Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cut the Cord on Cable - Finally!

So I finally did it! I cut the cord on cable on November 21, 2012 . Wednesday afternoon, the cable man came and turned off the service. Now I have a smaller monthly bill. I can't eliminate the bill entirely because I have to keep the cable Internet service on to use some of the replacement services. It is possible to eliminate the cable company entirely; just not for me and my family.  If I were single and childless, I could possibly get along fine with just the free over the air HD channels and using Internet on a mobile hotspot or even tethering to my cellphone's data plan.  This does not work for us, because my solution must please myself, my wife and two daughters.

Before I proceed, I must warn you that this solution is not for everyone. Anyone that is not willing to sacrifice something to lower their monthly cable bill should not consider this.  It is not for someone who is not willing to tinker with different solutions.  Is is not of anyone who is not willing to patchwork together a solution.  There is no turnkey solution that you can just plug in and hit a single power switch like the solutions that the cable and television providers can rent you.  All that convenience has a price; an ever increasing price.

Before you even consider doing this, you will have to do some homework.  First determine how much time you spend watching subscription TV; whether it is cable TV or satellite TV. Secondly, list the channels that you watch. List the shows that you watch on each channel. If you don't know the network or channel, simply write the names of the shows you or your family watch.

This is what we watch.

I personally watch:

  • NFL Football games
  • The NFL channel
  • Some College football
  • Shark Tank
  • American Idol
  • The X-Factor (USA)
  • Revolution
  • Amazing Race
  • Game of Thrones
  • Some major golfing events

My wife watches:

  • Food Network
  • Lifetime Network (aka The man hater network)
  • Family Guy
  • American Family
  • 666 Park Avenue
  • Once Upon a Time
  • The Borgias
  • The Sopranos
  • The Walking Dead
  • The Tutors

The girls watches:

  • Avatar - The last Airbender
  • Avatar - The Legend Of Korra
  • Ultimate Spiderman
  • Wipeout
  • America's Funniest Videos
  • The Mighty B
  • And Various other cartoons

Once you have the list, evaluate it for the following:

  • Decide which shows are a must see (that you cannot go without seeing)
  • Which shows do not have to make the final list; are there alternative shows that can be watched?
  • Do you watch the show live or do you record (DVR) them?
  • Can these shows be watched another way? Though Netflix, Hulu Plus apps on a gaming console, Smart TV, home theater system, Blu-Ray player, tablet, smartphone, etc.?
  • Can they be watched on a computer or laptop via or the networks' website?
  • Can the shows be purchased on DVD or Blu-Ray? How soon after the season end do the disks expect to be released?
  • Can the shows be purchased online from Apple, Amazon, Google Play or another source?
  • Can any of them be rented from any of these sources?
Almost every household today contain at least one device that will stream some form of content into your home from another source other than your TV provider.  You may have a Sony Playstation 3 (PS3), a Microsoft XBox, Nintendo Wii (or WII U), a Smart TV, a tablet or Smartphone that can stream content into your home.  You may have to rely on one or more of these devices to be the entertainment hub for a particular room. Neither one of these devices, nor any of those that you can buy, will provide the entire solution.  No one device can replace your cable box.  You non-cable TV solution will require multiple devices and multiple content sources.

Once my wife and I decided to go for it, I had to start putting the pieces of the pie together.  I knew I would have to be able to get local channels on at least TV, so I picked up a digital HD antenna.  I bought a Roku media streaming player to go on the bedroom TV; the existing Apple TV would stay in the family room. 

So here is my set up: The living room has the Apple TV 2 connected to my 50 inch TV and the bedroom has a 32 inch TV connected to the Roku player. Most of my content is streamed from services like Netflix, Hulu plus or other Internet providers. My Panasonic home theater has a Blu-Ray player as well as "Smart TV" streamed content. Also the Wii game system has streamed content too. 

Push come to shove, I can stream content from the content providers' web site via the iMac computer that is connected to the 50" via AirPlay and/or a HDMI cable. I download some movies and TV episodes and/or rent them from services like Apple iTunes and Amazon. These files reside on my iMac, but are steamed to both the Apple TV 2 and the RoKu XD. The Apple TV 2 is Jailbroken and it is loaded with the Firecore ATV Flash Black media streaming software. The Roku XD has the Plex channel which streams from the iMac. Both do a great job categorizing the content with the meta data pulled to apply the box art and appropriate movie or TV show data. Even buying and downloading whole seasons of shows will be cheaper annually than paying for cable television. 

 The Ruko XD has more content available than the Apple TV 2, even with Apple TV 2 Jailbroken. The Apple TV 2 has AirPlay, so it can receive streamed content from my iPad 3 and iPhone 5 to the 50" HD TV; this is awesome to have and is used more than I would have thought. Local news and sporting events are viewed on the 32" HD TV via the RCA ANT1450BR multi-directional amplified digital flat antenna. What about sports!!! I only watch NFL football, major golf events and some occasional college football games like Michigan v Ohio State. All which is available free over the air. I was worried earlier today when 1pm came and channel 2-1 was coming on. I moved the flat antenna and rescanned and Bam! The game was on. Decided to get a second antenna for the living room, so that we can watch basic television in either room. I went with the next model up because it has a better range. Additionally I have Verizon Wireless on my iPhone 5, so I watch NFL Redzone on Sunday to the teams that are playing in the Redzone. This helps me track my Fantasy players' progress. All Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday night games are played in full on the Verizon iPhone 5. I can even use AirPlay on the Apple TV to watch Redzone or the full game on the 50" TV.   

We have enough content to keep us entertained. I was considering subscribing to the streaming channels from at $20 a year, but it requires a Windows PC to stream to the Roku and Wii devices. The downside is that we can not pause live TV and we do not have a DVR functionality. I can get a TIVO, but it is a startup cost of $200+ and a monthly cost of $12. I am trying to reduce costs, not increase it. I already bought the Roku for $59.99; RCA digital antenna for $30 and a second one that I used an Amazon credit to buy. I am saving on the monthly and will continue to do so year after year. 

My Internet and TV combo was $89 a month with a promotional DirectTV customer buyback program. It lasted 2 years and it has inched up quickly to $130 since late August 2012.  That is without any premium channels at all. Plus I paid $7.99 for Netflix.  Now I pay $59 for Internet. $7.99 for Netflix. And $7.99 for Hulu Plus. So I am paying $75 ($900 a year - wow that is still large) a month instead of $138; $63 less a month or $756 saving a year. Was it ever worth $1656 a year? Well it was actually was $1068 a year for the last 2 years, but it was way more before that. I can't justify paying much more anymore.  

 Will it last? Or will go running back to the cable provider with my cable between my legs? It is strange new world we live in where this 46 and his 36 year old wife is willing to cut the cable cord. Our 11 and 13 year old daughters are at a crossroad of conflicting technologies. The content providers will have to start a more aggressive approach to tackling this new demand for viewing content away from the broadcasted mediums. I will update you on our progression into the post-cable world of nearly total dependence on the Internet for our viewing content. 


Carl W. Brooks 

Check out my iPad/iOS/Mac technology website

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kingdom Rush: My newest Most Played Game

My wife was playing this game for free on our iMac. She seemed very engaged and seemed to be having lots of fun. Me, even if I  like a game, I don't like having to be chained to a desk to play it, so looked for an iPad version and they had one (the also have an iPhone version). I fell in love with this game. I like  defense games and used to play Fieldrunners. When Fieldrunners 2 came out and I bought it, but it crashes all the time (show have read the reviews first). 

Kingdom Rush is a much better game and much cheaper than Fieldrunners and Fieldrunners 2. It is currently $99 (normally $4.99); not sure if this is the new price or a promotion period deal. I just checked their site, they had this to say "With this very limited time offer you can purchase Kingdom Rush at the App Store for a mere 99 cents, that's 66% off the normal price. Quickly, defend your kingdom against hordes of orcs, trolls, evil wizards in this amazing tower defense title!"

So what is Kingdom Rush? The basics of the game is that you have a kingdom to defend; village by village. You are being invaded by hordes of bad creatures. You  start with a certain amount of money to build defenses against the creatures. You earn money when you kill baddies. The enemies range from low-level easy to kill fiends to tough to kill bad-asses. No worries, well maybe some worry, but you can upgrade your defenses as your money grows. 

You can even call on temporary help from the local villagers. They are well equipped, but they will fight hard to death to defend their home. If they survive the onslaught, they will leave after a few seconds. 

You can use this with a 10 second pause between attempts. Use them wisely, the 10 seconds can seem like an eternity. You can also summon fire from the skies to rain lava or fireballs down of the attackers. This has a much longer pause before you can use this again. 

The objective is to not let more than 20 enemies get past your defenses. When an enemy evades your efforts, you lose a heart. Lose 20 hearts and you have lost the battle. 

There is a certain number of waves of enemies that will attack your land. Successfully defend through all waves with losing all of your hearts and you will win that battle. 

Completing boards will earn you stars. It little or no enemies get pass you, then you earn 2 stars for the successful battle. Let a few more get by and you only get 2 stars. Allow a bunch and you only get 1 stars. Why are stars important? Stars can be used to upgrade the abilities of your army and/or equipment. Stars can also be used to buy the assistance of Heroes that will aid in your battles. 

Each board can be played in normal and easy modes. Three campaigns 
exist for each board; the regular campaign and 2 levels were you can be play challenge rounds where you might have 1 wave, but have limited resources. 

On the iPad, you have tons of extras. You can earn jewels that allow you to purchases upgrades. You can independent weapons of mass destruction or use it to buy extra cash to be used whenever you need it in battle to upgrade or build more defenses. 

The music and sound effects are awesome. From the music announcing the  advancements of troops, to the humorous sound effects made when calling on your help to the zany sounds that the weapon upgrades make; you will be entertained. 

I commute to work by bus, this game makes the 45-60 minute ride seem like 5 minutes. The game allows two other people to play their own game without messing up your progress. If you enjoy action and strategy games, then you will love this game. It has a level of difficulty that will not only entertain you and engage you, but will provoke you to play harder and longer with one goal - don't let the bad guys win. 

This game has tons of replay value and is tons fun. For me, it is easily the best game on the iPad. Reducing the price to $0.99 makes this an easy purchasing decision. 

ITunes Link: iPad Version 


Carl W. Brooks

Saturday, November 3, 2012

iPad Mini Review

What can I say about the new iPad Mini? How can I start this review off? When I went to the Apple Store to review this item, a woman walked up beside me with a young child and said, "Here is the iPad mini! I still don't understand the point of it."

So I'll start my review off this way, the point of the iPad mini is…

The iPad Mini can so all the wonderful things that the regular iPad can do only is not as Big and Heavy! So the point is that you can hold it in one hand and you can hold it for much longer periods without getting hand fatigue.

The only questionable thing about the iPad Mini is the screen quality.  Since iPad is all about the display, that’s where I'll start. If the iPad Mini is too small then it is just an iPod Touch or iPhone . It had to be big enough to do all the things you love to do on iPad. And it had to work with all the apps made for iPad. Apple  determined the perfect size for the iPad Mini's screen should be  7.9 inches; not 7 inches for which Steve Jobs was quoted to say "you would need to sand down your fingertips down" to use a 7" tablet. 

The iPad Mini has the same 1024-by-768 resolution as iPad 2 — in a size that’s significantly smaller.  The iPad mini display has 35 percent more screen area than a 7‑inch tablet. Many who have reviewed this device have made remarks that the iPad Mini should have included the Retina display as the new iPod Touch. iPhone or 3rd and 4th generation iPad. While it would be nice to include this, but it is not a negative that it doesn't. When the first iPad came out, it had this screen resolution. The iPad 2 had the same screen. Are you saying that a screen quality that was the standard for a tablet just 8-9 months ago is not good? That would be crazy to even suggest. There is nothing wrong with the screen resolution. I may prefer to have a Retina display, but it isn't significant to make or break the purchase of the iPad Mini. 

The second thing about the iPad Mini is that raises eyebrows is the starting price of $329 for the 16GB wifi model. Many have expressed that it is too high. Hogwash! It is a great price. The truth is the iPad Mini is priced right.  The next available priced iPad is the $399 iPad 2. Even if the iPad Mini was just a smaller and exact featured iPad 2, would it be priced at $299? You could make the point, even though making it smaller doesn't make the cost of the components smaller. 

The iPad Mini has an improved FaceTime HD front facing camera with 1.2MP photo taking ability and 720p HD video capabilities. Compare that to the VGA resolution for both photos and video. The rear-facing camera of the iPad Mini us 5MP instead of sporting the iPad 2's 960 by 720 camera.  Video recording is increased to 1080p HD from the iPad 2's 720p HD. Bluetooth is improved from Bluetooth 2.1 to Bluetooth 4.0 technology which significantly improves the performance. The iPad Mini has LTE capability instead of the iPad 2's 3G antenna. 

It includes the new Lightning port, keeps the 10 hour battery (even though it is thinner and lighter) and gives you Siri!  IS all this not worth the extra $29!?  iPad mini is 23 percent thinner, 53 percent lighter, and fits in one hand — yet it can do everything an iPad can do. You can't compare this to the $199 Nexus 7 or $214 Kindle Fire HD (without Special Offers - Ads)! You are not getting the same device.  I would pay the extra $115 - $130 difference for the iPad Mini.

This isn't exactly an even match, as the iPad mini is actually larger than these smaller screen tablets. Apple iPad Mini's 7.9-inch screen is significantly larger than the 7-inch screens on both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD; even those their 1,280-by-800-pixel screens are actually significantly sharper than the 7.9-inch 1,024-by-768-pixel screen on the iPad mini. The cameras are much better on the iPad Mini than the other two; the Kindle Fire HD doesn't even have a front-facing camera and the rear camera is laughable. It is not about the technical specifications at all.  The average person does not care about this; to them it is all about the user experience.  Apple wins in this department without the iPad Mini. Now that Apple has a light, thin and extremely portable and mobile addition to their lineup, they are primed to extend their tablet lead.

I was planning to get my daughter the new iPod Touch for Christmas; maybe the iPad Mini will show up under the Christmas tree this year.

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