Thursday, April 7, 2016

My Cable Free TV Setup

Last week I discussed how much I was saving by cutting cable and what I was doing to watch TV. I wanted to go into that a bit this week and describe my Family Room TV setup and how I'm watching everything I want to right now. I have three internet ready devices in the room, but one is the Samsung TV itself and I would recommend not using the Samsung smart apps unless you have no other choice.

This setup is attempted to make the use by non "tech" people be as painless as possible. It does include using my Xbox One as the base system so it's centered around that. I would not recommend an Xbox for anyone not interested in the gaming aspect, but on the other hand it's an amazing TV entertainment device, just not worth $300 to someone not ready to use it for gaming.

Xbox One

This is my family room hub and main entertainment device. It was purchased as a gaming device, but the uses for cable cutters grows with each day. Initially this was my Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime streaming option in the living room as well as for gaming.

Since then Microsoft has added new features to the device to make it do even more. Last year they added a USB device that attached to a TV antenna and brought local channels to the Xbox. The Xbox includes a guide called the One Guide and shows relevant channels and what's playing. On top of that the Xbox hard drive served as a short term DVR with 30 minutes pause and rewind or fast forward all for no extra charge.

Monday, April 4, 2016

What Opening Day Means to Me

photo credit: Sweet Caroline...BA BA BA via photopin (license)
For those who are newer to my writing I've spent A LOT of time writing about baseball. From Fantasy to the Red Sox to baseball in general. My work has been on my own sites to ESPN (My post on Zack Greinke) to baseball specific sites like The Hardball Times (My post page at HBT). I've written plenty of words on Sabermetrics and argued for far to long with those against using them. That's not what I'm here to discuss today.

As the only organized sport I played growing up, baseball has a very special place to me. I love soccer and hockey too, but baseball is what I know. I have lived and died seasons and become a Boston native early enough to truly watch and feel the release of 86 years of pain. I've watched and rooted for so many it's tough to remember them all.

From the least baseball looking player ever out of West Virginia (John Kruk) and a pitcher who fell off the mound with every pitch and crushed our hearts in the 1993 World Series (Mitch Williams) to a trio of Dominican born players in Boston who ended that drought in Boston 12 years ago already (Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz).

Each Spring (or what ever this is we have right now) we look to our teams and hope for another year of distraction and fun. We expect heart break and anguish, but that never seems to hold us back. We deal with brain dead managers and General Managers who wouldn't know a great signing if it bit him on the ass.

Backwards Compatibility is Good, but Still Struggles

In the past few months Microsoft has spent a lot of effort building the backwards compatability system of the Xbox One to be able to play Xbox 360 games through the Xbox One for games you already own or games given away from the Games with Gold program. So far I had not played many of the games using this system, but this weekend I gave it a shot playing Borderlands in online co-op as well as local split screen.

The results on this were mixed, but overall I think it's worth it. The first issue was getting things setup was not easy. It took us 10-15 minutes to figure out how to open the Xbox 360 menu in game to connect as friends since the other buttons return you to the Xbox One home screen. Once we got into a party within the 360 we were able to start a game. We had one person with microphone issues, but not sure if that was from his end or the 360 emulator.

In game I found no major issues with the game play itself, but frame rates dropped when the game started to get dark for evening and also when I ran. During the day time and in combat I didn't notice to many issues and we did fairly well in our first play session. I then switched to local split screen on the next session and found many of the same issues.

When you run at all the frame rate seems to drop and the gun can seem jumpy in animation. The same stayed true at night when it seemed to get worse. No other major issues appeared in local split screen although using the menu that doesn't fit on the split screen by moving it around is not very intuitive and can be quite annoying.

Overall I would say that Microsoft is getting it right by doing this and even though I beat Borderlands many years ago on the 360 it's great to revisit the original. I'm really looking forward to more of the open sandbox games I have and have not played when I owned the 360. As soon as Red Dead Redemption is available I'll be all over that even if the game play has some rough patches the nostalgia and stories are well worth it.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Lies of Locke Lamora only $1.99 on Kindle today

Not sure how long this deal is available, but this is a great book by a great author. The series is three books into a expected seven books and each has been great in it's own way. The first book was sort of a Ocean's Eleven style caper that is a really quick read.

Friday Funday Roundup of Links

I'm going to try and limit my what I'm reading, watching, playing, doing to this setup on Friday's unless something big comes along or I write a full review of something. This will be my all in one stop for things I'm currently doing, enjoying, fuming about.

Reading: My Goodreads
  • Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff - I finished the first section of the book and kind of put it down for a bit, but now I've gotten back in to it. This is the story of a black family and their experience in the post Jim Crow era in the Chicago area. The book deals with not only racism, but also the weird and how for a black family of that time things don't really seem that different from each other. I've liked the first act and the second is just starting to turn on the family again.

Gaming of Note: Steam, Xbox

  • Mini Metro - Mac - This is a great somewhat relaxing and somewhat stressful as hell game. The idea is to connect dots representing stations. You start each city with a certain number of lines, locomotives and bridges/tunnels. The objective is to keep everything running without any passengers waiting to long for their ride. I've gotten several of the basic achievements, but none of the advanced yet.
  • Fallout 4 - Xbox One - I've already completed the story once, but I've started a second female character that is melee and stick weapons only. I'm also spending a lot more time building my settlements in this play through and building as much stuff as I can. I'm not playing this as often though.
  • Final Fantasy XV - Xbox One - Now that we have a release date I'm getting pumped for this one. I haven't seen much this year worth buying and passed on The Division and Quantum Break. I also have been taking a break on many of the non story based multiplayer games as well. This though brings back the memories for sure and hoping the game can be half as good as the best FF games.
What I'm Watching: Trakt Account

  • 11.22.63 - Hulu - Was all in on this show until last night when we watched episode seven. Maybe it's knowing what is coming or just trying to tell an amnesia story on TV, but it was so slow last night and the plot only got going in the last 20 minutes or so. With only one episode left and some big and surprising things on the way I wouldn't miss the finale for the world, but I gotta say I can see why some critics thought the season may have felt an episode or two to long.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Vue - I think this type of show was never meant to be watched so close together. I've watched the last 3 seasons in just a few weeks and I'm getting a bit burnt out. The humor can still be great, but they might be reaching the end of the line for me. Perhaps a change to the cast by adding a permanent new member might bring some new humor to the show.
Link's of Note:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Game of Thrones Debate

Back in 2006 a good friend of mine told me about a book series I had to read. The series had just been picked up by HBO for a TV series and this style of epic fantasy was right up my alley. I proceeded to read the books over the next few years always staying ahead of the shows and spending plenty of time on the rumor and speculation sites trying to find out what was really going on in Westeros.

Then in 2015 it became clear that George RR Martin would never be able to release the next book in the series which would cover the plot that would be in season six of the TV show. The question many raised now was should book readers watch the show and have George's version of the story ruined for them. I had already gone through this decision though and made my choice.

It seemed odd to wonder if the sixth book would beat this season as your time to decide since even if book six did arrive there was no conceivable way the final book (Book seven) would be out before the final season of the show (this is now unclear as rumors of a eight season are out there). So it's possible the timeline could have changed if book six came out this past winter, but you would still be having the decision next year for sure.

Are you watching Season Six?

I've loved the books, but to be honest there is no way I can see delaying my watching of the HBO version of this story. Sure there are differences and how similar the final plot is can be debated, but huge spoilers are coming and you have two choices. The first is to watch every episode and realize potential book spoilers with the rest of us or boycott the show and wait for the books.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Cutting Cable at the 6 Month Mark

Last October my Verizon FIOS bill was due to increase $30 a month to keep the exact same internet speed and channel selection for TV. My bill was already nearing $200 a month for a triple play package and would easily cross that threshold when I renewed my contract. My family decided that was the last draw and we entered into the world of cord cutting and streaming all of our content. We've learned a lot over the last half a year and seen the potential for what is to come.


To accommodate the increased streaming we upped our internet from 75/75 to 100/100 for a monthly cost of $65 and continued to us e the Verizon Gateway router with dual gigabit service. Here is where the biggest strain has come as from everything we've seen and read this router is not worth the money, but Verizon requires this as your base router. We've made no improvements yet, but the plan is to weigh the cost of wiring our house or buying a better router.

Another option for a short term option is to install power line adapters to extend the best signal to the TV streaming boxes we use. For now though we can occasionally get buffering issues due to strain on the router or potential interference from walls and other objects. If money was no issue I would hard wire the whole house and limit the wifi use to portable devices only, but that is at least $1,000 job based on early estimates.

Streaming Options

Before cutting cable we already subscribed to Netflix, had an Amazon Prime account for the shipping option and had some form of streaming device in every room. There was an Xbox One in the Family room and Amazon Fire TV's on both other bedroom TV's. We decided the best option at the time was to add Sling TV as an option to watch sports (ESPN) and shows like The Walking Dead on AMC.

That said Sling TV was poor at best and had buffering issues and allowed only one device including Watch ESPN app logins at a time. $20 a month and only one person can get on at a time seemed ridiculous. So when Playstation Vue became a nationwide (US only) option we jumped at the chance. Adding a handful of channels we liked (USA, NBCSN, FS1, FX, FXX) as well as a DVR option was perfect. Local channels are not included, but we have flat leaf TV antenna's and pickup all of the Boston stations.

Playstation Vue still has some hiccups occasionally and can buffer every so often, but for the most part it runs really well. It also allows up to five users at once including many of the channels own apps like USA NOW, SyFyNow, ESPN, NBCSN, etc. All of this is great news for us and the cost is only $30 a month as long as you don't live in an area with the local channels included ($0/month in those cities)