Category Archives: Uncategorized

Company Offers Competitor Customers Free HDMI Cable

HDMI cables continue to be a racket. Cables are way overpriced and the average user should buy the cheapest one they can find. One company has an interesting solution to this. They’re giving away free cables to their competitor’s customers:

Kogan is offering TV buyers a free HDMI cable with proof of TV purchase from one of its competitors, to prove that its £4 cable is as good as the £20, £50 and £100 alternatives on sale at rival stores. It may even extend the offer to PC buyers.

“An HDMI cable is an HDMI cable,” Kogan added. “It’s a digital cable. You either get a picture or you don’t. Don’t get conned into buying a ‘fancy’ HDMI cable because it will make no difference!”

Since HDMI cables are heavily used in streaming video setups, I’ll keep beating this drum. There is no reason to waste money on more expensive cables. If you’re doing a commercial setup with 100 feet of cable, then we’ll talk. That isn’t a living room setup.

Spotted via Slashdot, which is always good read for the comments. This one sums it up well:

There are various grades of HDMI cable for different task. If you’re running a 1920×1440 monitor or a 3D telly then you should get the high-speed flavor rather than bog-standard but you can still get those for a fiver from reputable online suppliers. The problem is not stores telling people that they need a $10 high-speed HDMI cable rather than a $5 normal speed one, they’re telling people that a $100 super-deluxe high-speed cable will give them a better picture and sound than the $10 high-speed HDMI cable. Which is BS.

…and the victims of this are usually people wanting 6′ cables to connect their BluRay to their TV, not slashdotters wanting to run 60′ cables past their homemade van-der-graff generator, in front of their Pringles-can long distance WiFi link, under the Farnsworth fuser and down to their experimental video wall.

Streaming Video News For 7/10

Another week of news. Right now, the video world is aswirl over the Hulu buyout.

There’s also the Apple TV-in-a-TV rumor mill that’s churning like crazy

And then there’s everything else

My Cable Cord Cutting Setup

UPDATE: To see the latest hardware and streaming sources configuration, check out my setup.

Im always looking for ways to lower household bills and to get a better experience for what we spend. One of the most enjoyable has been cutting cable TV out of my house. Here’s how I did it.

Why Cut The Cord?

I’m always watching our household bills for things that cause recurring payments. Time Warner Cable was one of them. Our cable bill had consistently been in the $50 – $70 a month for cable TV depending on which special deals we managed to haggle. But my wife and I didn’t watch much TV, at most a few hour a night, and the cable didn’t seem worth it.

I began looking at how we watched TV and whether there were streaming video alternatives out there. We had a decent internet connection, and I figured that $60 a month would buy a lot of alternatives.

What We Were Watching

To figure out if cable cutting was for us, I tracked what we watched. It broke down into a few categories

  • Crime / Whodunnit shows like NCIS, Law & Order, Bones and so on.
  • Oddball USA shows like Burn Notice, White Collar, Covert Affairs, In Plain Sight
  • Cartoons like Family Guy and Futurama for me
  • PBS cartoons, especially Dinosaur Train, for our daughter
  • The occasional movie (not necessarily recent)

This was a small set of shows and easy to compare with what was available on the internet.

The Streaming Video Alternatives

I was looking at this in November of last year. At the time, there were 4 major players in this space: Netflix, Hulu, Apple iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video. I also had an old-skool CRT TV without an HDMI input, ruling out Apple iTunes for my experiments. After all, I wanted to be low-cost about it and a new flat panel TV doesn’t qualify as low-cost. After ruling out iTunes on our TV, I took to the websites to see what was available

Show Netflix Hulu Amazon Instant Video
Bones X X X
Burn Notice X X
White Collar X X
Futurama X X X
Family Guy X X X
Dinosaur Train
Movies X X X

It looked like a combination of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video would cover our TV watching demands at the time. There one problem – Dinosaur Train. This is our daughter’s favorite show and PBS does a great job of making it appropriate for young children so we’re quite happy saying yes to it. Any lasting solution needed to solve this.

Putting Together My Cord Cutting Solution

After Christmas, I got a $99 Roku XDS box and got a Netflix subscription with 1 DVD. If we had some modern equipment like a internet-ready Blue-ray player or an XBox/PS3, we would’ve been going without spending any money. This gave us streaming video access and, with the occasional DVD to fill in some gaps, was a good place to start. My wife and I agreed to experiment with it to see if it would be good enough for us. After several weeks of experimentation, we found that Netflix and the occasional Amazon Instant Video purchase would cover anything Netflix could not. Excellent.

To solve Dinosaur Train, I took advantage of our last major TV viewing improvement, a Tivo. We had been watching all our shows through TV for the last few years, and our Tivo box had a lifetime subscription, so it was free for use and abuse. I picked up a DTV receiver for $50 and, using an IR blaster, got it to work with our Tivo box. The receiver could get our local PBS station. Our Tivo was now able to record Dinosaur Train using rabbit ears, filling the one hole in our TV line-up. This path firmly in place, I made the call to Time Warner one fine February day and cut the cord. The phone call was immensely satisfying.

More recently, we’ve started using PlayOn with our Roku box to get TV shows and avoid Amazon Instant Video purchases.

Savings From Cutting The Cord

It’s been 5 months since we cut the cord, and it has definitely saved us money.

Cable costs

  • $300 – 5 months cable x $60 average

Cable alternatives

  • $100 – Roku box
  • $50 – DTV receiver
  • $66 – 6 months Netflix x $11
  • $45 – Amazon Instant Video Purchases
  • $5 – 1 month PlayOn x $5
  • $260 total

We’ve already saved $40 and the savings will grow more quickly now that we’ve paid for the Roku box. Our setup costs $16 a month for Netflix and PlayOn, and saves us $44 a month over our last cable bill. By all accounts, this experiment has been a success. We’re enjoying the on-demand TV and love the lower monthly bills.

Predictions For The Roku 2

Update: The Roku 2 has been announced.

My previous post on the Roku 2 FCC filings left many questions unanswered. I’ve read through the filings and made some predictions and hopes on what to expect for the Roku 2.

Roku 2 FCC Filings

Engadget identified 8 different documents filed with the FCC:

  • Attestation letter: This promises that the device is to only be used in the US. It identifies 3 model numbers – 3000X, 3050X, and the 3100X.
  • Declaration of Authorization: This designates a 3rd party to represent Roku in the application. It identifies the model numbers and the market as IP-STB, an internet set-top box.
  • Confidentiality Request: This requests that the schematics, block diagrams, and descriptions of operation not be disclosed. It also requests a 45-day delay in releasing external and internal photos, test setup photos, and the users manual. We’ll be checking back in 45 days. I suspect that there was a slip-up and Engadget got hold of the test report without the photos removed.
  • Declaration of Conformity: Roku promises that they meet the FCC requirements necessary to have the FCC compliance logo on their box.
  • Request To Supersede: They’re changing the FCC label location and requesting to be able to do so.
  • Label And Location: Description of the FCC label. This includes an outline of the box size.
  • RF Exposure Evaluation: This describes the transmission power of the 802.11b/g/n wireless system.
  • Test Report: This is the bulk of the testing details and has some very interesting nuggets

The first take-away is that there will be more information in about 45 days. I would speculate that the new Roku boxes will be unveiled before the FCC does it for them, which places the product announcement on or before mid-August. Now, let’s get into the details.

What’s In The Roku 2 Test Report

The test report is both the longest at 95 pages available online out of a total of 114. Some findings that we can take from the report:

  • The 3100x will use a 7.5w power supply while the 3050x and 3000x will use a 5w power supply (page 6)
  • The Roku box is being tested with an Apple iPod Nano (model #A1199) plugged into the USB socket (page 10, 11)
  • Pages 96 – 114 have been removed from the FCC website. The index lists these pages to contain photos of the test setup and the device being tested. The records show that the report was revised on 6/30, a day after the Engadget release of photos. Oops!

So, what did we get? Roku is doing something with Apple iPods hooked up to the boxes, and the 3100x needs some extra power. Beyond this, we’re left to what Engadget has extracted from the original report to speculate.

The New Roku 2 Processor

Engadget did identify a new processor, presumably from the now redacted photos, to be the Broadcom BCM2835. The previous main processor was the Trident/NXP PNX8935. The old processor was quite long in the tooth, having been around since at least 2006. The BCM2835 appears to be so new, Broadcom has not publicly launched it. Or it’s a semi-custom chip. Either way, that implies that Roku’s getting something fairly modern. We can take some guesses at the performance by sifting through Broadcom’s materials.

Broadcom introduced a new series of IP TV and set-top box chips in January. This rather powerful group has somewhere between 4x and 7x more processing heftiness compared to the existing NPX solution. More importantly, Broadcom is pitching the expansive software stack, including a web browser stack (Webkit HTML), Adobe Flash compatibility, and DLNA support. Whether Roku goes with something based on this family or something with a little less horsepower, Broadcom does bring a lot of features to the table. I suspect that was a strong motivator behind the change from NXP to Broadcom as the supplier of choice.

Roku 2 Field Reports

From Engadget’s original report, we can expect more RAM, bluetooth capabilities, an Apple TV-like form factor, and some remote control improvements on the high end. In addition, a beta tester sent in some photos. The beta tester reported that the video looked better, but in most other ways seemed to be a similar system.

Roku 2 Predictions

I see great potential here, but reading the tea leaves is hard. Still, I swirl them around, avoid the grim, and take a guess. Some of this is hope enabled by the bits and pieces revealed in the FCC filing, but at least it’s a warm-fuzzy hope.

First, the Roku will be unveiled by August 15th. All units will have web browser “channels” enabled within a few months of release using the Broadcom Webkit software support. They’ll also have Adobe Flash support. This will, hopefully, allow Roku to bypass the limitations that Hulu places on set-top boxes. The Roku 2 family will also add support as a DNLA player to allow video streaming to it. I expect Bluetooth keyboard and mouse support for the web browser.

The 3010X will add some additional features onto it. It will play audio and/or videos hosted on iPods, iPhones, and other similar devices, and have a snazzier remote control that doubles as a joystick.

You’ve got me on the record for my guesses. Let’s see what happens in the next few months.  If Roku is looking for beta testers, I’m happy to sign up.

Roku Still Advertising $59 Box, But None To Be Found

As was noticed last week, Roku is no longer selling their $59 boxes. They can’t be found on the Roku site, Amazon, or anywhere else. But, while reading some news feeds, I noticed this Roku ad for boxes starting at $59 box. Admittedly, the one in the picture is the $79 XD box, but still.

A quick check of the Roku website shows that the Roku HD box is still as hard to find as four leaf clovers. Either poor advertisement management or dirty pool with the old bait-and-switch. Roku, please clean up this act.

Streaming Video Linkfest for 7/3

Whenever I take some time off, the news goes crazy. In this week’s round-up, the FCC reveals the new Roku box, everyone fights over Hulu, MediaMall introduces PlayLater, and other random nuggets.