Frndly TV Review – A low cost “skinny bundle” streaming service

In my latest video, we take a look at Frndly TV, a service that positions itself as an affordable option for those looking to cut the cord with traditional cable services.

One of my biggest issues with TV streaming services is that they are not all that much more affordable versus a traditional cable subscription and ultimately have channels the consumer will pay for but never watch. Frndly picked out a few popular channels that are sometimes not found on other services and positioned themselves as the “add-on” to complement other streaming subscriptions and OTA watchers.

The service’s pricing structure is straightforward, offering annual billing options that provide a discount in exchange for a commitment. The entry-level “basic” plan streams only at standard definition and lacks DVR capabilities. The “classic” plan is the better value, offering HD resolution, two simultaneous streams, and 90-day DVR retention. The classic plan currently retails for $95.88 if purchased annually.

You can see a full breakdown here (compensated affiliate link).

The channel lineup of Frndly TV, though limited when compared to more expansive streaming services, includes a mix of popular channels such as A&E, History, Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel. The full channel lineup can be found on their website. (affiliate link)

Frndly TV has apps for a wide array of devices, from Android and iOS mobile devices to various smart TVs and streaming sticks. Unfortunately LG televisions are not supported right now so a low cost Roku or Fire TV would be needed.

The service promotes ease of use, featuring a traditional channel guide for live television alongside features such as a 72-hour lookback, which allows viewers to access recently aired content without having to set up a recording.

Frndly does not offer profiles, meaning all users on an account share viewing preferences and recommendations. This lack of personalization might detract from the experience for those accustomed to more sophisticated streaming platforms.

The on-demand and DVR capabilities of Frndly TV offer flexibility in content consumption, with options to record future episodes of shows or access a range of on-demand content from specific networks. It neatly organizes recorded, lookback, and on-Demand content into TV show landing pages with an easy to navigate interface. You can see how it all works in my video above.

Overall Frndly fills a void for those looking to piece together their cord cutting solution by offering a few specific cable networks. At this price it’s unlikely the service will expand much beyond its current offering but if they’re able to sustain the offering over time it’ll be a nice part of the ecosystem.

Playstation Removing All Discovery Channel Media – Including Customer Purchases – on December 31st

Yes you read the headline correctly. Sony, in a Friday afternoon bad news dump, notified users that video content from Discovery will be removed from the Playstation store and any purchases will also be removed from user libraries. This is yet another reminder that in this digital world we own nothing. See more in my latest video.

Unlike physical media, where ownership is tangible and enduring, digital purchases are ephemeral, often subject to the whims of content providers and platform policies. Even when “purchasing” media, users are merely purchasing a license giving them access to the content. The fine print of Sony’s licensing agreement says they can revoke the license any time they want for any reason.

Unless as otherwise stated in this Agreement, SCEA, at its sole discretion, may indefinitely suspend, or discontinue any and all online access to content at any time, including for maintenance service or upgrades, without prior notice or liability.”

So how can we safeguard access to our media? One method involves the direct capture of content using software like OBS. While this process is time-consuming, it offers one avenue to preserve access to shows and movies that you’ve paid for. However, this solution isn’t without its drawbacks, primarily the effort and technical know-how required. And also it may violate the Digital Milenium Copyright Act (DMCA) which prohibits the circumvention of encryption protecting the content which is required to do a direct capture.

The best option of course is to purchase physical copies of movies and TV shows, whether on DVD or Blu-ray, which will remain accessible regardless of the changing digital landscape. Physical discs often include special features and additional content, enriching the viewing experience. Unfortunately, the market for physical media is declining, and not all content is available in this format.

Movies Anywhere is another alternative that helps spread the risk across multiple platforms. This service allows digital media purchased on one platform (like Amazon) to be made accessible on other platforms too. Most Blu-Rays now come with a “digital code” option that is often redeemable through Movies Anywhere.

Vudu also has an affordable solution called “Disc to Digital” that allows US consumers to scan the back of a DVD or Blu-Ray movie and have the film added to their digital library for under $5. The film gets added to the user’s Vudu library but the film will show up on other services through Movies Anywhere. I reviewed the service a few years ago.

For those with physical media collections, tools like MakeMKV and Handbrake facilitate the creation of personal digital archives that can be used with personal media servers like Plex.

Another option is the use of streaming service recorders like PlayOn (compensated affiliate link). This tool enables the recording of content from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, though it operates in a legal gray area and raises questions about compliance with service terms and the legality of retaining content after canceling a subscription to the service the content was recorded from.

Unfortunately this dust up with Sony and Discovery is only the tip of the iceberg. I suspect we will be hearing more stories about purchases of music, movies, TV shows and games disappearing from libraries in the coming years. And unfortunately there’s not much we can do about it given the terms of service that allow the companies to do it.

Tablo TV Version 4 Review

My latest video is a review of the Tablo 4th Gen TV Tuner and DVR, the first Tablo product since the company was acquired by broadcast TV station owner Scripps. In addition tuning live over the air television it also provides a number of free advertiser support streaming channels that will appear in the lineup.

It is currently selling for around $99 at Best Buy (affiliate link) and it works without any ongoing subscription fees.

At first glance, it’s pretty minimalistic with just an ethernet port, a USB port for external storage, a coax connector for the antenna, and a power connector. It also has Wi-Fi, which is great if you don’t have ethernet in the room where you set it up. However, I noticed that Wi-Fi can be a bit flaky with over-the-air TV, so using ethernet might offer a better experience.

The device is wall-mountable, and they even provide the hardware for it. But there’s a catch: it’s not recommended for attic installation due to its sensitivity to extreme temperatures. It can only handle up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) maximum.

When it comes to tuning, the Tablo only supports ATSC 1.0 broadcasts. This was surprising, especially since Tablo was acquired by a major broadcast conglomerate. It is likely because the DRM encryption that the industry is putting in place is proving to be difficult to implement in devices like this. This means that the Gen 4 Tablo will work with the current standard until around 2027 when the transition to the new standard is expected to be complete.

This Tablo has two tuners, allowing it to tune into two different channels simultaneously. It comes with built-in storage of about 128 gigabytes, which they claim can store up to 50 hours of content. The USB port works with an external hard drive for additional storage, supporting up to eight terabytes.

Setting up the Tablo was straightforward. After creating an account on their website, the device guided me through the process. However, I wasn’t thrilled about the fact that they attempt to track activities outside the application on my iPhone, probably for ad targeting.

Watching live TV and setting up recordings was easy. But there’s a limitation: you can’t watch anything on mobile devices outside your home network. This is a significant restriction, especially when compared to streaming services.

The interface on the TV is user-friendly. There are apps available for Android TV, Fire TV, and Roku, with plans for Apple TV along with Samsung, and LG televisions. The channel guide is intuitive, and you can easily set up recordings. However, handling recording conflicts could be improved. If there’s a conflict, there’s no notification – you have to manually resolve it, which can be a bit tedious.

Another feature I explored in the video was the free advertiser-supported streaming channels. These channels, similar to what you’d find on Pluto TV, are integrated into the Tablo interface. What’s different with Tablo is that you can record content from these streaming channels, offering a blend of over-the-air and streaming content.

Tablo Gen 4 offers a decent experience for those looking to record over-the-air TV without ongoing costs. While it has its limitations, it’s a good option if you have a strong antenna signal in your area. I’m eager to see how the product evolves in the future.

Philo is a Budget Friendly Streaming TV Provider

In my latest video I take a look at Philo, a budget-friendly TV streaming provider. Philo offers a selection of popular cable networks with DVR functionality for only $25 a month, significantly less than other services. However, it does not include local or sports channels.

Philo’s interface is user-friendly and consistent across the major TV platforms, including Google/Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Apple TV. It also offers a mobile app for Android and iOS. The service allows up to 10 profiles on an account, but only three people can watch TV simultaneously.

One of the unique features of Philo is that when you tune into a show in the middle of its broadcast, it starts you off from the beginning. This is due to the Philo servers recording everything that’s being broadcast across its channel offerings.

Philo also supports the TV Everywhere protocol, allowing users to log in directly to a TV provider and watch shows through the provider’s app. This does not count against Philo’s three simultaneous live streams. It also works with the Channels App that allows for viewing and recording shows from your own locally hosted server.

While Philo may not offer the full breadth of channels available from some of the competing service providers, it is a cost-effective solution for cord-cutters who are looking to bridge some gaps from their old cable service plan – especially for those who already receive their local channels through an antenna.

YouTube TV: A Comprehensive Review for Cord Cutters

YouTube TV is quickly becoming a popular alternative to cable television services, offering a comparable channel lineup for sometimes less money than a cable provider. In fact some cable TV companies have ditched their own services and partnered up with YouTube TV instead. That’s what happened with Frontier here in Connecticut who offers YouTube TV as their television service.

In my latest video I take a deep dive into the service to see how it works.

YouTube TV offers a robust channel lineup, including all local affiliates and a wide range of popular cable networks. However, I noticed that the service includes a lot of sports channels, which may not be of interest to non-sports fans. YouTube TV also offers family sharing, allowing each family member to have their own unique experience on the platform. However, it does limit users to three simultaneous streams unless they upgrade their service for an additional $10 a month.

The interface is user-friendly across all supported platforms, with top picks based on your viewing history front and center, filtering options, and a channel guide. It also offers a recording feature with unlimited storage, but recordings do expire 90 days. YouTube TV can be accessed via most popular smart TVs and set top boxes, phones, tablets and web browsers.

Despite its benefits, I must point out that YouTube TV follows the same failing business model as traditional cable providers, forcing users to subscribe to channels they may not watch. The service has seen significant price hikes over the years and now costs $73 a month for the basic plan. This price increase is largely due to YouTube having to pay broadcasters and cable TV networks much like traditional cable companies do.

For those of you who are tech-savvy, I suggest using the Channels DVR server, a self-hosted solution that allows users to record and watch channels through their own server. This service costs extra but offers more control over the viewing experience.

While YouTube TV offers a comprehensive solution for those looking to cut the cord, its rising costs and lack of a la carte channel selection could be potential drawbacks for many. As always, I recommend doing your research and considering your viewing habits before making a decision.

Cutting the Cord: Switching from Comcast/Xfinity to Frontier Fiber & YouTube TV

In this latest edition of my series auditing my mother’s cable bill, we’ve decided to make the switch away from Comcast/Xfinity and opt for Frontier fiber optic paired up with YouTube TV. This decision was driven by the desire to save money and the availability of competitive services in the area. You can see the full video here.

Frontier’s offering is a better deal compared to Comcast. They don’t charge any rental fees even for the modem, no term contract, free installation and they even provided a free Eero Wi-Fi extender. The basic plan we chose is faster than even the highest tier Comcast plan on the upstream: 500 megabits up with the same speed downstream. The total cost comes to just under $150 a month, including YouTube TV and their unlimited telephone service. This is significantly lower than the best deal Comcast could provide, which was $186.20 a month after taxes and required a term commitment.

However, the transition wasn’t entirely smooth. I placed the order for service online and there was no option to port her number back over from Comcast. When the tech showed up they had assigned her a new phone number and couldn’t port the existing one over unless we opened up a new order.

As of this writing the old account is still active and they haven’t yet closed it out. I have heard similar issues from others – if there’s any kind of hiccup it’s very hard to get a resolution quickly without multiple contacts.

The Frontier fiber optic service comes with an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) and a router. The ONT is a more robust device than what my Dad got from them at his place, with multiple Ethernet ports and a coax connection for MOCA. The router provided works fine, connecting all devices in the house via WiFi without any issues. In fact I didn’t even need to use the EERO to get her all of her Roku’s attached.

Overall the switch from Comcast/Xfinity to Frontier fiber optic and YouTube TV has proven to be a cost-effective decision for my Mom. Despite some customer service issues, the service quality and reliability of the Frontier fiber optic service have been satisfactory. The next project will be to explore the possibility of cutting the cord further with over-the-air TV and looking for a less expensive TV provider. Because YouTube TV has no term commitment we can leave it at any time.

I’ll cover more about YouTube TV in my next video where I’ll do a full review. Stay tuned!

Streaming ATSC 3 Content Outside the Home

I am continuing my journey into over the air ATSC 3 television now that I have a functional antenna up on my roof. In my latest video I explore streaming ATSC content outside my home!

Unlike the older ATSC 1.0 broadcasts that are encoded in a high bitrate MPEG 2 format, ATSC 3.0 uses a modern HEVC codec. This is very similar to the video encoding used by Netflix and other popular streaming services, making these ATSC 3.0 broadcasts much friendlier for remote streaming. ATSC 3.0 also runs at about half the bitrate of ATSC 1 broadcasts for HD content.

As before we used my HDHomerun Flex 4k to tune the signals which was provided free of charge by Silicondust to review a little while back. These devices are primarily designed to work on a local network only, but because HDHomeruns have an open architecture there are third party software options that provide more flexibility.

That’s where the Channels App for HDHomerun comes in. The app can connect to an HDhomerun remotely providing a channel guide and even pause and rewind capabilities. In my use case I set up a local VPN on my router to access my home network from the outside securely. In my testing it worked just as well outside the home as it did inside the house!

For iPhone and iPad users the Channels App for HDHomerun is free to use. On android and TV boxes (including the AppleTV) the app costs $25 one time with no subscription fees. Channels also offers a self-hosted DVR service that we’ve covered in the past for an $8 monthly subscription fee.

But there is a big asterisk on this which involves ATSC 3.0’s dark side – the option for broadcasters to enable a DRM flag. This is already taking place in some markets and it’s unlikely that the Channels App will be able to tune those DRM’ed channels in the future. The AntennaMan has a great analysis of the situation on his YouTube channel.

But for now this works great for me. We’ll likely see more players support this in the future once the AC4 audio codec can be decoded using open source tools like FFMPEG.

Disclosure: Silicondust, the makers of the HDHomerun along with the Channels App are past sponsors here on the channel. They did not sponsor this video.

The TV Antenna is On the Roof! 62 Free Channels!

The topic of cord cutting / cord shaving has been a big part of my success here on YouTube. But up until now I’ve mostly been a cord shaver as I couldn’t receive all of my broadcast channels here at my house. But that changed this past week as I finally got an antenna installed at the house! See the results in my latest video.

There are two game changing components that made this possible. The first is that NextGenTV / ATSC 3.0 rolled out for me here in Connecticut. That put all of my local broadcasters on the same transmission feed allowing me to get all five off the same tower and frequency. You can see more about that in my prior video in this series.

What’s amazing is that these signals are coming in at half the bit rate they did on the ATSC 1.0 standard with far better image quality.

The second game changer was finding the right antenna that can pick up these distant signals in a reliable way. That came thanks to the “Televes DATBOSS LR Mix” antenna. It’s enormous but it’s what I need based on my location to pull in these channels reliably.

I reviewed the Televes Antenna in a few months ago and found its size along with its included amplifier dramatically improved my reception vs. the antenna I used in the first video. A big shoutout to the Antenna Man who recommended this one for my location.

So now that I found the antenna I had to find a way to get it on the roof. As good as I am with technology I am not qualified when it comes to climbing up ladders and drilling holes into my house. I had a really hard time finding a professional antenna installer around here – in fact posts to my local Facebook and Nextdoor groups only had those looking for similar services responding.

The only option in my area was Dish Network’s antenna service that was reasonably priced but they only supported one antenna for the task. When they came out a few years ago their antenna didn’t pick up much of anything around here.

I reached out to a high school buddy who’s a talented local home improvement contractor who got the job done. The only hiccup we encountered was that the aluminum pole we were originally going to use wasn’t rigid enough to support the enormous antenna in the wind.

We found a more rigid (albeit shorter) pole that gets the antenna just high enough to clear the roofline. I had him point it in the direction of the ATSC 3.0 signals were located thanks to the information I found on Antennaweb.org.

Once we had it all locked down I connected the antenna to my HDHomerun Flex 4k box that SiliconDust sent me to review a few months ago when I started this project. In full disclosure they are an occasional sponsor here on the channel.

Sure enough when we booted everything up the HDhomerun was able to find a whopping 62 channels. Most of them of course are side channels but I am now able to get all of my local broadcasters for free in crystal clear HEVC video.

The signal strength is about 7-10% less than what we had in my initial testing on my tripod where I could position the antenna in between some trees. Right now everything is stable with no stutters or other issues but I am going to see how things look in a few weeks when the foliage returns to the area. I have many high trees surrounding my property which might cause some trouble. I’ll keep you posted!

All in it’s great to have an option now to re-think how I pay for television. I’m going to see how things look after the leaves come back and will possibly ditch my cable television subscription if everything remains stable here.

Stay tuned!

Cord Cutting Followup – Streaming Local Networks Using the Channels App & TV Everywhere

This week’s video continues a topic discussion I began last week with my end of CableCARD video.

A number of commenters on the original video pointed out that the Channels App‘s TV Everywhere feature does support local networks but it has to be enabled first. I tried it out on my installation and it does indeed work! The only network missing from my local lineup is Fox but everything else appears to be working.

Many viewers suggested that I look elsewhere for TV service, so I also did an analysis on my cable bill to see if I’d save any money going to an over the top service like YouTube TV, Sling, etc.

At the end of the video I also did a search on AntennaWeb to see if any of my local broadcasters are using the new ATSC 3.0 format. It looks like they just started around here so that will be the subject of a followup video this week! Stay tuned!

The End of CableCARD?

My latest video is about the impending death of CableCARD.

CableCARDs look like the old PCMCIA/cardbus cards our late 90s/early 2000s laptops used but instead plug into cable equipment to access subscription television services. The cards are provided by cable companies to customers.

CableCARD – Creative Commons Image – Petiatil 

For a long time getting cable TV to work on a television was as simple as plugging in a coaxial cable – in the past only the premium channels like HBO were scrambled.

But a lot changed when cable went digital in the early 2000s. Cable companies found a new revenue path renting expensive digital boxes to consumers and most TVs lacked the tuning hardware to get service without one. The FCC allowed this provided cable companies gave consumers the option to use their own equipment to access services. CableCARD was the mechanism for that.

Sadly though consumers tend to drift towards the tyranny of the default and few CableCARD boxes were ever manufactured. The two remaining ones are the HDHomerun Prime and some Tivo boxes.

I have been using the HDHomerun Prime since 2013. It saved me a ton of money (thousands over the last decade) as I was able to use my own Android TV boxes and DVR vs. paying Comcast a monthly fee for the privilege. In fact my original video about the HDHomerun box was one of the main catalysts for my channel’s growth. Silicondust, the makers of the product, later became a sponsor. The open architecture of the HDHomerun equipment allows it to work with other apps too like Plex, Emby, Channels and many others. Channels and Plex are also sponsors on my YouTube channel.

In February of 2020 the FCC lifted the CableCARD mandate which now allows for any cable provider to stop supporting them. A few weeks ago Spectrum Cable notified customers that the end is coming.

Their reason for doing so is to make room for better Internet upload speeds to keep up with fiber optic providers that are putting competitive pressure on the cable giants.

Although it’s digital today, cable TV works pretty much the same way it did at its inception as a “community antenna service.” Think of your cable wire as an antenna that can pick up a range of frequencies. In this case those transmissions are not coming over the air but are rather transmitted over the wire. There’s a finite limit as to how many frequencies can be supported on the wire, which means to add services something has to be taken away.

Internet service needs to share the wire with TV stations that are broadcasting 24/7 each on their own frequencies whether somebody is watching or not. And the process of supporting uploads from many “stations” vs. a single downstream transmitter is very complicated and requires a lot of room on the cable to separate the transmissions.

But upstream speeds need to be increased dramatically for cable companies to remain competitive vs. fiber optic providers. Like any highway expansion there might be some homes in the way that have to be cleared to make room for the road. This is exactly what’s happening with CableCARD – the frequencies it uses on coax cables are in the region that would be allocated for this expanded Internet service. The industry calls it “high split.”

Why are cable companies still using coax? Because they’ve managed to squeeze every bit of value they can out of the wire and are still finding ways to do more. Although much of the local cable backbone is fiber optic these days, most homes are still connected over coax. The cost for replacing the connections for hundreds of millions of subscribers would be astronomical. It’s much cheaper to use the cable differently vs. installing a new one.

So it’s likely in the coming months we’ll be seeing announcements about CableCARD support coming to an end. SiliconDust says they can re-route the frequencies CableCARDs use but I doubt there’s enough CableCARD customers out there to warrant going through the amount of work to make that happen. And at some point cable TV will pivot away from always on broadcasts consuming considerable bandwidth to a streaming on-demand model delivered over IP.

And there are some alternatives now. Cable streaming apps run on most mobile and TV devices. I’ll likely switch to the Channels App which supports TVEverywhere – this works almost exactly like my CableCARD although it streams my subscribed content from Comcast over the Internet. And for those of you lucky enough to receive over the air television (I cannot where I live) tuner devices like the over the air HDHomerun boxes are a great solution.

So times are changing. And it’s funny that the thing driving this change is what we’ve all wished for the most: a more competitive local ISP market. Sadly our CableCARDs will be a casualty of that.

Cable Companies Becoming Dumb (Profitable) Pipes

Interesting article in Multichannel news about Charter Communications using Comcast’s Flex platform to deliver streaming media to customers. Charter CEO Rutledge believes most customers will end up cutting the TV cord and go IP only:

“I expect that incrementally most of our customer base will be all-IP,” Rutledge said after being asked about the JV on Charter’s Q1 earnings conference call with analysts. He added that unused video spectrum can be recaptured and used to increase broadband speeds or provide additional capacity over time.

Cable companies make far more money delivering dumb pipes vs. TV. The reason is that cable providers have to pay television networks and broadcasters per subscriber to carry the channel.

Streaming works the other way around: streamers like Netflix have to pay the cable provider for direct access to their network or face network congestion. Cable companies profit on both ends of that equation and in some cases get a portion of subscriber revenue too.