Using PlayOn with DirecTV

PlayOn has been around for several years now, but for most people it has remained on the edge. However, the app has managed to become more prominent and insinuate itself into more places. It can work with almost any DLNA-capable device and also works with other popular  hardware like Roku and Google TV. Since DirecTV’s HR line of DVR’s are DLNA-capable I decided to give it a shot.

There are a few things you need to take care of before getting started. First and foremost, you need to make sure your DVR is connected to your home network — mine is hardwired thanks to an ethernet jack I installed behind the media cabinet and network switch that feeds, not only the DVR, but the HTPC, Netgear NeoTV and Blue-Ray player.

Now you will need to install the PlayOn server on a computer on your home network. The free version contains home media access, Pandora, YouTube and HBO Go (subject to your  subscription). The paid service contains about 60 additional channels and costs $19.99 per year.

Enable the “My Media” feature and then point it to the folders where your media — pictures, video and music — is stored. It may take a bit of time to catalog everything.

Now, on your DirecTV DVR click the “Menu” button, browse to “Extras”, click “Music & Pictures” and you will find a list of the available channels and files from your PlayOn server.

Under many of the stations you will find sub-headings, including subsidiary channels like NBC Sports under NBC. While it work great with a DirecTV DVR, it really is more for those who are looking to cut the cord and PlayOn with a Google TV box may just be the way to go.

Troubling Satellite Gap

Whenever a major storm like Sandy develops, one of the tools that are used by scientist to follow and predict the storm’s path are the polar satellites. These satellites fly pole to pole, crossing the equator in the afternoon. The data that these satellites provide allow scientists to more accurately predict the path of the storm up to 5 days ahead. This can make it easier to prepare for disaster and get the relief to where it is needed.

There is a growing problem though these satellites are past their life expectancy and their replacements the J. P. S. S will not be ready until 2017. This will leave at least a year gap in coverage. This will make it more difficult to predict the path of a major storm. If the information coming from these satellites had not been available during the 2010 blizzard studies show that forecasters would have under estimated the storms power by half. The gap between the two system according to independent studies is a result of mismanagement, lack of funds and delays at NOAA ( National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association,)

Right now there is an army of utility trucks headed toward various locations on the East coast. Without these satellites and the information they provide it would have been more difficult for agencies to know where to send these trucks, possibly delaying the recovery by days. As the number of storms and their power seems to be increasing the data these satellites provide become more and more important.  We can not prevent natural disasters, but with the proper information we can limit their effect and get the relief where it is needed and that is where these satellites come in.

DeLorme inReach Two-Way Satellite Communicator

DeLorme LogoAndy talks to Jim from DeLorme about the new inReach two-way satellite communicator, perfect for those really out of the way places.

The DeLorme inReach is a tracking and communication device that uses a satellite radio link to transmit text and GPS location data, rather than the mobile phone network. Owners can communicate via text message from anywhere on the planet, not just those areas with mobile phone coverage, and it’s ideal for hikers and extreme sports enthusiasts who might have an emergency far from a phone signal (or simply want to reassure family that they’re ok.)

The inReach has two modes of operation, one where you use the control unit directly, the other where an Android smartphone app talks to the control unit via Bluetooth. The app is needed for two-way text messaging, mainly as the control unit doesn’t have a keyboard, but there is a dedicated SOS button on the control unit for emergencies. Other smartphones may be supported later.

The inReach costs $250 and a monthly subscription is required for service priced at $9.95 per month. The units are available now.

The inReach is impact-resistant, waterproof, floats and weighs 8oz. Battery life is 60 hours on a pair of lithium AAs. Overall, it’s an ideal emergency backup device but please note, gadgets like this are not a substitute for proper planning, preparation and equipment. Always tell someone your plan and expected return time.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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ViaSat exede 12 Mb/s Satellite Broadband Pricing

ViaSat LogoIn a follow up to our earlier story on ViaSat and NRTC, ViaSat have announced their new 12 Mb/s satellite broadband service, exede. The high speed service will launch on 16 January beginning at $50 per month, offering 12 Mb/s down and 3 Mb/s up, using the new ViaSat-1 satellite.

The exede service will be welcomed by rural communities that have been unable to get high speed Internet connections because of the lack of infrastructure and the distances involved. Satellite broadband overcomes these issues to offer a “feels like fiber” experience.

With our new exede broadband service, customers across the United States will have a way to get exceptional speed whether they live in a city, suburbs or a more rural area,” said Tom Moore, senior VP of ViaSat.  “Our new exede service speeds make us very competitive with both wireless home broadband service as well as legacy DSL and many cable services.

The exede residential broadband packages all feature the same high speed but with higher data allowances at each price point. 

exede12 Services

Up to 12 Mbps downloads
and up to 3 Mbps uploads

Data Allowance (monthly)

7.5 GB

15 GB

25 GB

Package Price (monthly)

$49.99

$79.99

$129.99

Overall, this looks like a great new service for people who were poorly served in the past, but users will have to watch out for those data limits.

NRTC Offers ViaSat Satellite Broadband

ViaSat LogoThe National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative has partnered with ViaSat to offer NRTC members faster 12 Mb/s satellite broadband through ViaSat’s WildBlue service. The NRTC represents the telecommunications and information technology interests of around 1500 rural utilities and affiliates in 48 US states.

The new ViaSat-1 high-capacity Ka-band spot beam satellite was launched back in October and includes coverage over North America and Hawaii, enabling a variety of new, high-speed broadband services for WildBlue in the U.S., Xplornet in Canada, and JetBlue Airways on its domestic U.S. fleet. Capable of 140 Gb/s, this one single satellite has more capacity that all of the other North American satellites put together.

NRTC’s electric and telephone members were the first distributors of WildBlue service, and they remain committed to ensuring that rural Americans have access to robust broadband,” said Tim Bryan, NRTC CEO.  “The enhanced satellite broadband service will make significant contributions to the communities we serve, so we are very happy to continue our relationship with ViaSat and offer the new service.”

Pricing wasn’t announced, but current WildBlue customers pay between $50 and $80 per month depending on service.  Outside of ViaSat-1’s coverage area, the NRTC will also offer 5 Mb/s broadband service through a range of delivery mechanisms. Based on figures from WildBlue, between 10 and 20 million American households are unable to get broadband through DSL or cable and for them, fast satellite broadband at a reasonable price will be warmly welcomed.

Todd and his team will try to get a demo of the satellite service at next week’s CES.

The Modern Space Race

The Institute of Engineering and Technology’s monthly magazine always has plenty of tech articles and this month is no exception with a look at the different approaches to space flight being adopted by the US and Russia in Gateway to the Stars.

In the US, privateers are pushing forwards with the new Spaceport America in New Mexico, while the Russians continue with the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome. The pictures of the new spaceport under construction and Virgin Galactic craft contrast sharply with the utility of Baikonur. Obviously the sites are aiming at different markets, one consumer-led into sub-oribital flight, the other for ballistic launches, typically satellites and cargo runs to the ISS.

Picture courtesy of Virgin Galactic. The new spaceport terminal is the building under construction in the foreground.

The article also has some great trivia. Did you know that the nearest settlement to Spaceport America is called “Truth or Consequences” or that Baikonur Cosmodrome is actually 300 km from Baykonur so as to mislead the West? Or that the launch countdown to zero can be credited to Fritz Lang’s 1929 film “The Woman in the Moon”?

Freeview HD Coverage Checker

As the UK slowly moves towards turning off the analogue terrestrial TV signal and switching to digital transmissions, it’s been overtaken by consumer demand for high definition (HD) broadcasting. The satellite and cable providers, namely Sky and Virgin Media, have been quick to offer HD on their subscription services, but the terrestrial digital broadcast system, Freeview, has been somewhat slower to offer HD. Some regions of the UK, e.g. Northern Ireland, will not have HD terrestrial broadcasts until 2012. Consequently, there’s been a great deal of uncertainty and misinformation.

So it’s fortunate that ConsumerChoices has added Freeview HD coverage to its HD Coverage Checker. By putting in your postcode and your house number, you’ll be presented with all the HD options available to you, including satellite, cable and terrestrial. In addition, for Freeview (terrestrial), the website will tell you which transmitter to use, how far away it is and the likely signal strength. If Freeview HD is not yet available in the area, it will give the expected date for it to be turned on.

With Freeview decoders now available in a range of products including set-top boxes and HD TVs, there’s often a small price premium to pay for the HD decoder over the standard definition. By using the HD Coverage Checker, you can make informed decision whether to go HD and pay more, or stick with the standard definition decoder.

The Simple Functionality that DirecTV Still Lacks

directv logoA few days ago I had a DirecTV HR23 box go belly-up.  I awoke one morning to the smell of melted plastic.  I didn’t open the box, so I don’t know what went wrong, but it was obviously something bad.  Despite having no LED lights on the front panel there was still power – although it wouldn’t even try to boot up.  But, as long as the power cord was plugged in, the smell and a chirping sound (which probably was from the hard drive) continued.

DirecTV has always had excellent customer service, at least in my experiences.  This was no exception – they were ready to send me a new HR23 via priority shipping.  The box arrived in two days, along with a paid label to send back the old DVR.

Setup is simple – just plug in the old connections that are already in place.  Of course, you need to call DirecTV to activale the box, but that isn’t a big deal either.  It’s after that step that you see where DirecTV, and every other DVR (as far as I know), are lacking.

What do these cable and satellite companies need to add?  Backing up all of your recorded shows would be nice, but we have seen how difficult a netwrked DVR has been for Cablevision.  What I noticed when re-setting-up my HR23 was a glaring lack for backup of personal settings.  I had to, once again, add all of my season passes, set my video preferences, re-enable my network settings, etc.

Is it too much to ask that all of these personal settings be backed up by the provider?  Or at east that they provide a path for backing them up locally to a networked PC?  After all, the HR23 has ethernet and shows up on our home network.  It seems like a simple update to add backup of personal settings.  More importnantly to the providers, it doesn’t seem like anything that would cause them to end up in court.

This seems like a minor addition to the software package of any TV provider.  Still, it doestn’t seem to be mentioned by anyone as an update that is on the roadmap.  I know that I would seriously consider moving to one that decides to add it.

 

Shredding The Cord

Ah, my once-beloved Dish Network account – the thing I once thought I could never do without; the budget monster that consumed $100 per month, month after month, year after year. I agonized for months over the idea of simply killing it before finally pulling the plug.

It’s been the better part of a year since I put the budget-busting beast to rest and cancelled the account. Dish Network itself seemed to want to throw up as many roadblocks as possible to get me to change my mind. They wanted the LNB module off of my roof, in addition to the two receivers. I had 30 days to send the units back in the packing boxes they sent or they would make me pay full price for them.

I was able to talk the guy out of forcing me to climb up on my roof to retrieve the LNB, and I was able to get the two receivers sent back to them within the 30 days of cancellation. However, somehow they had in their billing system I had three receivers, not two. They sent return packaging for three units. I spent time on the phone with them to make sure this discrepancy was resolved, and they assured me it was.

Ooops, not so fast! A month or two later I got a letter from them stating I still owed them for a receiver and they intended to hit my bank account for the amount. A phone call to them resolved the issue and I haven’t heard a peep from them since.

How has life been without all of those channels? $ome part of me hate$ to admit it, but I haven’t missed it at all. I’ve got an Intel Mac Mini set up as a DVR for local over-the-air HD broadcasts, as well as a Netflix account and several other Internet-connected set top box viewing solutions.

Observations

A very large percentage of TV programming is marketing presented as content. Much of what passes for entertainment depicts multitudes of dysfunctional drama queens assaulting and insulting the people around them. The more dysfunctional they are, the more likely it is the marketing messages will seep into the mesmerized minds of the audience. Even if one isn’t watching commercials, product placement and even behavior placement abounds. Viewers are being programmed to buy certain products, as well as behave in certain ways.

Think you can’t do without cable or satellite TV? Think again. I was paying $1,200 dollars a year for Dish Network. Multiply that by just 5 years and that’s a whopping $6,000 dollars for the privilege of being shaped and influenced by marketing messages so I would spend even more money.

Let’s go one step further. For many people TV is an addiction. These people are crack dealers in disguise. How else could it be that they can continue to raise their prices and people continue to pay ever more?

Let’s be honest. The vast majority of cable TV programming is less than worthless. Could that $6,000 dollars been better spent on higher-quality programming? Of course it could.

Unplugging Cable/Satellite – Not Quite Yet

I know many of us keep discussing unplugging cable/satellite and going with set-top boxes and Internet programming instead.  An article on Mashable by Christina Warren explains pretty well why most video media consumers won’t be switching from cable and satellite anytime soon.

The fact is, moving from passive pay television, where you can easily channel-surf your way through the lineup (or use the guide with the touch of a button), to a more active style of not only finding content, but viewing content, is just not going to happen for most people.  While the Boxee, Roku, AppleTV, and other devices enter the market, the ease of use hasn’t caught up.  Regular television provides an easy-to-access method for figuring out what you want to watch, and the rise of the DVR means you can also record what you don’t have time to watch at that moment.  There is very little physical or mental encumbrance in using passive television to fulfill a need for entertainment.

Ms. Warren goes on to point out that if set-top boxes are going to be a replacement for cable and satellite, then they need to actually provide what people are not only used to, but what they want.  No one wants to spend ten minutes picking through a menu to find what they want to watch.  They want to turn it on, flip through a few channels, and be ready to watch.  Most users of DVR’s are doing the same thing, albeit with recorded shows:  bring up the guide, pick what you recorded, push play.  There is instant playback, instant access.

The other piece of the puzzle is live television.  Live news, live sports events, breaking weather, all of these things are not being accommodated in the set-top box space.  They can’t be, by definition.  I just lived through three days of gloom and doom regarding a Midwest blizzard, and believe me, that live connection to information was critical in determining if we were going to make it to work, doctor’s appointments, etc., and also helped us decide if we needed to take extra emergency precautions to keep our homes and families safe.  I could have never gotten that information from my AppleTV.

When solutions can be found to these issues, and set-top boxes can act more like passive television viewing, we might just see more adoption in the market.  But as it stands, I don’t see anyone giving up cable/satellite for set-top boxes anytime soon.