Tech

Cable Cutting Update. The ChannelMaster DVR

About a year ago, I Posted an Article about how we cut cable after our move from California to Iowa. The move gave us an opportunity to try going without cable TV, using an HD Antenna to get our basic stations over the air (OTA). In many parts of the country OTA is a great option especially places like the surrounding cities of Des Moines where there aren’t any buildings or mountains to block the TV signals. Sites like AntennaWeb or TVFool are great resources for checking the database of location and channel information against your zip code.

We’ve had this set up for roughly 17 months now and love it. We get our 100 meg high speed internet for less than $50 a month, and we use that to stream Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. We have AppleTV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and a vast collection of movies on the local NAS & BluRays. We stream a lot of news content and streaming services on computer & iPad and have yet to install a TV in the bedroom because the iPad works great for catching up on a show before bed. If you take the $85 a month in cable and multiply that by the 17 months we’ve been here, we’ve already saved about $1500 bucks! I get the Amazon content as part of the $100 Amazon Prime subscription, Hulu is around $8 bucks a month, and we share a family member’s Netflix by setting up an additional profile. That family member also pays for cable so we can use their credentials to authenticate to other streaming apps like CNN, A&E, History Channel, Nat Geo and more. This family member does not use any of these services, so we’re more than happy to!

My most recent purchase was a ChannelMaster OTA DVR, which gives us the ability to connect an external hard drive and DVR shows through our free OTA cable antenna. The ChannelMaster has dual tuners, so you can record two shows at once. It connects to the internet so it can download the TV guide and give you up to date programming information. Tivo has an option for OTA DVR / Guide but I believe they charge a monthly subscription for the guide feature. The ChannelMaster wasn’t cheap, at around $300, but worth it if you look at the cable savings over the long run. The ChannelMaster also has some internet streaming functionality built-in, making it a slim profile, high quality option for an OTA companion.

You can find a ChannelMaster here:
http://www.amazon.com/Channel-Master-DVR-Bundle-subscription/dp/B00JGZQ17Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450747794&sr=8-1&keywords=CM7500BDL2

My New Aerial Drone Blog

I’ve been working on a little side project – Waukee Aerial LLC. You can pull it up at DSM.Photo; cool domain name, right?  I decided to check out Squarespace for the website and I’m really happy with it. It was a breeze to set up, the pricing isn’t bad, and it really gives photographers the power to build galleries quickly to showcase their work.  A new feature of the site is The Blog, and I just posted the first entry this evening. It’s going to be different from my blog here – this will continue to be used for my personal life, and the dsm.photo blog will be used to showcase some of the aerial projects I have going on, where I’ve been flying lately, how the seasons look from the air in Central Iowa, and shots like the one below – from San Diego last week… With my 333 exemption, pilots license, and fresh FAA registration, hopefully it’s time for lift off on this little side hobby. Tomorrow morning, I’m shooting on the front lines for the Waukee Fire Department. This one will be a volunteer job, but an exciting one to say the least. They are doing a controlled burn on an old house next to the Waukee Library. Check back for photos and videos – from the ground and the air!

DJI_0880_HDR

FAA Drone Registration, 2015

So after I spend the time and money going through the entire aircraft registration process for my DJI Phantom 3 Pro, the FAA announces a web based registration program that will be out in the next week or two.

The process that I’ve proactively taken included filling out carbon copy forms provided to me by the FAA, getting those notarized, paying a $5 fee, and handling it the same way a Cessna gets its tail numbers. After all of that, here’s what the FAA has planned :

https://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/

According to the FAA website:

“If you own a drone, you must register it with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry. A federal law effective December 21, 2015 requires unmanned aircraft registration, and you are subject to civil and criminal penalties if you do not register.”

Whether you fly for fun or commercially, you need to register your uAS. Unfortunately, the only benefit to registering is so the FAA can hold you accountable if you do something wrong, or crash somewhere that you shouldn’t have been flying. Registering your aircraft guarantees that you can be fined or imprisoned, and that’s the only benefit to you. Do you think the bad guys are going to register?

If you plan on flying commercially with your uAS, flying for money that is, you better have a 333 exemption. Fortunately, there are a lot of templates out there, for the folks that have their approvals complete. You can download their requests and approvals and use that as your template for your 333 request. Hopefully, the FAA will have a streamlined process coming out for the commercial use of uAS flying platforms. The 333 really isn’t the right fit in my opinion, as you are requesting exemptions from airworthiness certificates, the amount of fuel normally needed onboard, and many other topics that typically pertain to fixed wing aircraft. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months.

 

Amazon Cloud Drive for Prime

If you’re a Prime member, here’s another perk – Free, unlimited cloud storage for all of your photos; regardless of size / quality. Google Photos offered something similar this year, up to 16 megapixel with a paid/storage usage option if your originals are higher resolution. The Amazon solution actually backs up digital negatives (DNG), so you can truly secure your original quality pictures, if you’re serious about photography.  I was just testing it out below, and sure enough – found a recent DNG of my dog, cleaned it up in Photoshop and posted. Shot this with my new Tokina 11-16mm 2.8 lens. Haven’t tried it outside just yet, but so far I love the lens – you can see the quality in the picture below. The Amazon cloud option is nice if you need to get to some original backups while you’re on the go!

Check it out here – Amazon Cloud Drive. For Prime members, you get free unlimited photo storage and 5 GB of video and files. You can pay $59.99 per year and get free unlimited everything. Definitely worth checking out!

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Bruno Boy – Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

Cutting Cable 101

It took us about a year or two, contemplating cutting the cable bill. It took us moving to a new state to make it happen. It’s probably easiest to make the transition over a move or a disruption in normal life, otherwise making the commitment to cut the cable could be extremely difficult. Keep your eye on the prize though, because you will save yourself at least $1,000 per year. Think about the things you could do with an extra $1,000 per year; plan a vacation, set a goal, then commit to cutting the cable.

First step : Make sure you have internet options before you take leap. You will want at least a 20mb down / 5mb up internet connection. I’ve found cable to be more reliable and stable than DSL, so try to find an internet only cable option with your cable company first, and make sure they have the speed to support you.

Step two : Buy a DOCSYS 3 Cable Modem. You can get one on Amazon, CostCo usually, or BestBuy; who will match Amazon’s low price. Plan on spending around $75 for the cable modem, and you’ll save about $10 a month in cable modem rental.

Step three : Research the shows you want to watch. Netflix is a given, get it. But first check to see if any of your extended family members are already paying for it and you can set up a separate profile under their account! Free Netflix, that’s right! Hulu+ is about $8 a month and there are plenty of TV programs on there worth watching.

So you might have a few subscription costs, but you’ll still save yourself $100 bucks a month. Check out the Antennaweb website or TVFool and see what kind of over the air HD reception you will get. This is a key step before you cut the cable. You need to make sure you can receive the standard broadcast stations over the air in HD. The quality is awesome, you’ll get all of the regular programs and local news, and honestly you’ll probably watch more OTA TV than web content.

Research devices too – you have options. Make sure the device(s) you pick will play the content that you want to subscribe to. Check out the Roku or Amazon Fire (which is my go to box). If you want to Airplay or purchase Apple streaming content, then maybe an AppleTV is for you. You can easily cast from your phone or tablet to a Chromecast for as little as $35 bucks, so do your homework and pick the right devices. I have them all, and I use the FireTV first, then the Roku, and I’ll chromecast Youtube or Netflix if I’m feeling lazy because it’s easy and always connected.

So do it! Take the leap – and let me know if you have any questions.

Cut the Cable with No Regrets!

It’s been nearly eight months since I have paid a cable bill, and I haven’t looked back once! Cutting that $115 a month cable bill will save me roughly $1,000 a year after internet and subscription costs. In lieu of cable TV, I decided to pay $35 a month for a 60Mbps internet connection. I put a couple of months worth of cable bill money toward the following hardware :

I’ll give a review of each device in a separate post, because that will be a little long winded. In a nutshell, the Roku is great; it streams just about any subscription service you can think of and you won’t need anything else – well there are a few weird exceptions. You can’t go wrong with a Roku or the Fire TV though. The Fire has a few added benefits like voice search and title search (You name the title and it will give you all results; whether they are on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu+, etc.).

I bought a DOCSYS 3 cable modem from BestBuy, who matched Amazon’s price of around $70. That wipes out that $5-$10 per month rental charge the cable company will try to tack on. All you are left paying is the internet bill, and those can be as low as $20 a month. My service is through Mediacom, and again I can write a separate review on that later. I am happy with the speed and service of the connection itself; I’m not happy with the fact that Mediacom puts a 350GB monthly cap on my bandwidth, something that I was not used to moving from California. My other option here is to go with Centurylink DSL, and now that we have Fiber to the Home (FTTH) I might make that switch once our contract is up.

Long story short – I was worried that we would miss A&E and other paid channels. Fear Not! Trust me, you won’t look back. Part of what made it easy for us is that we were moving out of our home, living on the road for a few weeks, and getting set up in a new home with the intention of cutting the cable. Most of the content you need, you can get via the Roku box and/or Chromecast and a smartphone. Having the AppleTV and FireTV were both a bonus, but the Roku will get you everything you need to get by, for under $100. They have a Roku Stick now, similar to the Chromecast, that works with a Smartphone at a fraction of the price of the Roku streaming box. Give that a shot if you want to ease in.

As far as monthly costs, you can piggy back your Netflix subscription from a paying family member by setting up a “Profile”; so that won’t cost you a penny per month. When thinking of internet speed, make sure you get something that will handle streaming video on at least one or two devices. Our 60Mbps connection does an excellent job of handling anything I’ve ever thrown at it – and I’ve put it through its paces believe me. Hulu+ is about $8 a month and has a great selection of current TV shows – the late night stuff, comedy central, etc. I will probably scrap this subscription soon. I tried canceling last week, but Hulu gave me a month free to “reconsider”. The best value service for me is Amazon PrimeI don’t have sponsors, but Prime is incredible. It’s not only the amazing two day shipping, but it’s access to like 40,000 awesome movies and TV shows; a ton of HBO content, and stuff you would probably pay a lot for if you had cable. I prefer the Amazon choices over Netflix to be honest. Amazon Prime Music offers subscribers access to tons of high quality, full album, music as well. It’s all I listen to now; I’ve ditched Pandora, Spotify, and Google Music all together. There’s no reason to hoard Gigs of MP3’s anymore; Amazon Prime Music does it all – From Country to Christmas, Hip Hop to Pop – It’s all there. You can skip around, download music to your own collections, access to great playlists, etc.

If you are thinking of cutting the cable, there’s no greater time than now. Trust me when I say “You won’t regret it” – save yourself thousands of $$$, give yourself time to do other things besides sit in front of the TV, and explore the worlds of internet content – PBS, TED talks, you name it – there’s a ton of cool stuff out there to be explored; and most of it is free!

The big question – How do you get local TV? It depends on where you live. First, check out this website to determine your Over the Air or OTA coverage : http://www.antennaweb.org/ or http://tvfool.com/. Next, run down to CostCo and get a powered HD indoor antenna like this one : http://www.costco.com/Winegard-Flatwave-Non-Amplified-HDTV-Indoor-Antenna-FL5050C-.product.100047906.html. This little antenna picks up about 10 channels for us. We get Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, 3 PBS stations, a music channel, the weather channel, QVC, and a few others. The quality of the signal is better than the HD cable box we were paying for. It’s uncompressed, clear digital HD TV, free for all – over the air. I put the antenna in an upstairs bedroom, and use an amplified coax hub in the basement to connect the living room, and all other rooms, to it.

Antenna input to 4 outputs. Living Room and bedrooms share 1 antenna

Antenna input to 4 outputs. Living Room and bedrooms share 1 antenna

HD Antenna for Local HD Programming

HD Antenna for Local HD Programming

Leave a comment if you have any questions or anything to add to the conversation.

A couple of references to check out :

Cord Cutting 101 – http://www.digitaltrends.com/topic/cord-cutting-101/

WSJ Cut the Cord – http://www.wsj.com/articles/getting-rid-of-cable-tv-the-smartest-ways-to-cut-the-cord-1405472757

Tom’s HW Cable Alt’s – http://www.tomsguide.com/us/cord-cutting-guide,news-17928.html