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Cord-Cutting Experiments: Part 2

4 min read

Earlier this month, I began experimenting with cutting the cord, starting by evaluating over-the-air options. Early indications had me optimistic that between a solid indoor antenna, an HDHomeRun Connect tuner, and Live TV and DVR functionality from Plex, I'd at least have my problems solved when it comes to the major networks. Sadly, that's turned out not to be true.

Plex + HDHomeRun: Not Ready for Prime Time

As I mentioned before, the HDHomeRun is great, and the antenna does pull in many channels, but its not nearly as reliable as I had hoped, with my local NBC and CBS affiliates being far too spotty. In addition, Plex's DVR and Live TV functionality is extremely unreliable, with recordings going hours over time, hanging completely, or causing my Plex Media Server to crash. I could certainly continue down the rabbit hole by investing in a more powerful outdoor antenna, but they're costly, and there's still the matter of Plex's buggy support for DVR and Live TV. At this point, I don't recommend this path for most people.

Evaluating Streaming Services

With OTA off the table, it was time to start investigating streaming services that offer live TV functionality and cloud DVR. My priorities were:

  1. Local affiliates for the major networks: NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox.
  2. Full access to ESPN and its associated networks, including access to WatchESPN.
  3. Access to Disney networks for the kids.
  4. More cost effective than DirecTV, my current service provider.

First, I took a look at Sling TV, which provides a highly-recommended a-la-carte service that meets many of my criteria. Many, but not all, unfortunately, as Sling hasn't managed to strike a deal with every local affiliate in my area.

Next, I signed up for PlayStation Vue, which on the surface, ticked all of the boxes. However, my free trial of the service was a total disaster. It took days for my account to activate, and my attempts to contact support resulted in announced hold times measured in hours. When I finally was able to get things working, the quality was pretty low, and the app experience left a lot to be desired. Once my trial was up, moved on.

A New Contender Emerges

Enter Hulu with Live TV, a new offering now in beta from one of the oldest and most respected names in streaming entertainment. Hulu with Live TV met all of my requirements on paper, so I decided to dive right in and put it to the test. 

At this point, I'd love to tell you that Hulu is a perfect solution. The truth is, it isn't. That said, it meets all of my requirements, and its shortcomings are tolerable enough that I've officially cut the cord, and cancelled my DirecTV service. Overall, Hulu is great, with an extensive streaming catalog that is, in essence, like a massive "on-demand" library from a traditional provider. The client app is available on every platform that I use, and works well enough.

My wishlist for Hulu, however, is long:

  • Client apps, as far as I can tell, don't support anything but stereo sound. Why no 5.1 audio, Hulu?
  • The DVR functionality is odd, and takes some getting used to. In addition, if you want to fast forward through the commercials of your recordings, you have to pay extra. This very nearly caused me to cancel and continue my search, but even with the additional charge, the service is a massive cost savings over traditional cable.
  • Weird content restrictions, especially with sports. Want to watch the NFL game that's on your local CBS affiliate? Well, I hope you want to watch it on your TV, because you're not allowed to watch the game on your phone, tablet, or computer. I know that, strictly speaking, this isn't Hulu's fault, but its still annoying as hell.
  • The client app, while very consistent from platform to platform, is a bit difficult to navigate.

The good news is that most of these problems are fixable with software updates, and even with these shortcomings, its still "good enough."

Next Steps

I'm going to keep my eye on Plex and its DVR functionality. If it ever manages to stabilize, I'll spend the time and money to set up a more powerful antenna, so I'll have the highest possible quality option for things like NFL and NCAA football games on the major broadcast networks. This would also give me a chance to re-evaluate Sling, and cut my costs even further. But, for now, I'm going to enjoy being free of AT&T/DirecTV.

 

4 out of 5 stars

Earlier this week, I had a chance to finally catch Baby Driver in my home theater. Edgar Wright is my favorite active film director, so I was really looking forward to seeing what he would do with a dramatic action film, rather than his mostly comedic recent work. Baby Driver didn't disappoint! I thoroughly enjoyed the film, though not as much as some of his other work. Highly recommended, especially if you're a fan of Edgar Wright's unique style!

5 out of 5 stars

Last night, I had the pleasure of experiencing the hit musical Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages Theater here in Los Angeles. Over the summer, American Express offered some of its members early access to tickets, and we jumped at the opportunity, snagging some pretty incredible seats about 25 rows from the stage in the center orchestra. After a lovely dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant with my wife and some good friends, we headed over to the theater and settled in for the show.

As a busy father of two, I've managed to largely avoid Hamilton hype. I hadn't listened to the music or read up on the show beforehand, so I didn't have a solid idea of what to expect. I will admit that I've read up on the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, as he's signed on to produce a film and TV adaptation of my favorite fantasy series. Again, as a parent of young kids, I've also watched Disney's Moana multiple times, and thoroughly enjoyed the music, which Miranda wrote. So, I had an idea that the show would be enjoyable, but was mostly just looking forward to a night out with friends.

I wasn't even close to prepared for how good Hamilton would be. I walked out of the theater absolutely stunned. The music, choreography, sets, writing, and plot were shockingly good. The pacing was frenetic and energizing. It was a funny, enthralling, emotional tour de force like I haven't experienced ever before. Hamilton is easily the best musical I've ever seen, perhaps one of the best pieces of live performance ever created. I was truly blown away.

Plenty of content has already been written on the subject of Hamilton, so I won't dive into many more details, other than to say this: if you haven't yet seen Hamilton, its time to make plans. Its worthy of all the hype.

Hamilton at Pantages! Great seats.

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