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September 28, 2017

 

Host Bridget Lancaster shows host Julia Collin Davison the steps to making the ultimate Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Then, tasting expert Jack Bishop challenges Julia to a tasting of smoked paprika. Finally, test cook Erin McMurrer reveals the secrets to making the best Red Beans and Rice.

Watched on Fire TV

 

Back in the 1950s listening to music meant sitting around with your mum and dad and having to listen to whatever drivel they wanted, but thankfully along came the portable record player, which helped gave birth to the teenager and a magical music revolution.

James May reassembles the past to hear what it sounded like as he pieces together the 195 parts of the game-changing 1963 Dansette Bermuda portable record player.

James reminisces about his teenage years and what it was like growing up in the 1970s as he takes us on a journey through sound and mechanical wonderment. James falls in love with the beautiful mechanisms that lie in the belly of the beast, finds the perfect solution to his soldering dilemma and has a rather exciting new screwdriver to show us.

Watched on Fire TV

 

After a four year stint living in New Zealand, ex-RAF pilot Jon and GP Gill Flewers want to build a Kiwi-style hill house on the slopes of the Malvern hills in Worcestershire. They plan to build an ambitious three-storey home clad in wood and stone, but the pair encounter problems as the site is so steep builders do not want to take on the job.

Watched on Fire TV

 

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. Hulu

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.

 

 

Happy to have finally had a chance to write up my cord-cutting experience. Hopefully it'll help some folks out there!

 
 
 

Daring Fireball: Cultural Insularity and Apple TV

John Gruber shares his opinions on the new Apple TV 4K. I see his points, and mostly agree with him, but I have a few nitpicks.

The lack of Dolby Atmos support in the Apple TV 4K was a sticking point in several reviews. Atmos support is supposedly coming to Apple TV in a software update, though, so the obvious difference between these products is price.

The difference is certainly amplilfied by the price difference, but the fact of the matter is that the Apple TV 4K is priced as a premium product, and has far more shortcomings for a premium audience than Gruber mentions here. The very fact that Apple released the Apple TV 4K without Atmos support (or Dolby TrueHD, Dolby DTS-MA, or any other high-quality audio format) is baffling to me. At a bare minimum, if they were planning Atmos support in a future software update, they should have announced that fact. Right now, its still conjecture.

In addition, the Apple TV 4K is missing other features that lower-priced competitors have that are important to the home theater crowd, such as automatic mode switching. If I'm watching content that is created at 60 frames per second, I want to watch it natively in that framerate on my TV or projector. If its 24fps, switch to that. Even cable boxes support this feature.

Another nitpick:

Without ever having looked at the new Fire TV (I did pre-order one, though, so I can), I’m sure that Apple TV is a more powerful device. The new Fire TV doesn’t even have a power cord — it just dangles as a dongle plugged into an HDMI port.

Two things:

  1. No one cares about raw "power," they care about what the device does with that power. I think Gruber is usually a champion of this, so I'm not sure why he points to power as a differentiator.
  2. The new Fire TV does, in fact, have a power cable. They just don't show it in the pictures. As far as I know, you can't deliver power over HDMI, but I could be wrong?

Finally, to Gruber's point about competing on price:

I like Apple TV a lot, but I think Apple is ceding marketshare by not having a box that competes on price. I think there are a lot of people who look at iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks and see them as “expensive but worth it” but who look at Apple TV and see it as “ridiculously overpriced”.

If Apple wanted to go after the consumer market, it would have to do so with the current feature set of the Apple TV 4K, at a price point in the $99 range, which is still more expensive than the Fire TV. If they want a premium product that they can sell at a premium price point like $179 or $199, the box needs to be targeted at home theater enthusiasts with expensive TVs, projectors, and sound systems.

The Apple TV is a confusing product. In many ways, its clear that its still a hobby for Apple. This is where I think Gruber and I largely agree:

It’s not enough to make a better set-top box. It has to be obviously better. I don’t think Apple TV’s current lineup makes that case.

Well said.

 
 

My commentary on @gruber's latest post re: the Apple TV 4K – https://cleverdevil.io/2017/daring-fireball-cultural-insularity-and-apple-tv

 

At lunch today, @economyofspace had an Impossible Burger from @impossiblefoods at The Counter. It was amazing!