AirTV DVR doesn't quite pick up Sling TV's slack

The last month has been interesting for cord-cutters who want to combine free over-the-air broadcasts with live streaming cable channels.

First, SiliconDust launched a $35-per-month bundle of channels that integrate with its HDHomeRun tuner box and DVR service. And now, AirTV has added DVR support to its own $120 networked tuner box, which streams over-the-air channels into the existing Sling TV app on devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Because Sling TV has not aggressively pursued live local broadcasts in its Sling Orange or Sling Blue streaming packages (both $25 per month), using an antenna fills in the gaps while keeping costs down.

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Channels DVR review: This is a powerful DVR for cord-cutters, but it's also an expensive one

In some ways, Channels DVR is tough to recommend. The subscription cost is much greater than other over-the-air DVR options, the hardware requirements are more stringent, and even some basic features—such as conflict resolution—are absent.

Yet Channels DVR also has a few strengths to compensate for those weaknesses: Recording options are deeply customizable, video quality on Apple TV is superior to other cord-cutting DVRs, and you can easily skip through recorded commercial breaks with the press of a button. Channels also excels at some of the little things, including loading live channels quickly, stacking multiple tuners, and allowing series-based recordings for sports.

All of this helps make Channels one of the most capable cord-cutting replacements for a cable DVR such as TiVo—but only if you’re willing to stomach the costs and a few lingering limitations.

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The case for combining live TV streaming services

Of all the attacks on cord-cutting that we’ve heard over the years, the most common is what I call the “gee whiz” argument: The idea that if you subscribe to a bunch of streaming video services, then gee whiz, the cost of all those subscriptions really adds up. This obvious point is routinely presented as an epiphany by cord-cutting naysayers, none of whom seem to realize that being able to pick and choose is the entire point of ditching cable.

This week, however, I’d like to argue in favor of letting things add up. Given what we know about the average cost of traditional pay TV service—it’s about $100 per month for TV alone, according to Leichtman Research Group and my own examination of FCC data—cord-cutters often have plenty of wiggle room to stack up streaming services and still save money.

In fact, you might even be able to combine multiple live TV bundles for more complete coverage and still come out ahead of cable, even when you’re paying for some of the same channels twice.

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Flat-panel antennas: What you get by spending more

A couple years ago, I took advantage of an antenna deal that seemed too good to be true: A brand I’d never heard of, called 1byone, was selling flat-panel antennas with an advertised 35-mile range for $18. That was about half the price of what bigger brands like Mohu and Winegard were charging, and Amazon’s user reviews looked positive, so I took a gamble and ordered a pair.

My story has a happy ending. The two antennas have served me well for both personal use and product reviews, with no issues picking up all the free broadcast stations I care about. But since my purchase, even more no-name brands have emerged, advertising the same or greater mile ranges for even less than what I paid. I’ve always wondered how these cheap flat-panel antennas really compare to the mainstream brands.

To find out, I asked antenna makers and other experts a simple question: What’s the difference between cheaper and pricier flat-panel antennas, given the same advertised mile range? Here’s how they responded:

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HDHomeRun Premium TV could be the holy grail for antenna users

SiliconDust, the company behind the HDHomeRun line of networked TV tuners, has solved one of live TV streaming services’ biggest problems with its new Premium TV offering.

For $35 per month, HDHomeRun Premium TV offers 45 live cable channels, including ESPN, HGTV, FX, AMC, and all three major cable news networks. While the package doesn’t include any local broadcast channels, you can add those yourself by connecting an antenna to an HDHomeRun tuner, which itself is required to access the service.

What really sets Premium TV apart from other live streaming services is its DVR support, which lets you record over-the-air and cable programming onto a desktop PC or NAS box for an extra $35 per year. Unlike the cloud-based DVRs offered by other live TV services, HDHomeRun’s DVR doesn’t prevent you from skipping ads, block you from recording certain channels, or set limits on how long it’ll keep your recordings. You can even load the video files onto a Plex server or move them to your phone for offline viewing. The DVR is limited only by the size of your hard drive (hard drives, if you’re running a NAS box).

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'Featured Free' offers a glimpse into Roku's future

Over the past few years, Roku has been gradually transforming itself into an advertising business, but until now it wasn’t easy to notice.

Sure, Roku’s streaming players and smart TVs have long included advertising on the home screen, and the app shortcut buttons on its remote controls are paid placements. Yet for the most part, Roku has avoided making drastic changes to its products for the purpose of serving up more ads, even as the company tells Wall Street that it’s sitting on a huge advertising opportunity. 

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What the cord cutting naysayers still get wrong

Call me an optimist, but I’ve never been convinced by the idea that cord cutting will leave consumers in worse shape than they were with cable TV.

We’ve heard a lot of arguments to that extent over the years. Cord cutting’s naysayers have told us that streaming TV gives people too many choices, won’t actually save money, will wipe out quality programming, and could even cripple the internet, all to imply that we should be careful about wishing for cable’s decline.

These days, I typically ignore such claims, having debunked them enough times already. But after reading a recent piece by Graeme McMillan at The Verge, which argues that media companies are “accidentally re-creating cable TV,” I want to make one more point that’s often overlooked: Streaming video has given us more to watch than we ever could have hoped for in the cable era, to the point that it’s impossible to keep up. The idea that you must pay for every conceivable streaming service isn’t just wrong, it’s impractical.

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