All posts tagged Chromecast

3 weeks ago in Cozumel, Mexico. Today in Tulsa, it is 9º F.

How we use our cord-cutting savings.

I could make this the briefest post ever if I just said “TiVo”.

It was certainly the key cord-cutting move for us. (See previous posts Cord-cutting status report #1 and Cutting the TV cable with TiVo Roamio OTA.)

TiVo Roamio OTA

TiVo Roamio

The TiVo Roamio, aside from being an extremely user-friendly DVR and TV tuner, has built-in access to video providers YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video (including Prime), Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, and VUDU (video on demand service).

Your favorite shows and series from all these can be easily integrated into the “My Shows” list of recordings. (See Streaming video as cable substitute.)

For example, my wife likes to watch the cable show “Hoarders” in the den (her HQ) on Saturday, so we added it to “My Shows”. It appears as any other recorded show, but when you click, all episodes from all seasons are listed. Some episodes are currently available on Netflix and newer ones are available on VUDU. So you pick one, select a provider, and watch. (See TiVo’s new OnePass feature: boon to cord-cutters.)

Of course, the Netflix or other options work only if you have a subscription, the VUDU option only if you have set up an account with them. (Episodes are $1.99-2.99/episode on VUDU, depending on whether you want SD or HD).

These “cloud” shows take up no space on your TiVo’s hard drive.

If you are saving as much as we are, you feel freer to pay for programming you really want. We recently bought the first season of “Better Call Saul” on Amazon Instant Video (it is not available on Amazon Prime currently).

Recently added apps include Plex, iHeart Radio, Pandora, and Spotify (subscription only). These are not integrated in the same way as the video providers, but it is great to have them (especially Plex!)

All these TiVo features combined render other devices such as Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, or “smart TV” optional for many people.

TiVo’s program guide and interface are superior to the cable box/DVR we had.  More recent iterations such as the Hopper by DISH, Genie by DirecTV, and Contour by Cox created competitive pressure that resulted in the much-improved Roamio series.

Our kitchen TiVo Mini

Our kitchen TiVo Mini

The TiVo service costs $15/month, but a great way to get more for your money is to add a TiVo Mini (no extra charge beyond the cost of the device).

This is a little box that attaches to the mothership by Ethernet cable (or MoCA, Multimedia over Coax). We added two Minis, one for the kitchen, one for the theater room. (See The fruits of cord-cutting: new TVs, TiVo Mini.)

Our TiVo Roamio OTA has 4 tuners, and dynamically allocates them to each Mini as needed. If too many tuners are in use by viewers when a recording starts, viewers will be asked to click Select if they want to continue watching. If not, or if there is no response, the Roamio will take back the tuner and reassign it.

Other models have 6 tuners if 4 is not enough.

Having one recording repository serve every TiVo box makes it convenient to switch rooms in mid-program.

With a TiVo and a good antenna, you might well be able to cut the cable cord while keeping things as simple as they can be! (See previous posts Placing an indoor TV antennaHigh winds can affect TV reception and Mohu Sky 60 antenna review.)

This one got toasted by a lightning srike.

One minor complication you might enjoy is a Roku.

Like the TiVo Roamio, it has YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, VUDU, Plex, Pandora, Spotify and iHeart Radio.

But in addition, it has a multitude of other free channels, some of the best of which are: Crackle, Comedy Central, Sky News International (HD), Shout Factory, Nowhere TV, and Tunein with thousands of free radio stations. (See Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on Crackle.)

Other subscription channels include Sling TV, HBO GO, ESPN, and Showtime. (See Cord-cutters’ supplement? Introducing Sling TV.)

The remote is simple to operate.

If any of the additional channels grab you, a Roku is a good one-time investment to expand your choices.

Google Chromecast with HDMI extender cable, microUSB cable, USB power supply.

Google Chromecast

Google’s Chromecast device is an alternative to Roku, but smartphone-centric; you “cast” apps up to the big screen.

Castable apps include most of the usual suspects mentioned above (Netflix, Crackle, Plex, Pandora, etc.), with the notable exception of Google competitor, Amazon.

YouTube is an especially natural fit to this mode of viewing.

I previously described my devious method of using a Chrome browser tab and Chromecast to get 24/7 web versions of CNN, msnbc, and CNBC up onto the big screen. (See Use Chromecast to watch online cable news.)

If you are one of those guys who insists on entertaining with his smartphone, Chromecast will give you a much bigger stage to work your magic.

Linksys WRT54G router and Ooma Telo

Our Ooma on the right

An Ooma Telo VoIP (voice over internet) device replaced our landline phone service.

My wife does all her business calling and texting on her iPhone.

But I still like having cordless phones around the house, even though I text with Google Voice on my wifi-only smartphone. I was able to keep our old phone number with a one-time $40 charge.

The voice quality is very good. The only downside I’ve found is a slight delay, similar to cell phones I’ve talked on.

At a monthly cost of less than $4 in taxes, it’s a small indulgence. (See Cord-cutting: Hold the phone!)

Ooma was the first cord-cutting move documented in this blog.

There is more to learn and remember as you expand.

There are optional but more complicated things you can do.

Run free Plex or Emby software on your PCs, and serve video and music to your laptops, phones, and tablets, and to your TVs via Roku or Chromecast. (See 007 24/7 on Plex Media ServerPoolside fun with Plex remote access, and Media Browser: an alternative to Plex.)

Replace TiVo at a lower or no monthly fee with Tablo DVR or Channel Master DVR+, or Windows Media Center, or freeware like NextPVR. Warning: they all could work for you, depending on your needs, but none are as user-friendly as TiVo. (See RIP Windows Media Center (in 5-8 yrs).)

Save a TiVo-recorded show as an .mpg file, maybe later convert it to .mp4 for Plex use. Thanks to reader JJ’s comment on the previous post, I learned how to do it. I just followed all the steps at the Windows Install link on this page: pyTivo (free server software).

Run free media center software such as OSMC (formerly XBMC) on a Linux-based machine such as the Raspberry Pi. I use my Pi as a front-end presentation for Windows Media Center DVR software running on a network-attached Windows 7 PC. With the free PleXBMC add-on, the Pi also front-ends Plex servers running on other household PCs. In addition, it offers unique free content, such as ESPN3 in HD. The interface is slick and stylish, with many free skins available to radically change the look.

The Pi is flexible and fun, but setting-rich and sometimes frustrating; recommended more for the tinkerer than the casual user. (See previous posts Raspberry Pi computer leads to Atari on Wii“Let’s kill Uncle first!”Windows Media Center & Raspberry Pi, and The missing context button.)

The tool that enabled evolution.

Logitech Harmony 890

Here are a couple of ways I tamed some of the complexity created by adding new boxes and new modes of delivering media to our theater room:

A Logitech Harmony remote eliminated a bucketful of remotes for the all the above devices, plus Blu-ray, receiver, HD radio, VCR, etc. The Harmony online database knows about all your devices by model number, and gives you workable default button settings for all your activities. You can customize to a high degree, and I’ve had a lot of obsessive fun getting it just right for me.

Ultimately, the Harmony unifies and simplifies your TV experience. Best money I ever spent. (See 2014: A Cord-Cutting OdysseyLogitech Harmony 650Cloning the TiVo “Peanut” remote.)

When I can’t remember off-hand which show is where, I look at Our post-cord-cutting TV menu on my smartphone.

The most important lesson I have learned:

Keep the basic TV/DVR system user-friendly and reliable. This maximizes the wife acceptance factor needed to successfully cut the cord.

I enjoy dealing with the complexity entailed by extra functionality, but my wife and many other sane and smart people do not. You can have simple, or complex, or both co-existing as we now do.

As The Keeper of Talos iV (above) thought, “May you find your way as pleasant.”

Google Chromecast with HDMI extender cable, microUSB to USB cable, USB power supply.

We didn’t need the Chromecast device since we already have several Rokus to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, YouTube, Crackle, Plex, etc. (Chromecast can handle all these except Amazon; Google doesn’t like to accommodate their competition.)

We still don’t really need it, except for one purpose (so far).

After cutting the cable TV cord, I was still able to watch msnbc’s “Morning Joe” program on the Roku’s Plex channel. (The video podcast, found on a special Plex msnbc “subchannel”, typically became available in the afternoon, or the next day.)

But ten days after cutting the cord, up popped a message from NBC that the video podcast would be discontinued ten days hence. What a kick in the head.

There was and still is an audio podcast of the show, and it can be listened to on Roku’s “iTunes Podcasts” channel. But it’s not quite the same.

I then discovered a European website that streams msnbc International 24/7 in an embedded Flash player. It has the same content as the cable channel, which is very good. But it has no commercials, which is very bad. Say what?! Yes, commercials are preferable to the repetitive, horn-tooting show promos which appear instead of commercial breaks.

Still, the entire “Joe” show can be watched in real time on a web page.

I considered buying a Mohu Channels device as a way to get the page onto a bigger screen, but was put off by the cost, and the need for a special remote to move the cursor around. I didn’t need its other features, having settled on the TiVo Roamio OTA for my wife in the den. and Windows Media Center/Raspberry Pi/Roku for me/us in the theater room. I was also unsure it would work well enough for this purpose.

For awhile, I watched the show in a browser window on the side of my laptop’s screen. Not ideal, but better than an audio podcast.

Next, after my wife moved up to an iPhone and iPad, I inherited her Android phone and tablet. Both devices did a good enough job going full screen on the Flash player, and the tablet’s case doubled as a stand. So I could now watch the show on a separate device. But the promos still drove me crazy, since muting is inconvenient with a small device.

It finally dawned on me that the Google Chromecast might be the simplest and cheapest way to get a web page up to the big screen. Since we had gone with Roku quite awhile back, I had forgotten that the Chromecast is capable of casting a tab from the Chrome browser to the TV. I checked, and Chromecast could handle Flash.

The mailman soon brought one.

The little dongle plugs directly into an HDMI slot on your TV (or if you have as many devices as I do, into an HDMI switch.)

The Chromecast is powered by AC adapter, or by USB if you have a USB port handy on your TV or other device (I plugged into the powered USB hub I use with the Raspberry Pi, which is both powered by the hub and connected to other devices by it.)

Download the free Google Chrome browser on your PC. Once you have it, install the free “Google Cast” extension (see Chrome’s Settings/Extensions/Get More Extensions).

Then go to the page you want to cast, and click the little “cast” icon on the upper right to send the page up on the big screen.

To view an embedded video (Flash player, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) on the page, click the fullscreen icon on the video. You will now see the video fullscreen on your TV.

On my first try, the video was very choppy. I suspected this was due to the fact that it had to be transmitted from the laptop to the wifi router, then again by wifi from the router to the Chromecast device. (We have an old 802.11g router.)

So I tried casting from the office computer, which is Ethernet-attached to the router. With only one wireless hop to the Chromecast, it worked much better. The video only occasionally was not perfectly smooth, though I have seen a freeze or two.

The video quality is about that of the Cox analog channels, which only this month disappeared for good. Very decent quality for a talking-heads news show.

Sometimes, the audio is not in perfect sync, though acceptable to me. This happens on the PC even when not casting. Further Googling leads me to believe that Flash player sync has been a problem for years, and mainly has to do with settings on the server side. So, nothing more I can do about it.

I figured that if the Chromecast were connected to the router by Ethernet (or by Powerline as we have it set up), the occasional stutter might be cured. There is a $15 Ethernet adapter for Chromecast, so I ordered one. Just got it today. So far, no stuttering.

One final hurdle: who wants to get out of the Laz-E-Boy and go into the office to change channels? (CNN and CNBC are available online, too, though not as is Fox News.)

My solution: Download and activate the free TightVNC server software on the office computer. (I already had given the PC a fixed IP address, which is needed to run the software.) On phone and tablet, I downloaded the free Remote Ripple app, which is TightVNC’s client software.

Smartphone screenshot: office PC remote-controlled from smartphone. Hmm, stock market tanked. Time to buy!

After I set it all up, I took over the office PC’s desktop with the smartphone. Using Remote Ripple’s virtual mouse, I brought up the PC’s Chrome browser and clicked my bookmark to the webpage. Then I clicked the tiny little cast button on the browser to get it onto the TV.

Finally, I clicked the fullscreen icon on the Flash player. Voila! The show is on the big TV.

So I now need a smartphone in the theater room to control the office PC, but I typically have one close by, anyway.

My other remote (Logitech Harmony 890) makes it easy to mute Joe’s many mind-numbing, promo-laden breaks.

There are more conventional ways to use Chromecast, to be detailed in a future post.

(PS, another way to use the new setup is get Alan Lambert’s new radio show, “Big Band American Songbook”, onto the big sound system. Listen Saturdays at 8 pm on The Grid, TCC Student Radio online.)

(PPS, yet another use: after I finish a workout accompanied by a smartphone plugged into a boombox, I can go to the theater room and cast whatever music program I was listening to onto the big sound system, from exactly where I left off.)