Buying a 65” TV in 2016 and Avoiding Smart TVs

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I’ve been rethinking HDTVs. Buying a TV should be simple – but it’s not. There’s too much technology to compare, too many standards, too great of a price range, and too many options to consider. Psychologically, it’s hard to think about spending $3,000 for a TV set, when I can remember being a teen in 1964 wishing I could buy a Ford Mustang. Back then, the Mustang had a list price of $2,368. Then, and now, a big color TV is about 1/10th the price of a car. It hurts to spend that much.

I’ve been wanting a new 65” HDTV. My old 56” DLP Samsung is ten years old and the picture is only good when it’s dark outside. I’m on my third replacement lamp.  I’ve been shopping for a new, slightly larger, much brighter, 4K HDR HDTV. When I pick out all the technical features I want, I end up lusting after a 65” Samsung SUHDTV that runs $2999 at Best Buy. More than I want to spend. Best Buy also has a 65” Vizio E65U-D3 for $999. What does shelling out $2,000 more actually get me?

CNET claims the Vizio P-series ($1,999) has one of the best pictures around, and the cheaper M-series ($1,499) is almost as good. However, Vizio’s new design at first turned me off. They don’t come with a tuner or smart TV features. Instead they supply an android tablet to stream shows. My first impression – that’s a stupid idea. Then I saw the genius of their madness. They’re designing televisions for how people use them. Most kids love streaming content. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I stream most of my shows from a Roku 3, and I by-pass the built-in tuner of my existing set because I have a TiVo Roamio, with four tuners.

vizio M

A flash of understanding came to me. All I want from a HDTV is for it to be a monitor. I don’t care about smart TV features, 3D, curved screens, speakers, fancy options, zillions of inputs/outputs, or most of the other gimmicks. I don’t need a tuner. All I need is a screen, a cord for power, and one HDMI 2.0a HDCP 2.2 input. Just like a computer monitor. Maybe a Ethernet jack to update the firmware, but there might be a route around that too. And Vizio, I don’t want your tablet, which pushes me towards your E-series, but I prefer the tech specs on the P & M series. (It’s a shame the E-series isn’t just a M-series without a tablet.)

I have a component system. A/V receiver with multiple HDMI inputs and one HDMI output, Roku, Blu-ray and TiVo. All the intelligence I need are in those devices. The TV needs no smarts. I know there are people who buy a smart TV to do everything, but I’m not one of them. I prefer an external Roku. I considered TCL’s new Roku TV, but it doesn’t support HDR, and I’m not sure it’s built-in Roku can be upgraded. If the Roku released an upgrade to the Roku 4, or comes out with the Roku 5, that supports the emerging HDR standards, Dolby Vision or HDR 10, or the Ultra HD Premium standard, I can just buy a new Roku box.

All I want is a screen that’s fantastic, with full screen back lighting, instead of edge lighting. HDR is more important than 4K, but I want 4K to be ready for the future. The Vizio M-series would be great, if it didn’t come with that stupid Android tablet. Why pay extra for a mediocre tablet? I’ve already got an iPhone 6s Plus and a Nexus 7. I don’t think I’d ever stream from a tablet anyway. I bought a Chromecast a couple years ago and never used it. The Roku does all the web streaming I want, and the TiVo covers over-the-air broadcasting.

Right now I’m hung up on “full-array local dimming” and the E-series has 12 zones, the M-series 64 zones, and the P-series 128. The price difference at Best Buy is $999, $1,499, $1,999. The M and P have a VA panel, which CNET prefers, but they don’t know what kind of panel the E-series has. The M-series comes with a 720p tablet, and the P-series a 1080p tablet, meaning I’m spending hundreds for something I won’t use.

This makes me completely rethink HDTVs. Fancier sets want to replace Roku/FIre/Apple TV boxes, and even A/V receivers. They want to be our only device – and that makes sense for some people. But I prefer Roku over WebOS or Tizen. People have 4K content now because of Roku 4. I’m realizing it’s the Roku box that’s #1. It just needs the perfect display. I’m even rethinking my TiVo.

The TiVo lets me record over-the-air shows. But I mostly record the nightly news, some PBS documentaries, and old movies and TV shows from the 1950s. There are other sources for that content. I could jettison the TiVo and outside antenna and simplify my setup even more. However, I want to keep the Denon receiver and 5.1 speaker system. I play Spotify music, via the Roku, into the Denon, and it sounds fantastic. So the Roku provides both great video and great music. Plus I use it with The Great Courses Plus for lectures and learning.

When I take things apart like this, I realize I only want an HDTV set to be a monitor for the Roku. I was leaning towards the Samsung because it has a breakout box for all its connections. But the Denon A/V receiver does that.

I have to wonder if smart TV features will go the way of 3D. On the other hand, some people have always liked all-in-one combo units, like stereos with turntable, CD, tape drive, receivers housed in one case, or TVs with built in VHS/DVD players. I’ve always liked stereo component systems where I can upgrade each feature separately.

JWH

TiVo Roamio OTA—Cord Cutters Will Love It

By James W. Harris, Monday, July 27, 2015

Thinking about giving up cable TV but can’t imagine living without a DVR? Well, TiVo has a DVR specifically designed for over-the-air (OTA) antenna users. The TiVo Roamio OTA is cheap to buy at $49, but seems expensive to use, $15-per-month for the TiVo service. Considering that other dedicated OTA DVRs cost $300-400, it’s a wash for the first couple years. After that, the value of spending $180 a year for TiVo’s TV guide service will be determined by how much you like the TiVo. I’m quite impressed.

TiVo-Roamio-OTA 

For the last several years I’ve been using an old computer with Windows Media Center as my OTA DVR. It worked well until Microsoft changed companies that supply their online TV guide. Since Microsoft won’t support Windows Media Center in Windows 10 I decided to give the Roamio OTA a try. I’ve got to say the TiVo is far superior to Windows Media Center, and better than any cable box DVR I’ve used. The Roamio OTA is a deluxe way to be a broadcast TV user.

The Roamio OTA can record up to four TV shows at once, and can store 75 hours of HD television (more if you plug in external drive). Plus the recorded image is uncompressed, looking the same as the broadcast image. Windows Media Center heavily compresses the recorded video. And the TiVo TV tuners are far better than the computer TV tuners I was using with my PC. In fact, the TiVo tuners appear equal or better than the one in my Samsung TV.

Setup was straightforward and easy. Buy the unit. Go to TiVo’s website and register online by it’s unique serial number. Connect the Roamio OTA to power, HDMI, antenna and in my case Ethernet cable, and start using. The machine will download the TiVo guide and do updates to the software the first time you use it. Windows Media Center and all the cable box DVR’s I’ve used worked with a grid. TiVo uses a split window. On the left side is all the channels for a specific time and date, and on the right is a window showing all the future shows on a specific channel for whichever channel you have highlighted in left window. This is a different approach, but a game changer, making using the guide much easier.

Internet services

The Roamio OTA also has smart TV features built into it, much like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV streaming boxes. Here’s where I was somewhat let down. TiVo’s interface for these services is not as easy and intuitive to use as my Roku. At first I thought I could live without my Roku most of the time and use just one box and remote for all my TV viewing. This didn’t work out. It’s a shame that TiVo didn’t contract with Roku to do their streaming services. TiVo’s implementation of these services aren’t bad, much better than my Sony Blu-Ray player. So if you don’t have a Roku box then TiVo’s streaming services will be a huge plus.

I was especially glad to see Spotify, but sadly TiVo’s implementation is clunky. The reason I switched from Rdio to Spotify is because Roku’s Spotify interface is outstanding. If the streaming TV interface was superior in TiVo, I’d consider switching from Roku to TiVo.

The Roamio OTA will also work with TiVo extender boxes (TiVo Mini) to access content on bedroom TVs. TiVo also has an app to work with your mobile devices. And it has intelligent features to search content across the guide and all the streaming services you use. TiVo promotes OnePass, a sophisticated programming/search service with a lot of intelligence to help you find and routinely record your favorite shows, actors and genres. Roamio OTA will even scan for shows it thinks you might like and record them in dynamic hard drive space not being used by your planned recordings.

Several years ago “convergence” was a hot buzzword in the computer industry. TiVo is converging OTA TV, DVR and streaming TV box. This allowed me to replace my big PC in my entertainment center with a tiny box. I still have a Roku and a Sony BD/DVD/CD player. It would be great if those three devices were one.

My TV is hooked up to a Denon AV receiver. I’ve configured the Roamio OTA to use the default HDMI pass through port, so I can turn on my TV with one button on the Roamio OTA remote using the TV’s own sound. For superior sound I can turn on the Denon for special shows. I used to have to use a wireless keyboard/trackpad to control my Windows Media Center PC, and always turn on the receiver to hear recorded TV. The Roamio OTA has simplified by setup greatly. I now can watch live TV, recorded TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus with just one remote and one on/off button. It’s a shame the Roamio OTA doesn’t have a BD/DVD/CD drive. Someday we might even see a stereo receiver combined with all these other functions, so we’ll only have one box to connect to our television sets.

Roku and TiVo should consider merging. But that’s another story. For now, the Roamio OTA is best way I’ve found to enjoy over-the-air broadcast TV.

JWH

Rethinking Cord Cutting

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 4, 2015

Because Microsoft has decided to kill off Windows Media Center starting with Windows 10, and I plan to upgrade to Windows 10 on all my machines because it will be free the first year, I will lose my homemade DVR. Using a PC to record TV shows from over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts takes a good deal more work than using the DVR that comes with a cable box. But if you want to give up paying for cable and still record TV shows to watch later, you need something like Windows Media Center to do the job.

antenna

Microsoft’s decision is forcing me to rethink my whole cord cutting approach to television, because I don’t want to go back to Xfinity or U-verse. Basically there are two modes for watching TV:

  • Live – by the schedule
  • Recorded – on demand

Cord cutter means getting TV from the internet or over-the-air broadcasts. Anyone accustomed to using a DVR will feel imprisoned by watching TV live again. Living around the TV schedule is so 20th century. That’s why I had to build my own DVR with Windows Media Center. DVRs let us save TV shows to watch later, skip commercials, pause, and scroll back to replay.

If I give up Windows Media Center I will have to learn to live without a DVR or find another solution.

I hate commercials, so I love skipping over them with a DVR. I could bypass commercials altogether if I gave up broadcast TV and got all my shows from the Roku. Without a DVR I wouldn’t watch broadcast TV. That’s not a possible solution for my wife though. She works out of town, but when she comes home for the weekend she loves TV. She splits her viewing between Netflix and tuning into AntennaTVMeTV, and Movies! – local channels targeted to cheap-ass baby-boomer cord cutters. I should confess I’ve become addicted to watching the old westerns on Grit TV. OTA broadcast channels seem to be popping up all the time, and strangely enough I find more to watch now than when I had cable. Sort of sad, to be stuck in a retro-TV-land, but it reminds me of how TV was when I were growing up.

Yet we can’t live without that modern doohickey, the DVR.

There are other media center software programs I could install and learn to record TV shows, but I’m through with being a do-it-yourselfer. Luckily, since I built my first DVR, several OTA DVRs have come onto the market. The market leader is TiVo, with it’s Roamio OTA, but there’s also ChannelMaster’s DVR+, Simple.TV and the multi-room networked Tablo. Until yesterday I was considering all of them except the Roamio OTA because TiVo charges $15 a month for its on-screen guide. It’s free for the DVR+, and just $4-5 a month for the other two. However, I just read that TiVo was selling it’s heavily subsidized $49 machine for $300 with unlimited access to their guide. That made me rethink the TiVo. Sadly, the $300 deal is over.The Roamio OTA is a 4-tuner device – meaning your can record up to four shows at once – and is considered the nicest to use by most reviewers. The TiVo has slick search features, as well as pause and replay controls. Those same reviewers all said they wouldn’t consider the TiVo with a $15 monthly fee. Obviously TiVo should listen, and since the other devices are already in the $300 ballpark, this could be a no-brainer decision if they offer the $300 deal again. TiVo could sell millions because their product is a broadcast TV watcher dream come true. Cord cutters are cheap, and a $15 monthly fee is too much for us cheapskates. Yet, my wife wants us to think about the TiVo because it’s DVR is equal to one you get with cable.

My current antenna is a RCA outdoor one, but it’s not great. It’s flaky in bad weather, and some channels come in much better than others. I should get a stronger antenna and put it up higher. However, I’m too old for working on my roof. I’ve been searching around Angie’s List and The Yellow Pages looking for TV antenna installers, but can’t find any. That’s annoying. With all this cord cutting going on, there’s good opportunity now for people to start a small business selling and installing antennas and OTA DVRs.

Investing in a great outdoor antenna and buying the Roamio OTA should solve my problem. I’ll be able to take the computer out of the den, and reduce the clutter in my entertainment center. Yet, there is something that urges me to cut the cord to the antenna too. We live in a TCP/IP world, so why not go completely Internet only TV?

$50, plus $15 a month will give us a deluxe broadcast TV setup. Susan and I have to think what we’re actually spending our money for though. To record the NBC Nightly News, CBS Sunday Morning, a few network TV shows we still watch, and to record a bunch of old nostalgic TV shows and movies. I would have included a long list of PBS shows I love, but I can now get them on my Roku through the PBS channel there. I could do all my TV watching through the Roku, but not Susan.

Cord cutters have given up on cable TV, but could they also  give up antenna television? Are we ready for a world with no live television? That’s weird to think about. Television is seldom truly live except for sports, news announcers showing prerecorded news and a rare live broadcast. Sport fans keep the cable companies in business. If live sports came over the Internet they’d be in real trouble. Current TCP/IP networking isn’t really suited for live broadcasting to billions, so they are safe for now. OTA TV does have a fair amount of sports. Enough for millions of cord cutters.

In ten years, maybe even five, things could be very different indeed. Think of how different our technological lives have changed since the year 2000. Should we be watching television like we did in the 1950s – with an antenna on the roof? I have to admit though, broadcast TV is still a viable solution for watching live TV, and it’s free.

JWH