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Mohu Channels

Mohu Channels

From Multichannel News yesterday:

Mohu Channels Lets Users Watch OTA, Stream, Surf; Device Combines Content Types Into a Single Custom Guide

Excerpt:

“Mohu, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based maker of over-the-air HD antennae, has officially launched its Mohu Channels front-end device enabling users to manage OTA broadcast, Web-based and streaming content from a single screen.

“Mohu Channels, consisting of a small Mohu Channels Tuner and a handheld keyboard that functions as a remote control, allows users to create custom TV guides combining the three types of content, eliminating the need to switch between various input devices connected to the TV.”


The TiVo Roamio DVR series just discussed lets you add subscription content providers Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus, but not free Crackle, Plex and Media Browser (we currently use a Roku box to access the latter three. Plex and Media Browser serve your own movie/TV/music content from a PC.) The Roamio’s new OnePass feature makes it possible to see the shows you select from paid providers listed alongside your DVR-recorded shows, which is a big step forward in integrating the cord-cutting TV experience.

Mohu Channels also accommodates Netflix and Hulu Plus, though not Amazon. But it can handle Crackle, Plex and Media Browser, since they are available as free Android apps (Channels is Android-based, like a phone or tablet). If Channels offered Amazon as well, which is likely being negotiated, it would become an even stronger contender by possibly eliminating the need for another set-top box.

Over-the-air TV channels are integrated into Channels’ program guide. Any app in the Google Play store can be a channel. Even websites can be given their own channel.

(Case in point of how a website as channel could be valuable to the cord-cutter: this page has a live 24-hour free stream of CNN. This one has same for msnbc. The unique Channels remote with motion control air mouse should make the navigation to go full screen on the video feel natural.)

What does Channels lack? A DVR capability. My wife records the daytime “General Hospital” on our TiVo Roamio OTA and frequently runs it back to review what she missed while cooking, talking on the phone, etc. That would seem to be a problem for us with Channels.

saschannels

3/25/2015: Get Channels for $99: use coupon code SASCHANNELS at checkout.

To partially address it, Channels runs a constant buffer of 30 minutes on OTA content, facilitating easy pause and replay of shows watched in more or less real time. Hulu Plus could mostly replace a DVR for current network shows.

But we have found watching GH or any other show in her frequent replay style on Hulu Plus via Roku box a trying experience (I found Hulu Plus trying due to its buggy Roku app, clumsy user interface, and poor organization. And the unskippable commercials.)

But if you use Hulu Plus as a way to watch time-shifted series TV (and many people do), Mohu Channels could work for you in just about every way.

And important for the cord-cutter, there is no monthly fee, unlike TiVo.

TiVo's new OnePass feature is just what my wife needs

Just what my wife needed.

OnePass is how you set up series recordings on TiVo, with an added feature for the cord-cutter.

As mentioned before, the TiVo Roamio DVR series lets you add subscription content providers, notably Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus. But provider content can now be integrated with your over-the-air recorded shows.

In an earlier post, Our post-cord-cutting TV menu, I displayed a list of some of my wife’s favorite cable shows that are available on Roku channels, Netflix and Amazon among them (we subscribe to both).

Previously, if she developed a yen to see “Wings” as a result of browsing the list (not a natural habit for her) she would see that it is on Netflix. Then she could go to Netflix on the TiVo (or the Roku box), select her account, find “Wings” in her list, and pick an episode. Doable, but multiple steps are required. Not the smoothest experience.

With OnePass, I was able to do a search for “Wings”, see that it is available on Netflix, then set up a OnePass that puts “Wings” on the same list as her antenna-recorded shows.

For example, when she is looking for something to watch on a Saturday afternoon, she might scroll through “The Bachelor”, “The Bob Newhart Show” and “General Hospital” recorded from broadcast TV, and…”Wings”, “Property Brothers” and “Hoarders” NOT on broadcast TV. The latter three are on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Netflix, respectively. But all are presented in the same list. She can select any of these series and then choose which episode to watch. Very smooth and integrated.

A bonus is that Netflix, Amazon or Hulu Plus offerings take up no room on your hard drive.

VUDU (Video on Demand) is another provider. If you can’t find what you want on the others, you might find it on VUDU. But it will typically cost 2 or 3 bucks per show. Anathema to the true-believing cord-cutter, but maybe worth it on occasion.

The limitations:

  • Lack of a unified exploratory mode for the content providers, i.e., you need to already know what shows you want to watch. I’m not sure how this could be done, anyway.
  • YouTube. It’s there, but it isn’t integrated the same way as the other providers. Plus, the user interface is tricky.
  • Lack of other content providers. In truth, TiVo has it pretty well sewn-up with the big three, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus. But it doesn’t eliminate our need for a Roku box. We still need Roku for Media Browser and Plex, the channels that allow us easy access to our home server content, plus Crackle, Sky News International and a few audio channels (though TiVo does have Pandora and Spotify).

Nevertheless, OnePass’ integration of provider content with over-the-air recorded content is a huge boon to the cord-cutter, unmatched by would-be competitors such as Channel Master DVR + and Tablo DVR.

I mentioned the DAR.fm (Digital Audio Recorder) online radio “DVR” in a previous post (‘All This Jazz’ in the home and on the run). It has become a paid service if you want to download the .mp3 files, rather than listen on your computer with ads inserted.

Being a bit of a skinflint, I have come up with a couple of new, free ways to time-shift my favorite radio show, “All This Jazz” on KWGS.

I’ve ordered a cheap USB FM tuner from Hong Kong. I’m looking forward to trying it. (3/15/2015: I did try it; see my post $8 USB tuner turns PC into FM radio/recorder. It covers a huge frequency spectrum and records in .wav format, but can’t do scheduled recordings. Still amazing for the price.)


I also found a way to record KWGS’ online stream at a scheduled time.

KWGS streaming on VLC Player

KWGS streaming on VLC media player. Click to enlarge.

The popular and versatile freeware multimedia player VLC can serve as a player and a recorder. I pasted KWGS’ .m3u URL into VLC, enabling me to listen, and record the stream as an .mp3 file. Here is a good tutorial showing how to do it.

Also, on the VLC player menu, go to View and click ‘Advanced Controls’ to add a record button.

Once you have VLC working as a radio recorder, you need a way to make it record at a scheduled time.

This I did by first creating a Windows batch file that uses VLC to record 2 hours of KWGS whenever you run the file. (See below.)

Then I added a basic task to Windows’ Task Scheduler to run the batch file every Saturday at 10 pm. Here is a useful tutorial for creating a basic task.

The result is a 42 MB .mp3 file of the show with a name that includes the current date, e.g., tonight’s “ATJ20150307.mp3”.

I recommend using free Notepad++ to copy, edit and save the text from my own ATJrecord.bat file. It will save you headaches over special characters and spacing. Standard Notepad is more trouble than it is worth for this purpose. Word and WordPad are worse.

Copy all the following, paste it into NotePad++ and save as ATJrecord.bat. Some of the code runs off the side of the page, but you will pick it up in your copy/paste operation:

“C:\Program Files (x86)\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc.exe” http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kwgs/ppr/kwgs.m3u –sout=”#std{access=file,mux=raw,dst=C:\Users\TulsaTV\Music\1AllThisJazz\ATJ%DATE:~10,4%%DATE:~4,2%%DATE:~7,2%.mp3}” –run-time=7200 –stop-time=7200 vlc://quit

You would need to alter in the path (in orange above) to your own AllThisJazz folder, double-check the path to vlc.exe (in green) on your computer after installing VLC, and make sure the four double-quote marks are the straight up-and-down kind, not the slanted ones (it happens when you copy text from a web page like this). Also replace the apparent dashes immediately in front of sout, run-time and stop-time with double hyphens from your keyboard (another copy weirdness). The text colors won’t be copied; they are just for visual clarity here.

There should be only a space between each string of code. I count 6 strings and 5 spaces between them. The 3rd string is a long one, starting with –sout and ending with .mp3}”. If you have it right in Notepad++, you will see solid shading around the whole “paragraph”.

FYI, 7200 is the number of seconds in two hours. You can change it to adapt the .bat file for other shows, e.g., “Swing on This”, a one-hour (3600 second) program.

Test your ATJrecord.bat file by double-clicking on it. A black command prompt window will pop up to execute it, and then a VLC Player will pop up and start recording KWGS. You may want to change the 7200 in both places in the file to 20 for testing so you can see that both windows disappear when the recording is complete.


If trying this looks too horrible to you, other software exists to accomplish the same purpose. But after looking around, this way seemed best for my singular purpose and geekish inclination. If anyone has a favorite streaming audio recorder, feel free to tell us about it!

DAR.fm‘s free account still allows you to record any one show or station at a time and listen through their website. Their introductory Pro account is currently $39.95/year.

The KWGS stream sounds pretty good to me at a bitrate of 48 kbps. That isn’t too surprising, since a CNet blind listening test showed that a third of people can’t tell the difference between music encoded at 48 kbps and the same music encoded at 160 kbps. (Amazon’s .mp3s are at an average of 256 kbps)

The USB radio tuner/Windows Media Center method I mentioned at the top should yield higher fidelity. I’ll let you know how that works out once the tuner arrives on a slow boat from China.

Lately, Scott Gregory has been playing some really good avant garde jazz. 🙂