Not long ago, I bid farewell to the flood-damaged farmhouse in Longmont, Colo. and moved on to greener, less swampy pastures. Despite the stress of moving and the fact that there are still boxes everywhere, there’s a lot to love about the new digs – a neat old Victorian surrounded by gardening space and fruit trees.
And the best part? I’m back on the cord!
One of the first orders of business at the new house, even before the moving truck pulled in the driveway, was to get Comcast service up and running. After the ultra-slow (<5 Mbps) DSL service at the farm, I was beside myself with joy when I saw this:
So how does the “cord-cutting” experience change now that I’m back on the cord?
For starters, I can watch streaming video and download software simultaneously – at the farm, this same challenge caused everything to grind to a halt for 5 or 10 minutes.
I also don’t see nearly as much buffering — there’s some, of course, but it’s generally limited to when I first start playing a piece of content. For example: Slingplayer, whether on my iPad or another device, will now keep playing without dropping the connection for hours on end (at the farm, Slingplayer would lose sight of the Slingbox at the lab at least once an hour, and every 5 minutes if I was watching something particularly interesting).
I expected to see some improvements in terms of video quality, but found it to be about the same as at the farm. Slingplayer works without interruption, but only in the SD or Auto settings – if I change the picture quality to HD, it’s full of skips and starts just like at the farm.
And the same can be said for Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus, regardless of whether I’m streaming to a Roku, Apple TV, or Chromecast. I can’t say that the picture quality is noticeably sharper than it was on an ultra-slow DSL connection. What I do notice is that videos play smoothly at the new house, with virtually no “buffer breaks” (which, like commercial breaks, were a good time to grab a snack. Now I have to pause the video).
This underscores the fact that our OTT devices are really good at handling streaming video, even when the connection is less than optimal. At the farm, even at <5 Mbps, the video generally looked pretty sharp and the buffer breaks were manageable when using a streaming device connected to my TV. The main difference now that I’m on a 50 Mbps connection is that videos load much faster, and I very rarely see buffering in the middle of a piece of content.
Aside from the faster connection, the biggest difference with my new setup is that I can easily get local channels with an antenna. Finally!
You may recall that I spent hours moving a huge high-powered antenna all over the farmhouse, and tripping over coax in the hallways, only to find I STILL couldn’t get all the major over-the-air networks. When I connected the dinky little Boxee antenna to a TV at the new house, it immediately picked up ~35 channels, including ABC and NBC, two that I tried in vain to pick up at the farm. Of course, I can get those channels (and more) through my cable service, but the rarely used upstairs TV doesn’t warrant its own cable box. And now that Aereo has shut down its service in Denver for the time being, the timing couldn’t be better.
It’s good to be on the cord again. The fast Internet and cable TV feel downright luxurious after doing without for years, and I’m excited to finally be able to explore some of the other technologies that are making their way into homes. Now that we’re in the time of home automation and connected bike helmets, I’m glad to be back on the cable loop.
One year over-the-top
This week marks one year of sampling a large variety of over-the-top video hardware and software in a makeshift office lab. Why: To understand why people cut the cable cord, or hang out on the “connected” side of today’s Internet-connected TVs.
Seems a good time to share some findings.
1. What I use the most, of the over-the-top services: Amazon Prime. Why: Amazon was first to offer Downton Abbey Season 2, which I could watch on a Vizio screen at home, while “getting steps” on the treadmill. (I am OCD about 10,000 steps per day, thanks to the Fitbit, to which I am wonderfully addicted.)
After that, and still on Amazon Prime: Tanked. Tanked is a family viewing activity, marathon-style – but, alas, the main TV in the house isn’t Internet-connected. So I brought home a Sony streamer, which was dissed at the lab for its clunky on-screen remote (it’s as clunky on the Sony PS3.) But, it has Amazon Prime. The Tanked binging continued in the living room.
When marathon-viewing Nurse Jackie on the Vizio screen, for instance, the Amazon app keeps track of episodes I’ve seen with a simple check mark. No such feature on the Sony streamer upstairs. Same app, same show, but you need to remember which episode you watched last.
The flip side of that, which comes with DLNA, is that any software-based video app can leverage native device features that are cool or handy.
Example: At the Cable Show in June, on a back wall of the CableNET area, Cox showed how its Trio guide had taken advantage of a native feature inside a Sony connected TV, such that in-show navigation happens on a scroll bar, frame by frame. It looked great.
3. What I use the most at work: Comcast’s “AnyPlay,” fed by Motorola’s “Televation” box. Live streaming cable TV on the iPad. Love it. Make it do trick-play, I’d love it even more.
That’s a short walk through a year’s worth of OTT-ing in the lab. Next time: What all that streaming did to the broadband meter; the puzzle of getting signal to everything; the multiplier on remote control clutter.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.