All posts for the month February, 2015

amazon-netflixIt’s the weekend, and my wife’s TV viewing shifts away from her normal weekday “General Hospital” and network prime-time mode.

As the self-styled TV butler of the house, I’ve assembled an array of shows I hope can replace the cable fare she watched before we cut the cord. Her weekend attention level varies from low to moderate since she is often multitasking.

First off, today is our long-standing “Sci-Fi Saturday”. Conveniently, thisTV (19.2 broadcast) was playing “Empire of the Ants” a cheesy 70s sci-fi movie starring Joan Collins and Robert Lansing (mentioned here a couple of days ago as star of the OKC-shot 1972 movie, “Thirty Dangerous Seconds”, also starring Josef Peter Hardt.) I was up early and started recording when I saw it was on. Joan’s portrayal of an unscrupulous real estate agent did not enhance the profession’s image, but Gaye enjoyed it anyway.

Next up: cooking and home shows. I went to her Netflix streaming profile I had set up (represented by a superheroine icon), and showed her what was available. Her choice was “Buying and Selling” with the Property Brothers. It was followed by “The Pioneer Woman”, hosted by Oklahoma’s Ree Drummond. (Gaye can also consult our custom TV menu on her phone)

Our new TiVo Roamio OTA Tuner/DVR includes the new Netflix interface, which operates seamlessly within the TiVo garden (not to be confused with the famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen). Amazon Prime works the same way. We dropped Hulu Plus due to lack of use and poor user interface, but it’s available on TiVo if you subscribe. VUDU is a Video on Demand channel I hope we don’t use much, but it’s ready to go.

YouTube is there, too, but the app is tricky to navigate: you are using the Peanut to negotiate through YouTube’s on-screen navigation. It’s easy to go wrong until you learn which buttons to avoid. Very kludgy. I hope TiVo creates a new user interface to YouTube. Nevertheless, it is a welcome feature. You can subscribe to free and paid channels and series, then watch on TiVo.

After a “top shelf” lunch (our more positive term for “leftovers” or “think hard, work easy” frozen meals), “Hoarders” on Netflix was up. A jazz musician had more objects in his home than notes in his horn.

Her afternoon channel surfing brought a little “Bonanza” and “Chef at Home”, plus a backlogged “Lost in Space” recording. This was all background TV.

Starting at 5 pm, MeTV holds sway with their “Super Sci-Fi Saturday” lineup (we used the term before they did!) An Enterprise communicator panel / door “swoosh” device at the entrance to the theater room adds atmosphere, as does a phaser, which is often directed at annoying ads.

Sometimes we replace the evening’s “Star Trek” episode with the same episode on Amazon Prime. This removes the ads, improves the video quality, and eliminates the cuts that make room for more ads. We’ve seen all their ads, anyway, from the “Clear TV Digital Antanna” (sic) to the catheter of the month club, to the dubious items delivered “to my door, at no cost to myself”.

We also swap other shows into the “Wonder Woman” slot. I had been a big “fan” in my later college years, but the intermittent visuals aren’t a sufficient draw for half of our viewing cohort. Choices include “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” or “Superman” recorded on my Windows Media Center/Raspberry Pi DVR, “Batman Beyond” on Netflix, or “Batman Animated” on Amazon Prime.

The evening’s entertainment concludes with Svengoolie, whose movie we appreciate from the comfort of the sack.

5-in-1 remote white

X10 universal remote. Click to enlarge.

TiVo "Peanut" remote

TiVo “Peanut” remote. Click to enlarge.

A couple of days ago, I duplicated the TiVo remote on a Logitech Harmony programmable remote (see Cloning the TiVo “Peanut” remote).

Yesterday, it occurred to me that there might be a TiVo remote code for my cheap X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote. Somewhat to my surprise, there was. TiVo has been around quite awhile, after all.

This is great because the Harmony clones can’t control X10 automation in the den. (They can do so in the theater room due to the presence of an IR543 X10 Infrared Controller, but that’s another post.)

The 5-in-1 universal already controls the TV, Roku, VCR/DVD player, as well as X10 automation (details in the post, The poor man’s Harmony remote). With TiVo replacing cable TV, I can reduce down to just one remote for me in the den.

I did a Mode Reset on the cable (CBL) button. Then I input the TiVo code (0912). Next, I tested each button with the TiVo to see what they would do.

For the record, here is what I found:

The following universal remote buttons were already correct for the TiVo: Channel Up/Down, Volume Up/Down, Mute, Last/Enter, 0-9, directional arrows & Select(OK), and transport (Rewind / FF / Play / Pause / Rec).

The universal’s Menu button was the TiVo (menus) button, and its Exit button was the Clear button. These are close enough in meaning to leave them be.

The universal’s A-B button was TiVo’s Guide (mnemonic: “Guide me from point A to point B”).
The A button was Info. Will repurpose as described below.
B was a duplicate TiVo button. Will repurpose.
C was Live TV, which is a good mnemonic (“See TV”) so I let it be.
D button was the 8-second replay button. Mnemonic: “Do over”.
ENT was a duplicate of Last/Enter. Repurpose.
STOP did nothing. Give it a purpose.

So, using one of my Harmony clones, here is what I taught the learning universal’s buttons:

A became the Zoom button. Why? Zoom changes the Aspect ratio, so a good mnemonic.
B became the Back button, another good mnemonic.

ENT became the Skip-Forward-30-seconds / “-” button for the TiVo. No mnemonic; the logic here is positional: since “-” is the delimiter for digital channels (e.g., 35-2), its location near the 0-9 keys makes it a convenient assignment.

STOP became Info. No obvious mnemonic, nor positional logic, except that if you accidentally push it, you can push it again to get rid of it. It does nothing when you are in the middle of manipulating TiVo menu screens. Good reasons. I suppose a lame mnemonic could be “Stop for Info”.

The Peanut buttons I had no room for: the thumbs-up/down, and the A,B,C,D buttons. Letter buttons are used to change options, sort, and filter. None of them are necessary for typical use.

So now, unless I want to use the left-out buttons, I don’t need a Harmony clone in the den.

If you’ve gotten this far, you see the lengths I will go to have a tabletop uncluttered by remotes.

Gaye still has her Peanut, which includes TV Power and TV Input Select buttons, making it a 2-in-1 remote. She won’t need to use my complex and quirky remote, but I’ll be glad to.

(PS, I just assigned the two buttons of the remote for the RadioShack A/B antenna switch to the A and A-B buttons on the universal, unused under the SAT mode button, which I use to select controls for the DVD side of the VCR/DVD player. Now this remote is a 7-in-1! I documented it all in the universal’s manual, just in case my memory should slip. 😉 )

(PPS, We don’t use the VCR/DVD player much these days, but I still like to have it available.)

The TiVo "Peanut" remote, flanked by Logitech Harmony 890 clones

The TiVo “Peanut” remote, flanked by Logitech Harmony 890 clones

My wife’s satisfaction with the new TiVo Roamio OTA tuner/DVR allowed us to cut the cord earlier this month. The peanut-shaped TiVo remote played a key role. The “Peanut” fits the hand and is easy to use.

The lone downside is that only one Peanut is included. While I consider the den TiVo to be her fiefdom, I also need a remote in my self-appointed role of “TV butler”: assisting with any difficulties, pointing out new features, and skipping the commercials in “General Hospital” while she is cooking.

I could have simply bought an extra Peanut, or used the free TiVo smartphone app. (Personally, I like a physical remote, but it’s always nice to have the app on your phone, even if you have to wake it up.) However, I went a third way.

I have extolled the virtues of Logitech Harmony remotes previously. I have used an 890 in the theater room for several years. The 890 is an older model that handles up to 16 devices and 15 activities.

When the TiVo Roamio OTA arrived, I still had room on my trusty 890 for both TiVo and the den TV as Devices. Since I already had Roku and an A/B switch as Devices for the theater room Activities, I could add them all to a new Activity I called “Den”.

Adding TiVo as a Device assigned the standard functions (Rewind / FF / Pause / etc.) to the 890’s standard buttons in a very natural way. I assigned the special TiVo buttons (Live TV / TiVo / Zoom / Back / A,B,C,D) to “soft” buttons on the 890 (buttons labeled by the blue screen; photo at top).

I then had a complete working Peanut clone! But I didn’t stop there. On a second screen, I added soft buttons for an antenna A/B switch and the den TV. On the third screen, I added Roku controls. One Harmony can do it all.  Well, I still keep the X10 learning remote handy for turning on/off lights, and as an alternate TV and Roku remote. (See the next post, Teaching TiVo to the X10 universal remote, for an update.)

By the way, when you pair the Peanut with the TiVo Roamio, it uses RF (radio frequency) to control without the need to point; otherwise it emits IR (infrared light). The Harmony 890 is able to do both IR and RF, but I use it strictly in IR mode. The TiVo Roamio recognizes both.

When Logitech was threatening to sell off their remote line in 2013, I got worried that the new owner might force new users to either smartphone-only control, or a more expensive option (ultimately, they didn’t sell). So I picked up a used 890 on eBay with no battery or back cover, and put it aside as a backup.

So, rather than schlep the Harmony wonder remote back and forth between the den and theater room, I ordered a battery and back cover for the backup 890. Then I attached it to my PC and cloned my clone.

Now I keep one in the den, and one in the theater room’s charger base. When the den 890 batteries run down, I swap them. Everybody’s happy.


Albert relaxes at a workstation.

No cord-cutting in this post.

I was messing around on our office computer, when who should appear in front of my screen but Albert, our neighbor’s friendly cat. He apparently got cabin fever on this snowy day and felt like visiting a different cabin (ours). I brought up his favorite tag on this site.

As you may recall, Albert (a “tuxedo” cat) was named after Al’s Formal Wear in Tulsa. Here is a photo of “Weird Al” posing at that establishment last year.

Someday we’ll have to get Albert a top hat, cane, and monocle to complete his ensemble.