Mohu

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How did this happen?

How did this happen? (Click to enlarge)

Back to the Curve 50

Back to the Curve 50 (click to enlarge)

Two days ago, I noticed that Channel 2.1 was looking blotchy. That shouldn’t happen with an outdoor antenna.

8.1 didn’t even come in.

See photo at left.

Video Revolution had installed the Mohu Sky 60 outdoor antenna back in February. I can’t imagine how the F connector could ever come loose, even if only finger-tightened. But there it is.

I called VR to get someone out to reconnect it. They’re pretty busy right now. I’d do it myself, but it’s steep, and the risk/reward equation doesn’t seem to be right. (I also tweaked a lat muscle the other day.)

But in the mean time, there is the recording of General Hospital to consider.

Luckily, we have a backup: the Mohu Curve 50 antenna (link to previous review; also see it in the TTM aStore).

I had decided that the Curve really didn’t add much as an auxiliary antenna for COZI (47.2). But it is perfect for this situation.

I hooked it back up to the Radio Shack Remote Control A|B switch, still in place under the den TV. Aimed it east-northeast, switched it over to the B side of the switch, and we are back in business. Signal strength is fine for the network channels, which is what we mostly watch anyway. And General Hospital recording can continue as usual.

When Video Revolution finally gets around to us, I’ll switch back to the A side for the outdoor antenna. I think I’ll keep the Curve hooked up afterwards.

In the process of getting the AC cords redeployed back there, there was further fallout from the lightning strike earlier in the year. The gigabit switch, already weakened down to 4 ports from 5, decided to give up the ghost entirely. I had a backup on hand for that, too: the $10 TP-LINK TL-SF1005D 5-port 10/100Mbps Desktop Switch.

So all is well, except for a missing episode of General Hospital. I’ve recovered from that before; see previous post Saving YouTubes, viewing with Plex & Emby.

There are a couple of ways to handle it, buy the episode on Amazon Video or VUDU. Then my wife can watch it on the Amazon or VUDU apps on the TiVo.

Since the previous post, episodes have become less easy to find for free on YouTube. I found one poor quality upload. However, Dailymotion (based in France) does have an acceptable version. I could use the Chromecast to put it on the big screen in the theater room. But that’s not where she likes to watch.

So we’ll probably go the Amazon route. She won’t get to it soon anyway, due a backlog of shows from our recent vacation.

The cord-cutting cheer will continue unabated.

Merry Christmas!

(Later note: She got to that episode quicker than I thought. I was unable to find it anywhere but on Dailymotion. I put it on the big screen for her to watch while wrapping presents yesterday. I suspect that ABC has managed to dry up YouTube and other sources in order to promote their own subscription service.)


Two items might well be all you need to cut the cable TV cord.

It can be very easy, and a great gift for your family to not be paying a high cable bill every month.

First, I recommend the new TiVo BOLT (as of 2016, I recommend the new Roamio with one-time pricing, above. It has all the features of the BOLT I describe below.). It supercedes the TiVo Roamio series, includes all its features, and has a couple of new ones of its own. The above price includes the remote and a year subscription to the TiVo service ($150/year thereafter).

Depending on the antenna you use, the BOLT can give you most or all of your local channels and subchannels, with current and future program listings shown in a convenient grid display. (An internet connection is needed to download and update the listings.) It also is a full-featured, easy-to-use DVR, easily as good as the cable or satellite company’s.

In addition, it has useful apps including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, VUDU, YouTube, Pandora, Plex, and iHeart Radio. You might not even need a Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick to view your subscription and other content!

If you want access to all this in other rooms, add TiVo Minis. They are an easy way to get more out of your TiVo at a one-time-only cost. Each comes with its own remote. You can also use the free TiVo smartphone app to control a BOLT or Mini, and to easily set up recordings.

Read more in previous posts New product: the TiVo BOLT and Cord-cutting: What DID work for us.

Second, you will need an antenna. The Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna (Refurbished) might well be all you need. Try it. If you decide to upgrade to a powered and/or an outdoor antenna, you can still use this one with another TV.

Read more about antennas in these previous posts: Placing an indoor TV antenna, High winds can affect TV reception and Mohu Sky 60 antenna review.


In addition, if you are ready to replace your landline or cable phone service (and don’t want to rely entirely on your cell phone), the Ooma Telo internet phone can make it happen. See previous posts Ooma internet phone moves from office to Tiki room and Cord-cutting: Hold the phone!

After losing the cable/satellite box, you may need a new clock for the set-top. The one at the top of this post does the job quite nicely for us.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, with no cords attached!

In the year+ I’ve been writing this blog, we’ve tried a lot of cord-cutting measures. It might be useful to review the ones that were less than totally successful.

Most of the following items could work for others; here’s why they didn’t for us (links to relevant past posts are in parentheses).


1. Mediasonic HomeWorx Digital TV Converter Box with PVR (see Eliminate a cable box)

We bought our 36″ tube HDTV new in 2002 to use with cable. It does not have a built-in TV tuner, so in order to cut the cord, we needed a converter box to get digital TV with an antenna. This particular box cost only $35, and also had the capability of recording shows on a USB drive. I delusionally dreamed this could replace the cable DVR service.

But it was simply too clunky and kludgy as a PVR (DVR) to inflict on my wife. Doing so would probably have dealt a fatal blow to my cord-cutting ambitions. So it moved to the bedroom to serve as a digital tuner only. The price was still good for that use only. I finally traded it to a friend when we replaced the bedroom TV.

2. Cheap Component-to-HDMI converter (see Replace the old TV?)

We had already cut the cord with a TiVo Roamio OTA, but were watching the 36″ tube TV using the lower quality composite input (yellow, red, & white plugs) with TiVo. That was because the TV has only composite, component and S-video inputs, rather than the HDMI needed for the best quality TiVo connection.

I ordered two different HDMI-to-component video converters in succession from Amazon, but neither worked worth a hoot. I learned that the cheapest one on the market that would totally work was the HDFury Gamer 2, and it wasn’t that cheap.

Most people would probably be better served by getting a new TV, but I wasn’t ready to tote that still-working 217 lb. TV to Best Buy for recycling (see Best Buy accepts 3 dead electronics items per day).

3. Raspberry Pi/Windows Media Center PC as DVR (see The Life of (Raspberry) Pi)

I hardly attempted to get my wife to use this; the Pi/Windows combo is not casual user friendly, and is prone to periodic hiccups of various sorts. But I’ve learned a lot from it, and WMC captures TV shows reliably in a format that can be converted to .mp4 (unlike TiVo See JJ’s comments and links below; you CAN pull videos from TiVo with the free pyTiVo program!)

If you have a PC with an HDMI output, you could plug it directly into the TV and use WMC without the Pi. But Windows 8 is the last version to support WMC, so you would be out of luck by 2023, 2020 for Windows 7 (see RIP Windows Media Center (in 5-8 yrs)).

4. Roku Highlights online document (see Our post-cord-cutting TV menu)

This is a list of all the Roku channels with the content of current interest to us. It is in the form of a Google Doc, so I can look at it and update it from tablet, smartphone or browser. The idea was to remind us of all the shows we might watch, and which device or channel they’re on.

It’s fine as MY doc, not so much OURS. Gaye just doesn’t approach TV that way. I do, so I serve as the TV butler, verbally reading from the list when needed.

Since my original post, I have periodically updated the doc and added the content available via Chromecast and Raspberry Pi as well. All to aid my own memory.

5. Antenna placement (see Mohu Sky 60 antenna review & The Riddle of COZI)

(Click to enlarge)

I had the Video Revolution installer place the outdoor antenna on the highest, easternmost point of our house, in hopes of getting the best all-around signals. (He found the height daunting, but if it hadn’t been, I would have tried it myself.)

As it turned out, reception was generally very good. But a few of the higher frequency stations suffered when spring brought foliage and wind. Our street is downhill from the affected stations, so there was no way to put the antenna high enough to avoid the trees.

One other corner of our house might have had a better shot at less obstruction to the east (where a majority of network stations are for us). We don’t know. But it may well have had problems with other stations, even if it slightly improved the Coweta stations.

Ideally, I would have experimented a bit more. But due to the sheer height/steepness of our roof and the lack of attic access, that would have been difficult. With the installer’s meter running, and seeing good reception on all stations that day in March, I locked it in.

This summer, all channels have been consistently good.

6. A|B switch with set-top antenna (see Mohu Curve 50 antenna & COZI in the den)

(Also tried in the spring) The switch selected between the roof-mounted Mohu Sky 60 antenna, and the Curve 50 sitting on the TV. The idea was that when one station’s reception suffered due to the usual factors (wind, trees blocking the signal), another antenna sometimes did a better job.

In practice, it just didn’t work well enough or often enough to mess with it. Not the Curve’s fault; there was just no consistent good placement for it within the space restrictions imposed by the den TV’s location.

7. Hulu Plus (see Streaming video as cable substitute)

In short, we love Netflix, and Amazon Prime to a lesser degree, but Hulu Plus not at all. We dropped it.

After going with a TiVo Roamio OTA as our DVR, Hulu Plus would have been almost superfluous anyway.

A major key to cord-cutting success was reliably delivering daily episodes of “General Hospital” that could easily be rewound, jumped-back, and reviewed, and Hulu wasn’t it.

I found Hulu’s interface poor and the commercials annoying.

8. Powerline to connect a TiVo Mini to the TiVo host box (see The fruits of cord-cutting: new TVs, TiVo Mini, comments)

I successfully used a long Ethernet cable to connect the TiVo Mini in the kitchen to the TiVo Roamio OTA in the den, as recommended. (The other recommended way is MoCA, multimedia over coax.)

I then replaced the cable with a Powerline adapter, a way to send data packets over your house wiring (see Powerline vs. Ethernet wiring). This was an attempt to eliminate the wire.

It worked for a time, but started taking too many errors to be acceptable. I returned to the long Ethernet cable, and did the same when we added another Mini in the theater room.

A Powerline adapter effectively delivers internet access to the Roamio, and thus to the Minis too, but it isn’t quite up the job of moving the video data.

9. Finding ways to provide the cable shows my wife can’t live without (or just wants)

I was really worried about this, so I tried a number of things:

— Plex channels (see Free Plex channels = cable substitutes? and NBC/msnbc discontinuing video podcasts)

— VCRing  a lot of “Survivorman” before cutting the cable.

— Plex personal media content (see  007 24/7 on Plex Media Server) such as my wife’s favorite Sunday night shows, “Keeping Up Appearances” and “Fawlty Towers”, and Saturday fave, “The Outer Limits”. I also ripped our favorite movies from DVD for Plex.

Of those three items, only the latter proved to be of use to her.


The things that DID work will be in a future post. A high wife acceptance factor (WAF), as always, is primary.

Mohu Curve 50 atop our set, pulling in COZI TV. That's Sharon Farrell on "Marcus Welby, M.D."

Mohu Curve 50 atop our set, pulling in COZI TV. Sorry, my phone camera washed out the color, but it was there. That’s actress Sharon Farrell on “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Nice wig.

The folks at Mohu sent me a couple of antennas for review a while back. One was the Mohu Curve 50 (see below), the other was the Mohu Sky 60, reviewed this week (Mohu Sky 60 antenna review & The Riddle of COZI).

Recap of that post

The Sky 60 mounted on the roof solved all of our reception problems in the den, but one: COZI TV (a subchannel of KWHB-47).

KWHB’s antenna is close by, but our house is downhill and away from it, partially blocked. Large neighborhood trees add extra blockage to their signal as “seen” by the Sky 60.

None of the other five stations with antennas at the same site in Oneta (12 miles away) pose reception problems for us.

The lower frequency stations there, KJRH and KOED, operate with relatively low power (24 and 47 kW respectively), since their longer wavelengths are far less prone to obstruction.

The higher frequency stations (KOKI, KMYT and KOTV) are much higher powered (1000, 900 and 840 kW) in order to get their shorter wavelengths through ground clutter like our trees.

KWHB operates not only at a higher frequency than any of the other stations, but also at relatively low power (50 kW). Thus, our picture is often punctuated by pixelation when any amount of wind moves tree branches though the signal path to our Sky 60 antenna. (Also, KWHB’s antenna is more than a football field length lower than KOTV’s.)

We watchably receive the station in the theater room, but antenna positioning was critical. With a flat, amplified, wall-mounted antenna, I found an exact spot to miss the bulk of the local trees (or pick up a reflection of the signal, I’m not sure which), and get good signal strength on all stations, with the exception of KRSU in Claremore. There was no such spot in the den, but the Sky 60 pulls them all in well except COZI.

A way to get COZI in the den

Yesterday, I realized that I might be able to use the other antenna, the Mohu Curve 50, as an auxiliary to improve COZI in the den.

I now have both Mohu antennas hooked to a remote-controlled A|B switch that feeds the den TiVo box. I leave it on the Sky 60 all the time, except when COZI is on. Then I hit a button to seamlessly switch to the Curve 50. Presto, COZI loses most of the pixelation.

I found, not to my surprise by now, that pointing the Curve 50 in the exact direction of COZI was ineffective. What worked best was aiming it a bit less than 90 degrees away from the station, and placing it on the left side of the TV set-top (I took the above photo before this setup). It’s probably picking up a reflection of KWHB’s signal; I can’t even imagine the path it is taking. But it seems to work consistently.

(I want to mention again: this guy had good luck placing antennas in and near his basement window to pick up reflected signals! He also used two Mohu antennas.)

It may seem extravagant and a bit kludgy to use an extra antenna this way, but the result in our “special needs” den is that we are now receiving every station we want in our area.

Whatever works.

The Mohu Curve 50 antenna

It has a very high WAF (wife acceptance factor). When I told Gaye that we had a new antenna, she said “Where?” She didn’t recognize it as an antenna. To me, it looks like a little drive-in theater screen, though I’ve never seen one with a designer curve.

It is basically a Mohu Leaf 50 (for 50 mile maximum unobstructed range) with a stand and backing for rigidity and shape. Like the Leaf 50 and the Sky 60, it has a filtered amplifier powered by AC, with the option to plug into a USB port for power instead. Amplification doesn’t relieve you of the need to experiment with positioning, but it does add a noticeable amount of signal strength, which can make the difference with marginal stations.

It works best as your general coverage antenna if you are able to place it near a window or wall facing toward your antenna farm.

A flat thin antenna like the Leaf 50 is very flexible about the mounting height, but you are typically limited to either north-south or east-west orientation (depending on your house). For most stations, this would not be critical, since, like the Curve, it is multidirectional.

The Curve 50, having its own means of support, is flexible in orientation, which was vital for me to pick up the weak and obstructed COZI. Heightwise, you could place it on the TV as I did, or on a table or high shelf. It certainly looks better than any indoor antenna I’ve seen.

The best antenna for you depends on your location relative to the antennas of the stations you want to receive. The Mohu Curve 50 might be the one, particularly if the WAF is important to your choice.

Mohu Sky 60 on the apex of our roof

Mohu Sky 60 on the easternmost apex of our roof

This is our new Mohu Sky 60 antenna, suitable for indoor or outdoor use. Its design is based on a mudflap antenna developed for covert military communications by Mohu’s parent company, GreenWave Scientific.

Mounting it in the attic is difficult in our house due to our vaulted ceilings. It’s hard to reach a good place in the attic to hang the antenna, then to get the cable down to the TV. You also lose some of the signal every wall it passes through.

I wanted the maximum signal strength, so an outside mount as high as I could get seemed best.

Installation

I didn’t feel that the risk/reward ratio favored my scaling the steep roof to install it, so I hired help. Even the installer had qualms about clambering up there.

The Sky 60 comes with a filtered amplifier (powered by either USB or wall wart), mounting bracket, a short mast, and a 30′ RG59 cable.

RG59 is the lighter, more flexible kind. RG6 is the thick, heavy-duty one that the cable company uses. The installer was very down on RG59, even wondering if it is still made. Yes, it is. And it does quite well for indoor use and short runs. But I agreed with him that RG6 was the best choice for an outdoor installation.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

I was able to save him time, and therefore me money by reusing the existing cable to our den, which I had traced to the cable box a week before. (After I did that, I hooked up the Sky 60 outdoors and hung it on a couple of nails at my highest reach for a few days to try it out, with good results.)

Once he got the mast in place, I did a Will Rogers and hurled a coil of the RG59 cable up there like a lasso. To my utter astonishment, I scored a ringer on the first try.

He lightly attached the antenna to the mast, and I connected up the cable temporarily so I could go indoors and check signal strength on all the stations with various antenna orientations.

To finish up, he tightened down the screws on the antenna, attached RG6 cable, and used a tall ladder to fasten it down the side of the house. He then grounded the antenna properly.

Indoors, I had already connected the TiVo tuner to the existing cable wall outlet. The Sky 60’s USB power cord connects to one of the TiVo’s two USB ports. (I use the other one to power a little LED clock, needed to show us the time with the cable box gone.)

The Sky 60 seems well-suited for a rural setting, where there is a lot of distance (as many as 60 miles), and a clear path to a distant antenna farm.

However, its compact, ultra-wideband design makes it an excellent choice for suburban areas like ours (81st & Memorial).

I want my RSUTV!

A majority of Tulsa-area antennas are located in Coweta and Oneta, 12-15 miles east-southeast of us. That’s close, but our street slopes down and away from them. That’s why I wanted to go as high as I could get.

But there are also tall trees in our immediate neighborhood between us and those antennas.

As I learned previously (High winds can affect TV reception), the higher frequency stations are more often affected by trees and the movement caused by wind. Those shorter wavelengths are close enough to the size of tree trunks and branches that the signals are more easily blocked or diffracted.

Tulsa-area TV transmitter locations

Tulsa-area TV transmitter locations from our house. See http://transition.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/dtvmaps

The standard advice is to point your antenna right at the antenna farm and hope for the best. That was the advice of the installer as well. We tried it and it worked.

But I also wanted to pick up KRSU-35 (RSUTV) in Claremore, to our northeast. It wasn’t happening with that orientation.

So I had him fudge the direction to slightly north of east, toward a low-tree corridor through our neighborhood. I still got high signal strength from almost all the other stations, but also a consistent signal and picture from Claremore.

The Sky 60 is billed as multidirectional, and it is, but its orientation made a critical difference in receiving the Claremore station, which is almost 30 miles from us.

We have been very satisfied with our reception of all the area stations, but one…

The Riddle of COZI

KWHB-47/COZI-47.2 (Independent, real channel 47), one of the higher frequency channels, occasionally freezes and not infrequently suffers brief, blocky blotches of pixelation on the screen. But KOTV-6 (CBS, real channel 45), close to COZI’s frequency, is rarely affected. Both of their antennas are in Oneta.

The signal strength we get for COZI is about what we now get from RSUTV, both on the low side of the acceptable range. KOTV and all the other channels in the Tulsa area (excluding KDOR, way up north in Bartlesville) show high signal strength as measured on the TiVo’s tuner.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

The chart at right is custom for our street address and free from TV Fool.

It shows that KOTV’s “Noise Margin” (a rough estimate of signal strength, based on the topography of the area) is 65.3 dB, whereas COZI’s is 51.9. It’s lower, but not that much lower (KRSU is 26.4).

It also shows that the COZI and KOTV antennas must be either side by side or on the same mast!

The full wavelengths of the KOTV and COZI signals are between 17.5″-18″ so they would seem to be equally vulnerable to tree interference, and should behave very similarly.

By contrast, I have a flat amplified antenna taped to an east-facing inside wall in the theater room. I found one and only one spot on the wall where it works. (I could find no spot near the den TV where a flat antenna worked acceptably. That’s why the Sky 60.)

The flat antenna in the theater room does a better job with COZI than the outdoor antenna in the den, but worse with RSUTV to the northeast. That makes some sense, because the flat is aimed straight east, slightly more toward COZI and slightly away from RSUTV compared with the Sky 60.

But COZI’s signal strength on the theater room set, like KOTV’s, measures near the maximum, and pixelation occurs far less frequently, though high winds can still affect COZI’s picture in there.

Why does that antenna/TV tuner show maximums for both KOTV and COZI, but the Sky 60/TiVo combo reads a maximum for KOTV, yet much lower for COZI?

It’s a bit of a puzzle:

  • Are we getting a freak “bank shot” of COZI’s signal in the theater room, or finding a gap in the tree cover?
  • Is the compromise angle of the Sky 60 critical for COZI, but not for any of the other stations at precisely the same location?
  • Is even minimal tree movement periodically pushing COZI over the “digital cliff” despite my seeing steady signal readings?
  • Maybe the KOTV antenna is higher on the mast as well as having more power?

Since a small shift of the Sky 60’s angle was decisive in getting a consistent picture from RSUTV, might that same shift might have been decisive in losing a consistent lock on the lowest-powered (though not by much) signal at nearby Oneta?

Maybe not; new info: I did some digging at FCCinfo.com for KWHB (COZI) and KOTV data.

Key facts: both stations are indeed on the same tower and KOTV is 113 meters higher than KWHB. That’s 124 yards, more than a football field.

But here’s the eye-popper: KOTV broadcasts at 840.1 kW ERP (effective radiated power). KWHB at 50 kW ERP. Huge difference! No wonder KWHB has a harder time blasting through the tree clutter.

Re the misleading (at least to me) “Noise Margin” figures quoted above, TV Fool’s TV Signal Analysis FAQ states: “Please understand that this is a simulation and can only be treated as a rough approximation. Reception at your location is affected by many factors such as multipath, antenna gain, receiver sensitivity, buildings, and trees – which are not taken into account. Your mileage may vary.” Did it ever!

The mystery now is how I am getting a strong signal in the theater room, but only when the antenna is at a particular spot at the center and top of the wall.

It appears to me that the offset position of the theater room vis-à-vis the den gives it barely enough clearance from the trees to avoid impairment of COZI’s signal, at least at that one little spot. I wish I had “radiovision” so I could see the radio shadows and reflections in there.

We haven’t yet experienced the blooming of trees in the spring with the Sky 60 on the roof, so we’ll soon see how or if that affects our reception.

Luckily, COZI is more my channel than Gaye’s (it has “Run For Your Life“, which I record with my WMC/Pi setup in the theater room), so this isn’t a big crisis. And it is watchable a lot of the time.

Conclusions

As I had previously found (Placing an indoor TV antenna), you need to experiment with inside antennas for best performance. The same is true for outdoor or roof mounts. It’s difficult to predict where the best spot is going to be, and it is often surprising.

Experiment at leisure with different antenna orientations and positions on an inside or outside wall, or in the attic, and find out what works best at your house. Then you’ll be better prepared if you choose to do an outside mount.

When the stations you want are not all clumped together, tweaks and trade-offs may be necessary.

I had hoped that maximum antenna height would completely eliminate reception problems.

It almost did, but I had to tweak the direction to pick up a distant desired station (RSUTV) while keeping the others.

Sometimes-impaired reception of COZI may be the trade-off, but given its low power and our tree-laden, partially-obscured location relative to its antenna, COZI would likely be problematic for any antenna in the location I selected, regardless of its orientation. (I seem to have barely caught a gap in the trees with the theater room antenna’s precise positioning.)

I learned that two stations (RSUTV and COZI) received at roughly the same signal strength, albeit on the lower side of the acceptable range, can differ greatly in quality. One can come in consistently, and the other can be subject to frequent interference if it is on a high frequency and nearby trees are in the path.

Signal strength as measured on your TV doesn’t always tell the whole reception story.

(This guy had better luck placing his Mohu antennas in and near the basement window to pick up reflected signals! He also found a way to combine two antennas.)

Final notes

The Mohu Sky 60 is doing a bang-up job for us. It’s solidly constructed and was light and easy to move around in the experimentation phase. I like the unique appearance of the antenna up there; Gaye thought it looked like an alien artifact (which is to say she likes it a lot).

With the TiVo Roamio OTA DVR/tuner and the Mohu Sky 60, plus Netflix and Amazon Prime, our TV cable cord is well cut.

According to my calculations, we will save about $1750/year! And we didn’t even have any premium channels like HBO, etc.

(Full disclosure: Mohu sent me the antenna for free to review.)