Sunday, July 27, 2014

Streaming TV: Moving Beyond Cable

 Frustrated that our cable bill is going up yet again by a considerable amount, doubly frustrated that the cable company obfuscates my choices on their website, and and triple frustrated they make me talk to multiple representatives - being placed in a wait queue each time - to review my bill and purchase options, I decided it is time to cut the cord.  After much research, I've found a viable option for getting rid of cable.

We purchased a Roku 3 box this weekend.  It can receive a wireless internet signal and gives instant access to the three major streaming TV/Movie suppliers (among many many others) for television viewing:  Netflix, Amazon TV, and HuluPlus.  I updated our home architecture as shown in the above diagram to incorporate Roku.  It took 5 minutes to install.  Pretty simple!

 This is the default Roku home screen.  With one click we can browse the choices on Netflix, Amazon TV, HuluPlus, Vudu, and a wide variety of other product suppliers.   Note users still need to purchase access to some of them.  HuluPlus is about $8 per month, as is Netflix.   Many others provide free access and a boatload of free content.  Some provide free access, some free content, and some content that must be purchased.  In the channel store, there are hundreds of other free and paid channels that can be added to the "My Channels" list.   Amazon TV provides free access, has some content that must be purchased individually,  and has some content that is free to Amazon Prime customers (we already are - it costs $99/year to be a member of Amazon Prime I believe).

 To see whether we would save money by replacing cable with Roku et al,  I made a table of our must-have shows.  This table changes regularly of course, but as of today this is what we felt the minimum set of shows would be.  In red, I've charted the best course through our options.  The table shows that by getting Amazon TV, HuluPlus, and Roku we can replace everything we felt we had to have out of the cable company.  Note that the "Roku" column is my short-hand method of saying that content is available through free channels on Roku.  For example, there is an A&E channel and a History channel on Roku that are free with some free content.  Our cable TV bill had risen to about $135/mo,  but a bare minimum cable path (to get our must-have shows) would cost us $95/mo in my estimate.  This table shows that Amazon/HuluPlus/Roku will be about $38.  Note that "D:8 E:5" means there is an eight day delay from when a new show is released until it appears on HuluPlus,  and there are 5 episodes that are viewable (it shows the latest 5 episodes).
Even if we buy a few extra shows each month, we can still keep our cable TV costs at about $50, saving ourselves a whopping $85/mo over our current cable bill, and about $50 over a minimal cable path.  This last table shows what we sometimes watch but don't feel necessary.  As you can see, they are still available with Amazon/HuluPlus/Roku but most of the shows on this list will cost some $$.  We will probably just watch the Real Housewives show since we incur no extra monthly expense from those.

I've talked to several people about going this route, and some have heard that local TV news is not available going this route.  That is somewhat, but not entirely, true.  One of the default channels on Roku is LiveStream which provides free streams to about 100 TV news stations around the United States.   In my area (San Diego), it currently offers Fox 5.  This list is constantly expanding and I would not be surprised to see multiple stations from San Diego covered within a year or two.   To me, this is not a big issue anyway because I don't watch nightly news on local stations, and during emergencies I can catch their video streams via my computer on their websites.  That's what I did during the May 2014 San Diego fires when I still had cable!

Also,  Roku offers the ability to connect to private channels and some of these also offer access to local news.  When managing your Roku account on the Roku website, there is a place to enter the access code for any private channel you want to access and it gets loaded into your channel choices.  I found a private channel that offered more San Diego local channel choices.  If you search for "Roku private channels" on the internet, you'll see many lists of private channels that can be added to your list of channels.

And in reality, Roku offers what cable companies don't in terms of local news:  access to live local news broadcasts from around the country.  As far as I know, most cable companies only offer local news channels that are local to the cable subscriber.

Another thing we love about Roku:  it is very clear what shows/movies are free and what will cost us money.  It is clearly stated with each show.  Also, in order to purchase a show, we must enter a PIN before our account gets charged.  There are many levels of safety built into the system...very nice!

We're pretty excited about canceling cable and going this new direction.  We've been playing with Roku all weekend and love being able to watch what we want, when we want.  Cable dictates when a show is available for viewing.  True you have a little flexibility with a DVR,  but Amazon/Hulu/Roku seems to give us even more freedom.

We think the tide is turning and it will just be a few years before there are more folks streaming TV than there are getting it over cable.   We hope this blog entry helps you understand better one path for doing just that.  If you have any questions leave us a comment and we'll try and answer if we can.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prepping For The Wedding

All the pieces to the outfit the boys will be wearing in the wedding have arrived and they tried them on for the first time Sunday night.

I'd say the look works extremely well on them!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2014 California WorldFest Videos

California WorldFest in Grass Valley, California.  July 2014

Matuto (Appalachia / African / Brazilian)

Matuto (Appalachia / African / Brazilian)

Matt Anderson (Blues)

Ozomatli   (Latino / salsa / samba / funk)

Ozomatli  (Latino / salsa / samba / funk)

Ozomatli  (Latino / salsa / samba / funk)

Benyoro (Mallan)

Claire Lynch  (Bluegrass)

Los Lonely Boys (Tex/Mex Rock)

Los Lonely Boys (Tex/Mex Rock)

Arriving in Sacramento

 When we arrived at the Sacramento airport baggage claim, we found a car just like ours in the building!  Well okay, a different color interior and exterior...but just like ours!

And Enterprise handed us a Dodge Charger as a rental!  Very sweet ride...we enjoyed it very much.

Now....On to WorldFest!

Achilles Wheel at 2014 California WorldFest

 Well, we finally made it to WorldFest again this year!  The first band we heard:  Achilles Wheel playing some very fine rock ensembles featuring a wide variety of stringed instruments.  What a great way to start a music festival!
 We sat at the back but had an excellent time.

 My son Ron and my wife...

Mia Dyson at 2014 California WorldFest

 Mia Dyson playing bluesish country rock on the Pine Tree Stage.
 It wasn't my favorite band of the day, but then we didn't have very good seats.  That may have influenced my listening ability.

 Hey!  The singer from Achilles Wheel was in the audience!

Jaffa Road at 2014 California WorldFest

 We heard Jaffa Road's Arabic / Jewish / Indian music indoors at the Welcome Stage, where the air conditioning was a welcome respite to the hot afternoon sun.
 They turned out to be a very enjoyable band...loved their music!
 The sound guy.
Our son Ron in front of the chair, helping prepare for the next band.

Patchy Sanders at 2014 California WorldFest

 I don't know how you would describe Patchy Sanders, but they describe themselves as Celtic / Folk / Appalachian / Medieval / Bluegrass.  Whatever they call it, it was very enjoyable.  They stole the violinist from an Oregon orchestra.
 The two women in this view are sisters.
 At one point, two of the band members acted out one of the songs.

There Is No Mountain at 2014 California WorldFest

 Our son had given us a heads-up that we would really like this band, and he was right!  Here they are getting ready to play their great mix of African, jazz, and "psychedelic swirl".
 The light was playing off the backdrop very nicely at this time of day, and the green polka dot dress really worked with the whole scene.

Crowd had thinned out as they wrapped was getting to be dinner time.

Benyoro at 2014 California WorldFest

 I have no idea what Mallan music is, but that's what Benyoro plays and it sounded mighty fine.  A few shots of people enjoying the summer afternoon with Benyoro.

 About this time of day it can get pretty toasty as this shot emphasizes.

 I also decided the time was ripe to take a few shots of ourselves, to prove we really were there.  Say cheese!

Claire Lynch and Perla Batalla at 2014 California WorldFest

 Claire Lynch played her fantastic bluegrass to start Friday evening off right.  We caught a whiff of her music back here and decided to take a closer look/listen.

 This lady could really sing.
 We have a sample of her singing in the video section above.

 My son Ron and my wife.

 A peek at the campgrounds between the trees.

 Our son Ron.  He manages the light and sound at WorldFest.
Perla Batalla sang her Mexican folk songs as dusk fell.  Between songs she mentioned that she had had dinner with Linda Ronstadt the night before in San Francisco.  Lucky!