My Experience Cutting the Cord, and the Service that Won in the End

Spoiler/tl;dr – Philo TV is an awesome service!

To clarify, this post is more focused on streaming Live TV, not just on demand…

Let me start by saying I DESPISE Cable TV. Paying a ridiculous fee for an obnoxious number of channels that will never be watched just seems ludicrous. When I decided to cut the cord, Sling TV had just recently come into being. I liked the idea of around 25 channels, most of which I would actually watch, only costing about $20.

This was also about the time that The Walking Dead was reaching the end of whatever season they were on at this time. This was a show that my wife and I watched religiously on Sunday night.

So, my first foray into streaming Live TV channels had begun…

For the most part, things went well. But then Sunday night came around and time to watch our show. I can’t begin to express how frustrating the buffering was. It was more annoying than I could deal with and I decided to change the channel, with the plan to watch it on demand the next day.

A couple more weeks went by, with each Sunday being the same ol’ story. Eventually, PlayStation’s Vue TV Service went live in my area. Sure it was a bit pricier, but it offered more channels that I would enjoy and offered better services with their Cloud DVR. I switched and was happy for quite a while. There was the occasional buffering, but nowhere near as consistent as I experienced with Sling. A few months later, they actually added one of our Local TV Stations to their service which was a huge win! But after some time, and I’m guessing more subscribers, the buffering started to get more and more common.

At this point, there were several other contenders in the Live TV Streaming game. First I gave DirecTV Now a spin. They had horrible apps for FireTV. Seven times out of ten, when I picked a channel from the guide, it would just get stuck on the loading screen. Then I tried Hulu’s TV service but was not impressed with the lineup and absolutely hated their user interface.

Now, I had kept my PlayStation Vue service all this time, as I was generally happy with it and really liked the DVR function. Unfortunately, they increased their prices so I was exploring other, cheaper options for comparison.

One day on Facebook, I saw a random add for Philo TV. Apparently they got their start when a couple of Seniors at Harvard University where playing around with Aluminum Foil. At that time, it went by the name Tivli. If you want to read more, here’s a like to the Wikipedia Page. It’s actually a really interesting read. Flash forward to 2018 and they are being backed by the likes of HBO and Mark Cuban, just to name a few.

So, given that there was an offer for a free trial, I thought, why not? At the time, there was an Android app available, but no FireTV app. I installed it on my Android phone as was immediately impressed by the ease of setup. You just input your phone number and they send you a code to log in. Equally impressive was their channel lineup and their user interface. I liked the guide screen view and the fact that you could “restart” the TV show that was currently on air.

I sort of hacked it onto a FireTV by installing Chrome Browser and using that to watch Philo on the big screen; not ideal by any means, but usable. In spite of that clunky setup, I found myself using it more and more and PlayStation view less and less. Oh, did I mention it was less than half the cost of Vue with pretty much all the same channels I actually cared about?

After a couple months using the FireTV/Chrome setup to watch Philo, I decided to give the new Roku boxes a try. That’s a story for another post, but let’s just say I’ve been impressed. The biggest selling point was that there actually was a Roku app for Philo. Now, I can say that we are happily streaming away Philo TV on the big screen with very minimal buffering/hiccups.

Philo might not be a feature-rich as PlayStation’s Vue service, but at such a lower cost with similar lineup, I’m not complaining one bit. See below for a breakdown of cost and lineup for each of the services discussed in this post.

What you will find with the below outline is that PS Vue and DirecTV are more comparable to each other, and to big Cable TV providers. These two are far more expensive. While Philo TV and Sling TV are cheaper options, both somewhat comparable to each other. But as you see, you get more for your buck with Philo TV.

Please excuse any typos or bad grammar…..I am, after all, typing this while buzzed
-James
—————————————————————————————-
Philo TV
*Streaming on up to 3 Devices at Once
$16/mo Package Includes 40 channels (as of this posting)
$20/mo Package gets you all the above plus:
—————————————————————————————-
*Stream on up to 1, 3, or 4 Devices at Once, depending on Package
$20/mo “Orange” Package – 32 channels (as of this posting)
$25/mo “Blue” Package – 47 channels
$40/mo “Orange + Blue” Package – 53 channels
—————————————————————————————-
*Streaming on up to 5 Devices at Once
*Certain Restrictions based on Location (see here)
$39.99/mo “Access” Package Includes 49 channels (as of this posting)
$44.99/mo “Core” Package Includes 68 channels
$54.99/mo “Elite” Package Includes 89 channels
$74.99/mo ‘Ultra” Packages add two more channels; HBO and Showtime
—————————————————————————————-
*Stream on up to 2 Devices at Once
$35/mo “Live a Little” Package – 72 channels (as of this posting)
$50/mo “Just Right” Package – 100 channels
$60/mo “Go Big” Package – 128 channels
$70/mo “Gotta Have It” Package – 140 channels

Living with Eero’s “Fast, reliable WiFi” (or, my experiences living with Eero WiFi the past year)

About a year ago, I decided that the new wave of “Mesh Wireless” devices was the way to go. I bought into the hype behind being able to “blanket your whole home in fast, reliable WiFi” that so many of these brands seemed to be offering. After doing my research, I settled on the Eero units due to bandwidth issues some users had experienced with the Google WiFi units. At the time, there were only a couple other options (Netgear being the main competition).

I started my adventure spending $350 on a three-pack of the original Eero Pucks. It was on sale at Best Buy so I thought I was getting a great deal. Initially I thought I’d just use them as Access Points in conjunction with my nice Netgear Nighthawk router. Unfortunately, it took a lightning strike the night before so I succumbed to an Eero-only setup.

At first, all went well. Aside from one of the pucks having trouble pairing, I eventually got all three placed and connected. According to the Eero App, my placement was spot on. For the first few months, it did seem that I had fairly worry-free WiFi. I do confess, I really like the App and all the functionality it offers.

However several months in, the facade started to show cracks. As you can see, at this point I have added additional Eero extender units (Because somehow it takes all 5 of these to reliably cover my 1500 sq. ft., single-level house corner to corner). One day my Internet connection just stopped. I was out of town and using my Plex Media Server on the regular. While streaming Deadpool for the fourth or fifth time, it just stopped working. I realized I could’t ping my server so I grabbed my phone and fired up the Eero app.

Okay, I thought, that’s cool. It just needs a reboot for some reason. In the back of my mind I recall some advertising mumbo jumbo about how rebooting your router would be a thing of the past with Eero. While pondering that thought, I clicked the “Manual Restart Required” button.

Oh. So there was an update available for the Eero. Is that what caused the issue? No…couldn’t be that! So I waited patiently….and BAM!

So now I have to physically unplug it and plug it back in….Trust me, the irony is not lost on this guy. But guess what? I’m not home! I’m hundreds of miles away!  Fortunately, my wife was back home so I called her to walk her through this process. Anyone who has worked in IT knows what it’s like to talk someone who is less tech savvy through anything on the phone.

Eventually we got the Eero unplugged and plugged back in so I tapped “Next” in the App. Now it proceeds to have us go to each of the other Eero units and manually restart them, on by one, in turn, until finally, after the last one……

Hallelujah! Finally our Worry-Free WiFi and Internet has been restored (now that the Eero has completed its updates). What a hassle, but if this is uncommon, I can deal with it. Although had nobody been home I would have been hosed for three days until I got back.

Fast Forward to TODAY………

I’ve had to go through the above scenario one more time in the past 6 months (because there was an update for Eero again, and again it caused my Internet to drop). And now, today makes the THIRD time this has happened in the past year. Only thing is, today, instead of it completing that “Restarting Network” step above, I get this beauty:

So here I sit, for the third time in a year, away from home and having my wife jump though hoops to try and get our “Fast, Reliable WiFi” up and running again. We have gone through this process three times, including trying to reset the cable modem, with no luck. I have reached out to Support, but it’s Sunday. Who knows how long this could take? And my wife is at home, stuck with no TV since we use Internet to stream live TV with Philo TV. (I’ll be writing a shining review for that service soon….really, it’s amazing).

I’ll report back if and when we get to the bottom of this. Currently I have $500+ invested in this Eero setup and I feel like I would have been much better off going with another system. I may still end up doing so….

Replacing the Head Unit in my BMW with a Tablet!

I’ve been toying with this idea for a couple months…I want to do away with the aftermarket head unit in my 3 Series with my Nexus 7 tablet. Well, I finally got around to working on it.

First I had to move the HVAC controls down to the space where the sunglasses/storage compartment was. For that, I ordered this part and it was super simple. Just pull it out of it’s current spot under the radio and snap it into this new piece. The wiring should all reach the new location with no trouble.
http://www.ecstuning.com/Search/51168230902/ES86962/

You’ll also want to order the switch panel cover for the switch spaces. There are varying sizes depending on how many switches you currently have in this space. I only have the DSC button, but I wanted to leave an extra space for future use. So I got the 3-long one:

Next, I had to find a nice, small amp I could tuck in the dash behind the tablet. I went with this Alpine unit thanks to a suggestion from a friend at Best Buy. The nice thing about this amp is that it works two-channel OR 4-channel and has built-in HPF for both options. More on that in a bit.

Next it was all about wiring. I grabbed a standard wiring harness adapter for my car, just like one you would use to install an aftermarket head unit. I set about wiring up the power to the amp as well as the outputs from the amp back into the OEM speaker wiring. I also wired in a cigarette lighter socket to the switched power of the wiring harness. Wiring diagram to follow.
Now it’s all about fit and snug. I pulled out the plastic mounting piece from the dash (4 screws) and started playing around with all the components that needed to go into that space. I ended up trimming some plastic around the front of the mount to allow the tablet a rectangular indention to sit in.  (pay no attention to the pasty white legs. I’m Irish, whaddya want?)
This was all a bit of Trial and error. Make sure to leave some extra room for the microUSB to plug in. i bought a right-angle USB cable to make this a bit easier.
Next I secured the amp to the back area of the mount. This also required trimming some plastic to make room. YMMV. Keep in mind there will be wiring coming out of both ends of the amp.
Then, just connect the two harnesses to the amp (power/outputs and inputs), add a cigarette lighter USB adapter to the socket and tuck all the wires into the empty space in the mount. I used zip ties to secure the wiring a bit and make it easier to work with. I thought I had a pic of this but I guess not. Just imagine a bunch of wires tucked into all the empty space seen in the pic above.
Now to head back out the car and re-attach the mount into the dash. Also go ahead and connect the wiring harness to the OEM one. Connect the microUSB to your tablet. I used a Phono to RCA Y-adapter to connect the headphone jack of the tablet to the RCA inputs on the amp. Again, I used a right-angle cable to make things fit better.

Set your tablet in place to test it out. At this point, when you crank the car, you should get power to the cigarette lighter socket you added which will charge the tablet. The amp should also power on. Go ahead and fire up your favorite music app on the tablet and test the audio.  You can make adjustments to the Front/Rear gain on the amp as necessary (you may want to test/adjust this before putting everything into the dash). Personally, I went with about 50% up front and 100% in the back.
Now the fun part. The ONLY place I could find a Double-Din bezel for this car is from a German website and would be over $100 shipped. I may end up getting it anyway, but before dropping that kind of cash on a tiny piece of plastic, I decided to try to make my own. I already had a single-din bezel from my aftermarket head unit install, so I picked up a second one and went to work:
It’s not the prettiest thing, but it’s still WIP. Eventually this will be covered in bondo, sanded smooth, and painted black. But in the meantime it will do the job of holding the tablet in place. The tablet is basically sandwiched in between the plastic mount in the dash and this piece. Again, you may need to trim some plastic around the inside of this piece to allow space for the tablet if you did not trim a deep enough section into the dash mount.
Once you have it all back together, this is what you have:
Additional Setup:
I use a live wallpaper for the music visualization:
(Music Visualizer App)
For automation, I use Tasker. I have it set up so when charge power is lost (ie. the car is turned off) to kill nearly all apps, turn off BT and Wifi, set the screen brightness to nearly 0, and the screen timeout to 10 seconds. When the car is cranked, charge power is on and it automatically resets to max brightness, always on screen, and resumes the music playback. As you can see, I also made a few custom shortcuts with Tasker to handle play/pause and track skipping as well as volume right from the homescreen.
Time for a beer! (or a few more)

Ubuntu Touch on Nexus 7…

Last week I posted about the newly announced Ubuntu Touch edition designed for phones and tablets. I promised an update with my first impressions. Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot to say just yet. Only a handful of the apps are actually functional (gallery, phone, camera, browser, media player, and notepad) and even fewer of those actual function properly on the Nexus 7.

What I CAN say, though, is that Ubuntu Touch has A LOT of potential. It certainly is a beautiful OS and the layout of the interface and the way you interact with it is quite intuitive. It makes use of all four edges of the screen, allowing you to swiped between running apps, access app-specific settings, system settings, and a quick-list of favorite apps (think the Unity Launcher, on your Ubuntu Desktop). The install image includes some sample content, including People, Pictures, Messages, etc, so you can see what using each of those apps looks and feels like.

All-in-all I would like to spend some time with a further functioning build before I decide if I love it or not, but the current build has certainly managed to pique my interest.

Android App Suggestion: Ghosttown

Ok,
I still don’t entirely get how this app works, but who cares??? Go get this app, now! Basically, you launch this music app and search for a band. It shows all the albums it can find by said band and you can play any/all of the songs it finds. So far I have been pretty amazed at what it can find. I was even able to listen to some older GWAR stuff that I couldn’t hear on Rdio or other more well-know apps! Oh, and the kicker…It’s FREE. Yep absolutely FREE. All you can hear; unlimited skipping; non Pandora-like crap.

Oh, and did I mention you can build playlists? And add any tracks you like to them? AND every artist you search for is stored in a list on the main music screen so you can easily get to them again (unless you remove them, of course)

(There is an option to remove the ads for $0.99 but it’s not necessary. Personally, I did just as a THANKS to the Developer!)

Seriously, go get this app now!
Play Link: http://t.co/eTIHlE9
(Oh, and in case you didn’t realize this, you can click the install button on that link and it will “PUSH” the app to your phone automagically)

UPDATE: Apparently it was too good to be true. As of January 2013 this app is no longer available in the Play Store. 😦