TV Antenna. Following this example, it comes out very nice looking because it’s mounted on clear plastic. 
How did I do it differently? I followed the majority of the instructions and found all the parts I needed in a local odd lots place that had them all very cheap. To make it extra simple, I simply glued the aluminum fractal pattern directly on a 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of card stock cut from a file folder. I also used a piece of paint stirring stick as a backing piece to provide a firm means of screw mounting the balun to the fractal pattern. I had no intention of putting mine somewhere appearances might actually matter. But to make it weather proof, I slipped it into a plastic sleeve like you use for notebooks to insert pages. 
How does it work? Great considering it’s less than $6 for materials with most things you probably have already around. How do I mount mine? With thumbtacks. Cheap easy and simple to locate. I mounted one on the roof fascia of our shed, left it in place for several months during Florida rainy season and received excellent reception with a tiny little 6 inch TV. It’s been through several severe downpours and weathered fine. 
Now that we’re in a cable outage, I simply climbed a ladder to access the attic area, thumb tacked it in place on a rafter and ran the cable to the TV across the floor. We cover the cable with rugs and it’s fine for a temporary situation. At least until the cable is restored. Several channels are available at full HD. 
How’s the reception? You really have to experiment to find the best spot. I discovered that in the attic where it is currently, the garage door should be closed for the best reception. Higher and obstruction free especially from metals and electrical is best. 
Considering the cost, it’s ease of mounting there is no reason a person can’t make one and then just keep it in their bag of tricks for when the right time comes. 
So if you want HD TV during a cable outage, check out DIY Flexible Fractal TV Antenna .