My forwarding address

© DepositPhotos / gustavofrazao

© DepositPhotos / gustavofrazao

For years, I’ve been writing here at FTABlog, and my worst problem has always been explaining what the heck “FTA” means. For every person who recognized that I was talking about free and legal satellite TV reception, there were two who figured it was some pirate thing and 20 more who had no clue. Maybe that was okay when the blog was devoted solely to FTA stuff, but not so much as over-the-air and internet-based TV topics took over.

That’s why I was so happy when a much better (in retrospect) domain name became available: FreeTVBlog.com. Maybe it’s a little too straightforward, but at least nobody’s going to wonder what the heck this blog is about.

Another advantage of the new place is that it gave me a better chance to experiment with a fully responsive WordPress template. FreeTVBlog looks so much better on my smartphone than FTABlog does. Soon, that same change will also roll over FTAList.com, but at this writing, that development work is still underway.

This is my last FTABlog post; the rest will be at the new site. I’ll leave FTABlog in place for a while to make it easy to read the links. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you again at FreeTVBlog.

Fall 2015: What’s new in channel surfing

Pluto TV

Pluto TV

Summer break is over, so let me catch up with what’s available in free TV viewing. For sheer quantity, there’s more than anyone could ever want.

First and foremost, over-the-air TV remains strong. With digital sub-channels, the typical viewer has dozens of choices. Here at FTABlog World Headquarters in Denver, I receive 68 channels. Your mileage will vary, of course; according to TitanTV, there are over 90 channels available in New York City and over 140 in Los Angeles but only 32 in Springfield MO. There’s a storm cloud on the horizon with the FCC’s upcoming TV spectrum auction, which could cause some of those stations disappear to make room for more mobile internet access. We’ll have to wait and see how that shakes out.

Next is FTABlog’s raison d’etre: free-to-air satellite TV. There are almost 300 free TV channels available with a pretty small Ku-band dish. Over 90 of those are in English, and that doesn’t include the many news feeds, sports feeds, and other such transient satellite signals. If you have a big C-band dish, there are another couple hundred interesting free channels to watch.

With broadband internet access, there are plenty of interesting options, although they haven’t changed much lately. With Aereo and Nimble TV gone, there aren’t any good ways to watch streaming US OTA channels, unless it comes from your own antenna, but there’s still a lot to watch. FilmOn continues to provide a wide range of channels, and internet video aggregator Rabbit TV (not quite free) got a mention at USA Today this week. Pluto TV includes dozens of channels including live news feeds. For ad-supported free TV that isn’t live, there’s Crackle and some parts of Hulu, and for more old TV and movies than you’ll ever have time to watch, there’s the Internet Archive.

There’s a chance we could see an avalanche of streaming channels, OTA and otherwise, if the FCC gives online services full rights and responsibilities as multichannel video programming distributors like cable and satellite providers. Imagine if broadcasters had to negotiate in good faith with the likes of FilmOn. This could open up a whole new category of video service.

Hey, I even had to update the About page here to reflect a change in free (as in free speech) TV. For years, it was nigh impossible to watch reruns of Spenser: For Hire. Period. No reruns on any network, no streaming services, no DVDs. Now that last option, at least, is available as print-on-demand sets on Amazon. Robert Urich, rest his soul, is no Spenser, but Avery Brooks was born to play Hawk. Now I’ll have to start wishing for something else, maybe the complete Fernwood 2 Night?

All in all, it’s a great time to be watching free TV. Discover something you like, kick back, and enjoy.

Upon further review

Mistake in math formula on chalkboard

© DepositPhotos / olechowski

After I posted my review of Channel Master’s DVR+, a part of me was just certain that something was wrong about it. That was the first time I used the Kill A Watt meter, and despite what it told me, I thought its numbers didn’t add up. I used the same meter with the same settings on my Dish 922 receiver, and the meter told me that my 922 was responsible for about a quarter of my electric bill. That couldn’t be right.

Sure enough, the meter had somehow bumped my electricity rate from almost 9 cents per kWh to over 89 cents/kWh. (User error? Not that!) After resetting with the right numbers and calibrating against a known amount of usage (a lamp), I was ready to try again.

This time, the meter told me that my Windows Media Center computer was burning less than $1.50/month of electricity. That was based on a measurement over several days, including several hibernation periods, so I took the computer’s measured peak power consumption of 40 watts and multiplied up to about $2.60/month of 24/7 usage. The meter showed a similar reduction for the DVR+, down to a tiny 7 watts. The DVR+ is still much better with electricity, but not $12/month better. I’ve corrected those figures in the original post.

As I was doing these retests, a comment came in. I was expecting someone to tell me that my power figures had to be full of beans, but this one corrected my remarks about DVR+ buffering. Turns out that it works just fine if it’s got an external hard drive plugged in, so I also added that note to the original post. That’s where it all stands now, and if I ever learn how to reprogram the DVR+ skip-ahead buttons, I’ll let you know.

Update: Commenter phil came through with the full DVR+ manual (PDF) which reveals all sorts of things, including the secret of reprogramming the buttons. To change from the default 10 seconds, just go to the DVR menu, which of course is where you would expect to find remote control options.

Once upon a time, I helped prepare in-box manuals, so I understand that printing a zillion short booklets saves real money over printing a zillion full manuals. In this case, with such non-intuitive options, I think that Channel Master would be well served to include those full manuals. Or maybe just single sheets of attention-grabbing colored paper with the note to be sure to go online for the full version. Then everybody would know exactly how it’s supposed to work.

How I became internationally known

Me, in front of my largest satellite dishI’ve been putting this off because it’s a little embarrassing. But I suppose I really ought to tell you that in the back of its latest issue, the global digital TV magazine Tele-Audiovision (formerly Tele-Satellite) published a 9-page spread on me and my FTA websites.

It all started at the NAB Show last year, where I met the publisher, Alexander Weise. His magazine has had a booth at NAB and CES for years, but this was the first time I caught him sitting at it. Alexander’s a friendly, burly guy who looks a little older than his Page 3 photo. He’s got a good command of English, though it’s clear that it’s not his first language. I told him how important Tele-Satellite had been to me when I was just getting started with FTA, and we chatted about what’s going on in North America. (FTA is much more popular elsewhere.)

I gave him my card and talked about what I do here, and Alexander surprised me by suggesting that he make a stop in Denver on his way home to Germany. I had thought that Alexander was just making friendly conversation, but he called a few days later to set up a meeting. When the day came, he arrived and got to work efficiently gathering what he needed. He asked me a few questions about my work, though he might have made some notes from our NAB meeting. When he saw the dishes that I use, he got out his camera and posed me next to a couple of them. He also took a few other pictures; based on what was published, I believe that he printed every photo that he took at my place.

After lunch nearby, Alexander dropped me off and drove away, and that had been the last I had heard about it. In a previous life, I used to edit a magazine, so I know what it’s like to keep an article in inventory for a rainy day but also what it’s like when a projected article just doesn’t pan out. Months went by, and I quietly doubted that any of our visit would ever see print. At CES a couple of months ago, I dropped by the Tele-Audiovision booth a couple of times just to say hi. The folks there always said that I just missed Alexander, so I gave them my card to pass along. Did that card poke my story loose from its file cabinet? Or was Alexander just waiting until he needed something like that to fill an issue?

I forget who it was, but I heard a comedian once say that when you look back at what you were like a year ago, you curse at your mistakes. (He followed up by wondering whether that ever changes; will you complain at 97 about the dumb stuff you did when you were 96?) Sure enough, when I look at this 11-month-old moment frozen in time, I see some things that I could have done better. I know it was a warm April day, but maybe shorts weren’t the best choice if I was going to be in the photos. It was fun to talk about possibly streaming video, but the delivery method, TVU Networks, didn’t work out nearly as well as I’d hoped. The article’s title “The FTA Fan” makes it sound as if I do this all just for fun; maybe if I’d stressed the serious public service aspect he would have written something different.

So now you know the whole story. If you want to take a look at my motorized 1.2-meter dish, go for it. If you’re impressed by my easy-to-make wood platforms, let me know and I’ll write more about them. Or just go to discover a great magazine about the TV receivers we like to use. Tele-Audiovision is always worth reading, even when I’m not in it.

CES Recap 1: Hopper voted Best of Show

CES 2013 exhibit hallFirst, let me apologize to anyone who tried to visit here in the past week only to be turned away, often by a 500 database error. According to my web host, FTABlog suddenly began devouring huge chunks of memory for no good reason, and its server had nothing to do with that. After wrestling with the problem for a few days, I moved the blog to a new host, and this time the transition seems to have been successful. Who says I never learn my lesson?

Now I’ve got a lot of CES reporting to catch up on. The first, most interesting bit is that I was proved right; the onsite staff of CNet reportedly voted Dish Network’s Hopper with Sling receiver as 2013 CES Best of Show. Unfortunately for Dish, CBS owns CNet, and CBS (among others) is suing Dish because of the Hopper’s advertising-skipping function. So CBS got wind of the award and squashed it, directing CNet to pick somebody else.

The Verge has a superb story on the whole affair, and it gets bonus points from me for dragging in Alki David, our friend from FilmOn.com. Quite a while ago, fresh from getting smacked by CBS (among others) after his first attempts to stream over-the-air programming, David sued CBS for allowing CNet to report extensively on piracy, including how-to pieces, and for the related site Download.com, which supposedly hosted circumvention software. In that lawsuit, CBS lawyers argued that CNet was independent of CBS’s control. The Verge writes, “Holding CBS responsible forCNET, CBS’ lawyers argued, ‘would create grave uncertainties for writers and publishers — including search engines, web encyclopedias, blogs and most technology journalists — that seek to communicate truthful information about emerging technologies including P2P file-sharing services.'”

I don’t know whether David can use this to show that CBS isn’t quite so hands-off when it comes to CNet, and I think it’s a darned shame that Dish was denied another CES Best of Show (it won in 2009 for the ViP 922 receiver). But I think the Hopper has a chance of beating the courts and becoming a real game-changer. As a Dish shareholder, I sure hope so.

Welcome, everybody! The wait is over

Re-christening of FTABlogOh, wow! Has this been on mute all this time?

Hi everybody! Thanks for coming by. I’ve got lots of stories to catch up on, starting with the NAB Show (which every TV enthusiast must attend at least once) and continuing on to the latest from FilmOn, Aereo, and some satellite stuff too.

I slapped a new coat of paint on this blog as well to help bring it up to date with its evolving mission. We’ll talk about free TV (as in free speech) no matter where it comes from.

One of the ongoing trends is toward directed, on-demand viewing, as opposed to just turning on the TV to see what’s on. In that spirit, I’ve made a couple of additions. At the FTABlog home page, there’s a rotating cartoon from archive.org, which is a great resource for free TV. And I’ll be embedding more 80s music videos now and then. They’re fun to watch, and they’re a great example of my First Law of Programming: Every channel, no matter how it started, becomes like every other channel. Remember how MTV started?

So please keep checking back to see what’s new, and suggest what you might want to see. Thanks for coming by.

Well, that could have gone better

Welcome to the new host for FTABlog.com. We ran into some technical difficulties, and it turns out that it might take a couple of days to get them all fixed.

If you need to move a WordPress blog from one host to another, and at least one of them is GoDaddy, here’s a tip: Copying over all of the files isn’t enough. You also need to back up the database, which is stored on a different domain with GoDaddy, then restore it once you’ve moved.

Uh, I didn’t do that. The good news is that almost all the text is cached on Google. The bad news is that I’ll need to copy and paste those posts into new posts here, as well as change more configuration stuff than I expected. (Because a lot of it is in the database, not the files.)

What’s really galling is that, according to a friendly GoDaddy support person, that old database is floating right where they can see it, but to restore it would cost a hefty fee (well, okay) and take over a week (not okay). I’d rather get to work on bringing back the old content right away, so I’m going to be adding it a piece at a time. I’ll shoot for having everything back by Monday morning. Wish me luck!

Update: Almost everything is back to almost normal now. Every word of every post and comment is back, along with every illustration. Some of the internal links are broken, and some of the sidebar stuff needs rearranging, but I’m pleasantly surprised that I was able to salvage such a high percentage of the old site so quickly.

Thanks again for your patience. Check back soon when I’ll type about something fun.

Ancient history now available here

old desk with cobwebsIt always surprised me how many people told me that they wanted to read the old, pre-WordPress posts from FTABlog. It sometimes scared me to discover how many actually discovered the old site that hosted it.

So I can satisfy folks who just can’t get enough old stuff, and so I can shut down the old site, I’ve added a page here that contains all of those old blog posts. Now I need to get back to writing something new.

CES: Show’s over, nothing to see here

Overflowing ash tray in Las Vegas CES is over for another year. While exhibitor space hasn’t bounced all the way back yet, attendance returned to its pre-recession levels. Its traffic-paralyzing, restaurant-monopolizing, aisle-choking levels. Attendance wasn’t bad enough to make the show experience miserable, but the lines made everything take more time.

Here are a few quick notes from CES:

* CNet’s Best of Show award winner was the Motorola Xoom, an Android-based tablet that doesn’t actually exist yet. As a lovely lady demonstrated it at the Motorola booth, I learned that it’ll run an OS version that isn’t available, may or may not accept an SD or Micro SD card, and doesn’t have its default app set chosen yet. But when it’s finally ready, the Xoom is supposed to have great features.

There is ample precedent for such pre-production awards. In January 2009, CNet’s Best Home Video product from CES was the Dish Network 922 receiver with Sling technology. The 922 barely made it to market before the end of 2009. Turns out that it really is that good, though, so maybe a real Xoom will eventually be worth the wait?

* One of my blog posts won a contest at CES. No, it wasn’t the previous post about CES. It wasn’t anything from this blog. This was a contest run by the non-profit Internet Innovation Alliance, and those folks judged my post there to be better than anything else written at their booth. Woo hoo! (If you want to read Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas, you can learn how to download a free copy.)

* There was almost nothing about free-to-air satellite TV this year. Tele-Satellite magazine had a booth, although it was unmanned when I stopped by on the show’s last day. (More on that below.) Maybe one or two vendors on the regular show floor showed any equipment. That’s a big change from the days when new FTA set-top boxes would debut at CES.

* Sunday at CES is garbage day. For the first time, I stayed to the final day of the show to see whether exhibitors would dump all of their giveaways to avoid carting them home. Answer: Not very often. The best part was that the lines were short enough to let me see any show at any exhibit. The worst part was that many dealers were closing up early, and most of those remaining were feeling run down after a long show. There was little to suggest the enthusiasm that swirls around the opening of CES.

* I feel sorry for the folks who signed up for CEA’s new Tech Enthusiast program just to visit CES. That program benefit isn’t worth much; readers here know that anyone can get in to see CES for free with only a little work. And worst of all, that admittance is only good on Sunday.