Monthly Archives: April 2016

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Can you drop cable? Be sure you know for certain before you do.

Maybe cable companies will not try to destroy streaming as an option to cable TV after all. Major corporations typically make moves methodically. But considering that the merger between Charter and TWC was approved only last week (with rules in place to prevent data caps) the announcement from Comcast that its data cap will be raised to a terabyte. While the vast majority of Comcast customers do have not been subject to data caps up to this point Comcast has been experimenting with them in some markets. While the term cap has an ominous suffocating connotation, the cap, in this case, is about as likely to affect a normal customer as one person is able to affect the flow of an ocean.  While Comcast says that 8% of its customers used more than its trial cap of 300 gigabytes it would be nearly impossible for even the most data-hungry family to use up.

A little perspective  
With a terabyte, you can stream about 700 hours of HD video, play 12,000 hours of online games, and download 60,000 high-res photos in a month. Does anybody watch more than 700 hours of TV in one month? Unless someone is getting the Clockwork Orange treatment I expect not. That would just under 24 hours of TV viewing per day each month. Or we can break it down like this. Four people in a household could watch 6 hours of separate video streams 29 days a month. This would be ideal I suppose for families that do not ever want to see each other and interact, not that there aren’t situations like that. While not every household is a family that amount of data is probably enough for even a group of 20 somethings in a dwelling.  

Cable companies see the writing on the wall
There was a moment only a few years ago when it seemed that cable companies might try to severely limit the amount of data that Internet users could access. After all as online services like Netflix have gained popularity cable subscribers have decreased. It was feared that tight data caps could be used to discourage users from utilizing streaming as their primary source of video delivery as a substitute for cable. With Internet usage moving well past simple email to video delivery and the oncoming rush to 4K providers have to realistically address the growing needs of customers, as well as understand the central role the Internet plays in the daily lives of citizens. Maybe this is yet another sign that the industry is accepting the future.

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When the news broke that the cable industry would no longer have a monopoly on set-top boxes to provide cable services a number of consumers cheered the news in the hopes that soon their favorite streaming boxes will be able to substitute for the bulky boxes they have been using for service. While there are mechanisms in place that may allow that to happen like standalone apps and other innovations that may come down the line there are probably a few reasons why both set-top box makers and cable providers are not excited about the future. Should consumers be concerned what may be coming down the line? Will Third Party Set-Top Boxes For Cable Cause More Problems Than They Solve?

Troubleshooting
Third party applications and equipment can be a major issue when it comes to troubleshooting. As much as someone might dislike that say their cable modem or set-top box often come from the cable company you cannot deny that when there is some sort of delivery problem the fact that the equipment can be accessed, explored and reset from remote locations is very helpful. When I have problems with my cable modem and call TWC we can talk about the problem in the same way. “What lights are on?” “What color is the light on the bottom?” “Is it blinking or solid?” This is why, even though I know I get charged for the modem, that I don’t have my own. Because I don’t want to be responsible for fixing it, changing security settings and so on. A perfect example is after a recent trip to New York City we returned to find our Wireless internet connection was disabled. Our devices could no longer see our network. I called TWC and they reset the system, renamed the network, logged in a new password and made sure all of my devices were again connected in about 20 minutes. I can’t imagine how annoying it would have been to trouble shoot everything myself when all I wanted to do was have a coke after a 4-day trip.

Are existing set-top boxes built to handle the service?
When Netflix does not work even though the internet is in full working order the problem is likely one of two things. Either the device you are accessing the service on is not working correctly or there is a problem with the service on the provider end. When I had a problem with my Netflix using a Roku last year I was able to call Netflix. I explained the problem and they knew that there was an existing problem for Roku and fixed it in minutes. Netflix has apps for seemingly everything and is even integrated into some cable boxes these days. But regardless of the number of partners it has the relationship is easy enough to figure out. Now let’s say that every cable provider was responsible for providing an app or some other delivery system for every set-top box available that allowed for full live TV with a full cable grid, on demand capability and so on just like they do on the devices they currently use. We are not talking about an app. It is an ecosystem. And they equipment currently used is built to do this. Is a Roku 1? What about an Amazon Fire TV or a random Android box? No. They are designed to deliver apps. If something is built as a workaround it may provide some level of service but would it work the same on all of the platforms?

When it’s broken where is it broken?
With the current model, providers can tell if their box is not working. They know how to fix it. They can train a staff with less than stunning technical knowhow to walk customers through steps in order to correct a problem without having to be familiar with 10 different devices and operating systems. If people begin to access cable on multiple devices through multiple means it’s quite possible that figuring out a problem is going to be a major headache for all involved. Is something malfunctioning with your modem, is it an app, does the app need to be updated, which Fire TV box are you using the first gen or the second one, does your Roku have a 2 or a 3 on top of it, are you connected with HDMI or the red yellow and white cords, what firmware do you have? The questions can go on forever. And many people are completely unable to answer them because they don’t understand what they have. Anyone who has been drafted by a parent or grandparent understands what I mean here. Right now it can be as easy as the realization that equipment needs to be replaced, an appointment is made and a trained tech comes to a home and installs the equipment correctly and it’s over. In the brave new world of third-party access who knows how a problem gets resolved.

 

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Watching live TV on Kodi for many means depending on strange and undependable IPTV “services”. The HD Homerun by Sillicondust is a live TV solution that allows users to access live TV from both Antennas and, in the case of the Prime model, cable providers. All it takes to set it up for antenna based TV is a computer, an antenna (of course) and a few minutes. Technically you don’t even need a television because the device will allow you to watch TV on network connected devices like tablets, laptops, and PlayStation game consoles as well as set-top boxes. When you begin to venture away from Kodi connectivity and laptops it gets a little murky because HDHomeRun does not have official apps for a number of devices. this is covered in the next section.

Which devices support HD Home Run

This is a more complicated answer than it should be. Keep in mind though that third party apps are not officially supported by Sillicondust. 

Official Apps
Kodi
Windows 8 computers

Third Party Apps
Apple TV (through Channels,)
Roku via  a Plex apps  HD Surfer and HD Homerun Viewer
Android and IOS Via Insta TV Pro
Linux Via Myth TV

Fire TV
Sideloaded Android Apps
Kodi  see here as well as apps for .

PS 3 and 4
Via DLNA

Smart TV’s
Via DLNA capable smart TV’s. 

3 models Take your pick

The HD Homerun is available in three different models The Connect $129.00, Extend $169.00 and Prime $149.00.

The connect is the intro model and least expensive of the three. We actually had a chance to try it out and were very happy with its performance. It worked splendidly with both the Windows app for my Toshiba Satelite as well as through Kodi as set up on a pure Linux device from ARNU Box.  The Prime model allows users to watch and record cable channels. Users will be required to get  an M-Card cable card from your cable provider for this in order to do so but once it is acquired users will be able to watch and record all the digital cable channels you subscribe to. 


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Why do these services keep launching?

Updated from 4/26/2016
Companies that think they are going to carve their own path in streaming by taking their content off of Netflix Amazon and other major service and starting their own channels are misguided at best. Even large ones. The recent announcement by Turner of a new channel “Filmstruck” in cooperation with the Criterion Collection is a reach. Why? Because of a couple of things. The market for small arthouse films is not a large one. How many movie theaters in any given city cater to this kind of cinema? As much as people might even try to pretend to like intellectual fare at the movies take a look at the top-grossing films each year. You will not see many that were shot in black and white and require subtitles. Nope, its explosions, one-liners and love stories that rule the roost in film world when it comes to outright profitability. Every time a new service launches with a dearth of essentially unheard of movies it dubs itself as a champion of “Film Buffs” It’s like a badge of honor to make up for the fact that its content is unpopular. But the truth is this. If there was a major demand for the content from the Criterion Collection than Hulu would not have dropped the contract with the arthouse content provider in favor of EPIX. Since it made the move it has grown its reach.

A new service built around old movies?
Turner classic movies has an audience. That is why it has been a staple of the cable world for so long. In fact before it, AMC (American Movie Classics) paved the way before becoming the home to blood and guts. But its audience does not tend to gravitate to streaming options. It’s an older demographic that is far better suited to cable than it is over the top delivery. I believe that many people can benefit from cord cutting or even enjoy streaming along with their current cable package but I have definitely recommended that some people who have reached out to me stick with the current set up based on their grasp of modern delivery methods.

Already enough “Film Buff” Services
Fandor, Tribeca Short Stage and even its own Warner Archive are just a few of the services competing in the same demographic. I suppose once the service is ready for launch Warner Archive will bite the dust. Others like Prescreen could not even hack it for a full year of service. Putting a lot of energy into being a service for film buffs is like starting an athletic shoe company that specializes in turquoise equestrian gear. Yes somewhere there is a jockey looking everywhere for that brightly colored belt or shoes, but once you reach a portion of the audience how much can you possibly grow from there.

Users Do Not Want half a dozen services
Has anyone in the industry ever thought about why Netflix is huge? It is because it gives the average viewer enough to watch regardless of what it does not have. Sure a movie or series will drop off never to be seen again. Sometimes it is back within the month via a different contract. But the thing is that people like to keep their bills low when it comes to TV. While many might use Netflix and Hulu at the same time to combine original fare with current shows the likelihood that someone will maintain subscriptions to multiple indy film websites or apps is entirely unlikely. Providers have to understand that like a teacher who feels 45 minutes of homework is not too much for a student to handle (regardless of whether 4 other teachers think the same thing at the same time) users do not want to nickel and dime themselves with $9.99 for Netflix, $5.00 for a horror movie channel, $4.99 for an indie film channel etc. The only hope for Turner is that its new service squashes and absorbs the current crop of competitors to form a more all-encompassing selection. Filmstruck, enjoy the honeymoon in the blogosphere that inevitably accompanies a slow news day. Just try to remember that a number of others have tread in those waters only to drown.

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New conditions offer substantial protections

There are probably a bunch of cord cutters and streaming fans fuming over the merger between Time Warner Cable and Charter. It is understandable why people would fear such a marriage considering that it creates the second biggest ISP in the country and further consolidates the cable industry. This would be a big problem for cord cutters and streamers if not for a few major factors concerning the agreement. Let’s take a look at them.

It does not thwart competition
The Two ISP’s are now one ISP. So some may read this and say “oh no less competition for both”. But that would be a total logical fallacy. Why? Because they already do not compete with each other nationally. Cable companies are virtual monopolies where ever they are found. I have lived in Raleigh NC for a decade. The only cable company I can get where I live is Time Warner Cable. The only Internet service that I can get in my area is Time Warner Cable. Do I like this? No but it is the reality of the situation. At one point I lived in a different section of town served by U-Verse but it has never expanded even the 2 miles away from my old location to provide service where I currently reside. Most Americans are probably in the exact same situation. Charter customers likely don’t have 4 other legit choices for Cable or Internet access so in all reality the monopoly problem is no worse than it ever was.

With Great Power Comes Greater Regulation
The new mega company is going to make a lot of money. The government essentially provided it with a legal printing press. Internet access is the growing sector the digital world and now Time Charter Or Charter Warner will be able to cash in on basically the entire east coast. But there is a catch. One of the conditions for allowing the merger is that the new company can not institute data caps. This is a gigantic concession being forced on the new company. ISP’s had been “experimenting” with data caps in multiple markets and selling the concept as some sort of fair way to keep costs down for regular users vs “heavy” users. Like people who run entire illegal movie servers from their homes. These people are not common in the general population but the story was just clever enough to fool just enough people not to call them out on it. That comes to an end for customers of the new company. This will stand for 7 years.

For those in a low-income category cutting cable out of a desperate need to save money, there will be plans in place to help pay for enough bandwidth to get by on without breaking the bank. This has been in the works for a few years but should become more widespread. Yes 200 mbps internet is a product to be purchased for those who want lots of bandwidth, but enough juice say 15 mbps, to check school websites , make doctors appointments and stream at least one stream at a time has become less of a luxury and more of a necessity. Jobs take apps online, healthcare plans are online, important weather information is online etc. its part of modern life just the same way as lighting or plumbing is.

The new company can not overcharge streaming services for using the networks to deliver content. This was seen by consumers who paid attention as a simple way to make streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Sling TV more expensive so that they would appear to be a bad option for entertainment leading to the inevitable “If that’s what it costs I might as well have cable” thinking.

What about after the 7 years ends?
The conditions regarding data caps and streaming service providers do not last forever. But what they do is set up a precedent and an expectation that the services will be provided in that matter. Furthermore, in the next 7 years companies like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, The NFL, The NBA, Apple and more are going to continue to grow their online products. Unless the company drops TV programming alltogether over time it will be more than apparent that the streaming providers are competition for the TV product. I expect that anti-trust would begin to apply preventing the company from ever having a chance to gouge. Pluss it provides time for other providers like Google to expand and push the needle.

See the full statement by Chairman Wheeler here

 

 

 

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Did it ever occur to these Einsteins who follow the streaming world that Netflix does not have any interest in matching Hulu blow for blow? It has always been a different type of service with a different focus.

In a 2013 story from  Gizmodo  Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”. As it is the two entities sort of met in the middle.

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Streaming Service will have access to Comedy Central, BET and more

Sling TV will be a beneficiary of a new deal between Dish Network and Viacom. The two companies today agreed on a new deal that would lock down Viacom long term meaning the standoff over the rights to broadcast Comedy Central, Nikolodean, and other networks will not drag through the summer. This is an important step for Viacom which has been dropped from multiple providers over the past two years including Dish Rival Direct TV.

What package will the new channels be on?
It is unknown at the time whether the Viacom channels will be spread across a number of Sling Television add-on packages or whether they will be integrated into the “Best of Live TV” introductory package.

Sling Television growing more diverse
Nothing like a little competition to get things moving at a media company or any enterprise for that matter. For nearly a year Sling TV operated nationwide as the only service to offer a cable like package of streaming based channels while PlayStation Vue languished in near obscurity setting up in 5 cities where it could work out deals with local TV affiliates. Since the company essentially ditched that strategy Sling has in recent weeks picked up the Viacom properties and added the new multi-screen package that includes Fox regional sports networks, FX and more.

Dish betting on both worlds
The most interesting development about this to me is that Dish obviously wants to grow the cord-cutter friendly Sling TV product while still protecting the more legacy styled big bundle options available through Dish. Does dish know that the modern model will be a thing of the past one day as younger generations grow and continue to forgo costly cable packages? Either way, consumers win.

See press release for additional details here

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The HD Home Run from SiliconDust is a very easy to use DVR with multiple models and price points. It has become a favorite for Kodi users because it easily integrates into the media player through an official app. The device can also be accessed via apps for Xbox 360, Myth TV, Windows Computers, PS3&4, Xbox One and Next PVR. I have used a couple of OTA DVR’s and have to say setting this on up was easier than anything I have dealt with in the past. It’s as simple as attaching an antenna to the DVR, downloading an application to your device and scanning for channels. Afterward, the various apps automatically recognize the DVR when it is launched. We took a look at how it works with Kodi using the Mach 10 Pure Linux box from ARNU Box and found it very easy to use and access. See the Video bellow for an unboxing and demonstration.

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Multi Channel News is reporting that Dish Network is suing Android TV set-top box maker h.TV for copyright infringement, The h.TV set-top box is marketed towards Asian immigrants as an option for receiving Chinese based TV networks in the US. Its marketing goes as far as advertising it as the Best Android TV box for Immigrants.

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EnGadget is reporting the Xbox One has picked up HBO Now. The Internet-based service from HBO allows users to sign up for the premium TV service without the need to have an additional pay-TV service in place. This should give the service access to a number of very customers in the 18-35 demographic who live on their game consoles during their free time. With Game of Thrones set to launch again for the season, there is sure to be a number of new activations. The question will be is there going to be a problem with the app on the console?

Why do services always roll out new things when they will be most stressed?
Companies seem to want to strike while the iron is hot but it can easily backfire on them. If there are hundreds of thousands of new HBO Now activations on Sunday evening their server could crash and what should be a story about great ratings for the debut of a popular show could become a story about millions angry Twitter complaints.

Set it up now
If you are an Xbox One owner who is planning to take advantage of this, set it up now. Get registered for the service and make sure you understand how it works ahead of time. This way if you have any burning questions about how the service works you will have them answered long before you are trying to find out just how many monk skulls can be crushed by “The Mountain” per minute.

It does not have a live feature
Keep in mind HBO now is an on-demand service. Episodes of current shows are available nearly right after they air but do not stream alongside of the live airing. HBO Now is not exactly the same thing as having HBO on cable.  This confuses a lot of new users because of the way the majority of websites describe the service.

What is on it?
HBO Now has nearly every major HBO original series available for streaming. It also has nearly every single HBO original movie available. It also has a large selection of past hit movies from its distribution partners as well as HBO sports content. It’s a rather substantial offering that includes all of its current shows as well. It is really more like an HBO version of Hulu than Netflix because of the combination of new content, archived content and on-demand movies.