Author Topic: Cable & DVR Alternative  (Read 7016 times)

Sylly

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Cable & DVR Alternative
« on: August 27, 2014, 11:35:34 AM »
My cable contract has expired. Initially, my plan was to call them and politely request their promotional rate again (my household likes TV shows -- I'll take the face punch). To my surprise, the CS rep I spoke to wasn't willing to do so, offering instead a reduced discount (relative to earlier promo discount), stating that the promotional price is promotional for a reason. ::gasp:: That has never happened before. Online searches suggest I may just have to try my luck for a different CS, but on principle, I despise the business model that values new customers over loyal, existing customer. How screwed up is that? Upon discussing options with the SO, I was pleasantly surprised to have him bring up the option of cutting the cord!

We have a list of TV shows that we follow, and we've looked into where they're available. A good chunk is available consistently (a few days after air) on Hulu. Some are available on the network website (CBS). Our main problem is USA Network shows -- we haven't found an alternative source for them. However, push comes to shove, we can always pay per series through Amazon and it'll still be cheaper than cable. I don't know what TV shows Netflix has, since I can't seem to find any info on their website unless I sign up (hate websites like this).

The wrench is the DVR. Since most of what we're interested in is periodic TV shows that are available at specific times OTA, or for limited times at the alternative sources, we'd like to be able to have a DVR that will record shows (preferably automatically, even if we have to manually set the schedule) so that we can watch TV on our schedule.

So things we're looking for in a replacement system:
1. User friendly -- we can probably put up with a more technical initial setup, as long as day-to-day operation is fairly simple.
2. Easy access to Hulu (not just H+), Amazon videos. Easy access to network websites a plus.
3. DVR that works with OTA and/or streaming device.

So here I am, feeling overwhelmed by all the alternative ways of getting our TV shows fix without cable. The top contenders so far are:
1. Roku seems a popular choice that's preferred by first time cord-cutters. Pro: Seems to be simple and cheap. Con: Need separate DVR system
2. Tivo Roamio -- there's the base model, and the new upcoming OTA (only?) model. Pro: Tempting, as I've used Tivo and like their simple interface. Con: Expensive
3. G-Box -- Seems to be the easiest thing if I want to go with XBMC/Kodi. But I don't know how user friendly it is, or how easy to keep it updated. Also not sure if it has DVR capabilities.
4. Simple.tv -- Possibly a DVR system that I can couple with a stream only device.
5. Playon.tv & Playlater -- Possibly a simpler alternative to XBMC? Don't know too much about this yet.

I'm aware of Amazon TV (seems no better than Roku?), Apple TV (not a Mac household), Chromecast (seems less capable than Roku).
I've heard/seen the names, but don't know much about the following: Satechi Smart TV box, Channel Master DVR.

Anyone know more about any of the above systems/devices, or know of a good candidate that I'm not aware of? I've tried searching on this, but I see very little in the way of connecting a DVR.

I'm not opposed to setting a dedicated PC to act as a DVR, but I don't know where to start. I'm not completely clueless about computers, but my comfort zone doesn't extend to grabbing various softwares/apps from multiple different sources and maintaining them, so it'll have to be a simple all-in-one system if I'm gonna attempt it at all.

fallstoclimb

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2014, 12:35:24 PM »
I feel like you are making this more complicated than it has to be. 

Hulu+ and Netflix more than satisfy our tv watching needs (well, plus my parents HBO GO password).  The Roku is simply a device that lets you access all of these 'channels' in one place.  Hulu+ and Netflix negate the DVR issue since everything is available on demand.  We've bought a series or two on Amazon as well. 

There's just no reason to have cable anymore, unless you are an avid sports fan.  Just cut the cord already. 

boarder42

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2014, 12:55:32 PM »
you're making this way too complicated... just buy a PC with an HDMI out on it and hook it up to your TV ... then go to projectfree.tv

you can stream all the shows to your hearts content for FREE from there.. no hulu no netflix required.  some take a few minutes to buffer up but its basically every show the next day thru out the history of good tv.

done.

solon

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2014, 12:56:18 PM »
I don't know what TV shows Netflix has, since I can't seem to find any info on their website unless I sign up (hate websites like this).

I know what you mean. I'm a Netflix DVD subscriber, but sometimes I'd like to know if something is available for streaming. Even as a subscriber I can't see what's available!

Sylly

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2014, 01:25:17 PM »
Hulu+ and Netflix negate the DVR issue since everything is available on demand.

Not all the shows we watch are available on demand. That's the wrench of why we want a DVR -- to record the show OTA as it airs, or from the alternative source (e.g., network website) during the limited time it's there.

you're making this way too complicated... just buy a PC with an HDMI out on it and hook it up to your TV ... then go to projectfree.tv

I've looked into projectfree.tv.
For the shows we want, the legality of streaming it from there is at best questionable. I'd rather pay a little more to get a safe, reliable (i.e., will be around for the long term) source. For our own principles, as well as avoidance of bad things from the internet, we avoid most torrents/ptp sites.

I know what you mean. I'm a Netflix DVD subscriber, but sometimes I'd like to know if something is available for streaming. Even as a subscriber I can't see what's available!
That's pretty bad. I just assumed you'd get access to more information if you're actually a subscriber. I find it amazing (in a bad way) that you don't.

gildedbutterfly

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2014, 01:53:47 PM »
Here's my setup:

1. Mohu Leaf antenna - allows me to watch network programs when they air if I want (and there are some GREAT over-the-air movie channels if you like classic movies).

2. Chromebox with an external hard drive hooked up to the TV. Because a Chromebox is, essentially, a cheap computer (but with little HDD space), it will allow you to stream from regular Hulu (their paid service is not, IMO, worth it) and from other websites. I also have Amazon Prime, which lets me stream stuff, and my current roommate has added me as a user on his Netflix, so I'm tapped out for entertainment...There's no way I'll get to it all anytime soon!

3. PlayLater - you mentioned this in your post. Here's what I've found: it can be buggy, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I've also had incredibly bad luck with their customer service. They tend to take the tactic of, "Well, it's a problem with your system. Please try again and tell us what happens." When you do, they reply, "Clearly, this is a problem with your system. Please try again and tell us what happens." And on and on. Very frustrating!

Having said that, it does work much of the time (I find it's in the 70% range) and it is VERY convenient for things like grabbing shows that are about to expire on Amazon or Netflix or Hulu, and having shows when you have no internet connection or a spotty internet connection. Since I'm using a Chromebox, which is not ideal for programs like PlayLater, I have to download to my primary computer and then transfer it over to the external hard drive to watch it, but that takes only a few minutes.

The other downside of PlayLater is that you mentioned you wanted to be able to set it like a DVR. PlayLater does not allow you to do this; you have to go and pick a show at the time you want to record it. And because PlayLater takes up a lot of memory on your computer while running, it's difficult to do anything else on the computer at the same time. Usually, once or twice a week, I'll set it to record before I go to bed and just let it record while I'm asleep. That seems to get around that issue.

dycker1978

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2014, 02:02:08 PM »
I use eztv.it.  it is a torrent site, so I actually download the shows them can watch them whenever.  the shows are on some times before they air in my local time.

Hvillian

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2014, 02:12:35 PM »
I have been post-cable for about 3 weeks.  My priorities were keeping my wife and kids happy and having a pretty simple and inexpensive setup.

For streaming, I went with Roku 1 (about $35).  It took about a week to adjust to searching for shows, but I am happy with it.  We only subscribe to Amazon Prime for now ($49/year student membership), but it has enough shows.  We will probably add Netflix or Hulu once we feel like the Amazon selection is getting tired.

For the OTA stuff, I have been playing with this Mediasonic Box for a couple weeks.  It requires a separate storage device, but I already had a spare external hard drive around.  The interface is mediocre at best, but it allows you to pause live TV and set recordings.  Like many of the inexpensive DVR options I found, the software seems to be a work in progress and is certainly not 100% reliable since it depends on the OTA signal strength.  It does seem to pick up the OTA channels at least as well as my TV, so it should work fine if you are in an area with good signal strength and have a good antenna.

The Tivo, Channel Master, and other options were too expensive for me, and I didn't want to make watching TV an easier than necessary.

iamadummy

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2014, 02:16:00 PM »
What if you wanted to watch an NFL or NBA game?

boarder42

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2014, 02:32:15 PM »
NFL is typically on network TV so an antenna works.

NBA is on TNT... so find someone who will let you pay them 5 bucks for their login info to uverse or a local cable affiliate then just download the uverse or local cable app to a roku or android type device and watch live TV for free whenever you want.

MandalayVA

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2014, 02:44:23 PM »
What if you wanted to watch an NFL or NBA game?

I'm a big sports fan and have been since childhood.  How to reconcile that with being Mustachian has been admittedly difficult, but it can be done.  I'll just touch on the major North American team sports.

The NFL is the only NA sport where the majority of games are still shown on broadcast TV.  Hook yourself up with a good antenna, you've got the NFL.

Baseball and basketball are a little more difficult, since pretty much everything's on cable except for the playoffs (and with the NBA that doesn't start until weekend games in conference playoffs).  For that you might want to consider investing in MLB TV or NBA TV.  For $25/a month you can stream HD quality games on your computer--Apple TV and Roku both have these channels so you can watch them on your TV, and commercials are blanked out.  It's good if you live one place and your favorite team is somewhere else; I'm a Yankees fan living in Virginia.  However, both channels will black out what they consider to be your local team as well as any national games, which includes ESPN and TNT.  As a baseball fan I'm willing to sacrifice a few games during the season.

If you're a hockey fan--and hockey is my favorite sport--here's where you get lucky.  There's a Dutch site called Hockeystreams.com.  For $110/year (not a season) you get EVERYTHING.  All the NHL games in HD including the playoffs, local teams and national games, plus AHL and even European leagues.  My discovery of Hockeystreams led directly to us ditching DirecTV, which had the NHL Network on their second-highest-priced tier.  Hell, you can even watch things like the draft and the NHL Awards.  It's awesome. 

albsure52

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2014, 03:05:09 PM »
For Netflix programming info, check out abetterqueue.com.

tyd450

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2014, 03:36:19 PM »
I posted this in another similar thread:



for ease of use I recommend a used Tivo HD or Tivo Premiere with LIFETIME SERVICE.  People paid something like $300-500 just for the tivo lifetime service and that is tied to the specific box and can't be transferred (to a new box but can be transferred to a new owner of that specific box).  The lifetime service is basically just access to all of the guide info from tivo. 

I just bought a premiere with lifetime service off of a guy on craigslist last week for $280.  Roamio is the current model and premiere is only like 2 years old.  I'm pretty sure you can get a Tivo HD (the model before the premiere) for around $175 with lifetime service.

If you plan to watch OTA or antenna though make sure you are getting the right model #.  Here are the ones that will work for you:

TIVO HD:  TCD652160

TIVO HD XL: TCD658000

TIVO Premiere:  TCD746320

TIVO Premiere XL (bigger harddrive):  TCD748000

For some reason the fancier models don't work with OTA (antenna).  Like the Tivo Premiere Elite XL.  The new roamio base model works with OTA but the roamio pro and roamio plus only work with cable (requires a cable card from cable company)

So you basically just have to buy a unit used with lifetime service and the person you buy it from has to call tivo and have them remove it from their acct.  Then you call and tell them you need to add it to your acct and transfer the lifetime service.  Then you get all of the tivo guide info for life and never pay tivo a dime.

Sylly

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2014, 10:45:26 AM »
Here's my setup:

[snip]


Thanks, gildedbutterfly, especially on your thoughts on Playon/PlayLater. At its current price ($70 for the combo, including a Chromecast), it looks like a nice thing to pick up, as it will greatly help with snatching shows where the network only puts one at a time on the website. I'm seriously considering picking one up (with not much expectation on their customer service -- I hate calling tech support anyway), if only to supplement any OTA recorder I may get.

I have been post-cable for about 3 weeks.  My priorities were keeping my wife and kids happy and having a pretty simple and inexpensive setup.

...

For the OTA stuff, I have been playing with this Mediasonic Box for a couple weeks.
...

Glad to hear you're doing well post-cable, Hvillian. Thanks for the tip on that Mediasonic box. That's one I was unaware of, so I'll add it to the list of things to look over.

If you're a hockey fan--and hockey is my favorite sport--here's where you get lucky.  There's a Dutch site called Hockeystreams.com.  For $110/year (not a season) you get EVERYTHING.  All the NHL games in HD including the playoffs, local teams and national games, plus AHL and even European leagues.  My discovery of Hockeystreams led directly to us ditching DirecTV, which had the NHL Network on their second-highest-priced tier.  Hell, you can even watch things like the draft and the NHL Awards.  It's awesome. 

I'm so glad you posted this! If there's any sport we watch, it's hockey. While we haven't watched games lately, it's good to know this option is out there!

for ease of use I recommend a used Tivo HD or Tivo Premiere with LIFETIME SERVICE.
...

If you plan to watch OTA or antenna though make sure you are getting the right model #.  Here are the ones that will work for you:

...

Thanks for the info, tyd450. Honestly, Tivo is very appealing because it's tried and true, and it will provide most of what we need (OTA recording, some streaming). I've just been hesitant over the price tag. But, I *may* be able to borrow a Series 3 with lifetime sub, which should take care of OTA recording. Now to see how well we can pick up the signals..



Spork

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2014, 10:58:51 AM »
I posted this in another similar thread:



for ease of use I recommend a used Tivo HD or Tivo Premiere with LIFETIME SERVICE. ... [edit for brevity]

+1

Same here.  I inherited an unused Tivo from my sister's closet after my last Tivo died a death (of old age).

Also, if you are even moderately technically inclined, increasing the size of the Tivo is very simple by replacing the hard drive.  It isn't just "plop one in there" ... but there are tools that have been around since the Series 1 tivos.  They work very well.

I might also mention: if you can get a Tivo without lifetime service for cheap...  google around for online coupons before you pay that month-to-month charge.  There are regularly coupon codes for $100 or more off of a lifetime sub. 

If you are willing to watch everything a year after it comes out... I'd also mention that just having a smartTV/Roku/Chromecast/Laptop with Netflix and/or Amazon will almost get you everything you want.  Sure, you won't be watching Game of Thrones the day it comes out... but my wishlist on Netflix would take me 3 years to watch at my current rate of consumption. 

justajane

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Re: Cable & DVR Alternative
« Reply #15 on: August 29, 2014, 11:06:01 AM »
We have similar TV desires as you and this is what we have:

ROKU w/ paid subscriptions to Amazon Prime, HULU and Netflix
TIVO w/ monthly subscription
antenna to use with TIVOed network shows

After initial outlay of TIVO and Roku boxes, we pay ca. $35 a month. I don't count Prime b/c we have that for the free shipping.

For HBO shows (GoT) we use a family member's login and then buy the DVDS when they come out. For AMC (Mad Men) we bought them through Target's new system, which was cheaper than Amazon. I refuse to pay more than 99 cents for an episode. On certain occasions (mostly the Americans on FX), we torrent them, but I prefer to pay for the shows we enjoy. It's just the $1.99 price point for no physical copy of an episode to loan or resell is exorbitant.