Who Says You Need a TV Service Provider to have a DVR?

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Back in February, I wrote a multi-part blog series on cutting the cable television cord. In that series, Step 3 was Setting up an Optional Digital Video Recorder (DVR) for over the air (OTA) programming. In July, I did this myself. Now it’s September and I’ve had a couple of months to get accustomed to this new TV paradigm. I’d like to share my experiences with you.

First, I bought the TabloTV 4-Tuner whole-house DVR from Nuvyyo (Kanata, Ontario). I’ve discovered that the concept of “whole house DVR” takes my friends and family two or three times of hearing it before they finally get it. The easiest way to explain it is this: the box sits next to the router and has the antenna connected directly to it. I can watch it anywhere I can get on the WiFi, with my iPad or Android tablet.

Second, I began wanting to view the content on my large TV so I bought a Roku 1 and downloaded the Tablo app onto it. When I launched it, it automatically found my Tablo, being on the same subnet in the house. The Graphical User Interface (GUI) felt natural for the Roku, but was different from the iPad app. It didn’t take me long at all to find some shows that I had already recorded. Watching them was a breeze.

In the mornings, I tend to watch live TV, such as news and weather, but in the evenings I only watch recordings from earlier. I use my Roku almost exclusively to watch the content because I like the large picture and full sound. If you have a new AppleTV, you can use Airplay to watch the content from your iPad. Google’s Chromecast is supposed to work, too, but I don’t have any experience with it.

Even though I love having it, and saving the $100+ a month from having dropped cable TV, I still found the software lacking, albeit serviceable. The mental list got so long, I captured it on the TabloTV community forum thread here. I really would like to see a full 9-12 months of feature and functionality improvements on their GUI before they begin to call it stable.

But I have no regrets with my choice and, for the money I’m saving, I have been able to adapt and overcome the withdrawals of having 200 channels and a DVR. Now I have TabloTV plus Roku with Netflix, Amazon Prime, WatchESPN, Hulu+, A&E, History, NFL Now and Qello to keep me entertained.

If you decide to go this route, do yourself a favor and bump up to the 4-tuner model, rather than skimp on the 2-tuner. You’ll be resolving conflicts left and right if you don’t. But you certainly don’t need to pay ridiculous prices to have television piped into your home and a DVR. Go antenna plus Tablo and save big.

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Is Amazon Fire TV Worth It?

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Amazon Enters Streaming Product Fray with Fire TV

Amazon Enters Streaming Product Fray with Fire TV

And then there were four.

Apple, Roku and Google are already competing for your streaming business. And now Amazon enters the fray with its $99 Fire TV. But is it worth it? It’s a “Version 1” product, with scant few apps (or channels) out of the gate. How does it compare with The Big Three, namely Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku?

Is Amazon Fire TV better than Apple TV?
The Quad-core Qualcomm processor in the Fire TV gives it pure speed — fast menus, fast downloads and fast playback. Meanwhile, the Apple TV is getting long in the tooth with it’s mono-core A5 chip. The Amazon Prime and Cloud Drive services are well-integrated, as you would rightly expect, while the Apple TV works well with your iTunes, Macs, iPads and iPhones. Licensing and/or business strategy probably explains why HBOGo, Disney, MLB and PBS are missing on the Fire TV, and why Amazon Instant Video, Flixster and Pandora are missing on the Apple TV — and why Vudu and MGo are missing from both. With both of these units costing the same $99, the Fire TV is better in a context-free competition, but if you like your Apple environment, hold your cash for the 2014 version of Apple TV.

Is Amazon Fire TV better than Google Chromecast?
Google Chromecast still feels like an experiment in its early stages. The dongle idea has merit but Chromecast has four drawbacks: it’s a dongle that needs an external power source, it doesn’t come with a dedicated remote, its single-core processor is sluggish and it is missing some decent second-tier apps (Crackle, WatchESPN, NBA, Qello and Vimeo). Worse still, as with the Apple TV, Chromecast doesn’t support Amazon Instant Video. By contrast, Amazon’s Fire TV is a thin box, it comes with its own remote, it’s blazing fast and supports more channels. Chromecast does have HBOGo and integrated Google Play support, which are both unavailable on Fire TV, so it’s a viable option for HBO fanatics and Android phone / tablet users, but otherwise, Amazon’s Fire TV is the better choice, despite its size and price tag.

Is Amazon Fire TV better than Roku?
Roku 3 is the comparable box to the Fire TV at the same $99 price point. Both have a very good user interface, are responsive, support Ethernet as well as WiFi MIMO, and come with a remote control. Amazon is touting their voice search as a primary differentiator, so much so that their Gary Busey ad focuses entirely on that feature. But voice search only gives you results within the Amazon ecosystem, ignoring Netflix and HuluPlus entirely, even if you have paid subscriptions to those services. On the channel front, Roku blows all the other competitors out of the water with its 1000+ channels — more than any of us can watch, but enough that all our itches for weird niches get scratched (50-year-old westerns anyone?).  Roku puts up the best fight for the subscription-averse TV viewer by providing so many free entertainment options.

Summary
The Amazon Fire TV is fast and works great within the Amazon eco-system. It supports a reasonably decent experience for the casual couch gamer and has excellent voice recognition. If these are important to you, and you don’t intend to stray outside the Amazon Instant, Netflix and Hulu worlds, you’ll be happy with this unit. It’s selling like mad right now, so go load up. If, however, you want access to your iTunes content or want hundreds of channels, wait and give Apple, Roku or Google, whose units are more than a year old, a chance to play leap frog on the Fire TV this summer. The competition benefits all us consumers and Amazon just fired their first salvo — I’m quite glad to have four companies in the mix.

Do you own a box already? Will you get an Amazon Fire TV?

Copyright 2014 Lance Olive, All Rights Reserved.