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.

Free Broadcast TV Streaming Service LocalTV+ Launches in Boston

LocalTV+, a non-profit streaming service, has made its debut in Boston, offering those within a 100 mile radius of the city the ability to stream free broadcast television on their Apple devices. LocalTV+ works off the same legal theory as Locast, a previously shut-down service, by aiming to avoid repeating Locast’s mistakes.

In my latest video, I look at some of the headwinds LocalTV+ faces as it begins to build out its user base.

I am situated just beyond the 100-mile radius required to access LocalTV+ personally. After I published the video I was able to access the service by changing the location settings on my iPhone to provide a less precise address to the app. The video quality looks good and things spin up quickly.

Local TV+ is exclusive to iOS devices – iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. This choice is because the developer’s expertise with iOS and helps in more accurately determining user locations, crucial for adherence to federal law.

LocalTV+ operates through an antenna situated in Brookline and possibly other locations around Boston. The service captures the ATSC 1.0 signal, redirecting it to users through a Boston-based data center. It does not have DVR capabilities although I was able to pause and restart live TV on-device.

The service’s legal foundation is built on its non-profit status, established under the name Mass Local TV Inc. This positioning is essential for compliance with federal retransmission laws, as it seeks to avoid the pitfalls encountered by previous ventures such as Aereo and Locast.

Aereo launched a commercial service (also in the Boston area) which allowed users to “rent” a tiny antenna at their facilities to pick up over the air broadcasts. The broadcasters argued that Aereo was no different than a cable provider and was violating copyright by streaming their broadcasts. The US Supreme Court agreed with the broadcasters, arguing that there was an insufficient distinction between its offerings and those of a traditional cable service.

Locast took a different approach, setting itself up as a non-profit and depending on a provision in US law that allows non-profit organizations to retransmit television broadcasts. But these non-profits have to it “without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.”

Locast asked users to make a “donation” to the service that was around $5 per month. It was possible to access Locast for free, but free users would be nagged constantly with notices asking them to donate in order to watch without interruptions. Locast used the proceeds of user donations to expand the service into other TV markets and grew to over 2.5 million users.

The broadcasters took Locast to court on the grounds that the law does not allow donations to fuel expansion. The judge agreed with the broadcasters and also agreed to make Locast’s founder, David Goodfriend, personally liable for copyright infringement. Locast quickly shut down after that. In a settlement the broadcasters collected the leftover funds and decided not to pursue additional damages from Goodfriend.

For LocalTV+ to succeed where others failed, a delicate balance must be maintained. Its operations need to not step over the line to what federal law defines a cable system to be. This includes avoiding a paid donation subscription model and ensuring that any expansion is not funded by viewer donations.

Looming over this entire scenario is the ATSC 3.0 NextGen TV standard, which is on track to encrypt over-the-air signals. Such a development, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, would make it illegal for non-profits like LocalTV+ to retransmit encrypted signals, potentially rendering this and similar efforts futile.

Enjoy it while you can!

Walmart’s $15 New Onn Streaming Stick Reviewed

My latest video takes a look at Walmart’s newly released Onn Streaming stick,. Retailing at a modest $15 (compensated affiliate link), this device is exclusive to Walmart and primarily targets users with older televisions that support 1080p resolution.

The Onn Streaming Stick, devoid of the high-end features found in more expensive counterparts, still manages to hold its ground in terms of value. It’s particularly appealing for those who have older television sets that are no longer updated, along with those who travel frequently, offering a convenient way to access streaming shows on the go. The device connects via its built in HDMI plug and includes an extension cable for easier placement behind a television.

The Onn streaming stick has only a single micro USB port for powering the device. An interesting aspect is its compatibility with the Smays ethernet adapter, which also provides additional USB ports.

At its core, the stick is powered by an AM logic S805X2 processor, similar to Google’s HD-only Chromecast, but at half the price. It comes with 1.5 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage, sufficient for streaming applications but limited for storing games or other large files.

The included remote features full voice capabilities integrated with Google Assistant. This allows for easy voice searches and control of home automation devices. Performance-wise, the stick handles most streaming services efficiently.

The Onn Streaming stick runs a “pure” version of the Google TV OS which allows for personalizing content recommendations for multiple family members. Google TV recently added a great new free live channel interface that brings in a lot of ad supported content from a number of providers. And because the underlying operating system is based on Android it has a deep app library along with the ability to sideload apps.

It also supports Chromecasting, enabling content from a phone running a supporting streaming app seamlessly transfer content to the TV. The universal search function, accessible via voice command, is sufficient, although it is still limited by not offering a truly universal search and watchlist functionality.

While the device supports game streaming services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now, native gaming experiences are less impressive due to hardware limitations. In terms of updates, Walmart has been reasonably consistent in providing security updates for their devices, though they haven’t explicitly stated their update policy.

The Walmart Onn Streaming Stick is a good option for those with older TVs or for travelers seeking a portable streaming solution. While it may not excel in gaming, it performs well enough in its primary role as a streaming device, offering good value for its price.

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.

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.

Xbox Series S Unboxing and Media Player Review

I got a great deal on an Xbox Series S the other day at Target. They were selling them for $249 and the deal came with a $50 gift card! When I picked it up at the store the gift card didn’t process for some reason they took $50 off the purchase price. So I ended up at $200+ tax.

Check here to see if the deal is still on (affiliate link). It does look like they have plenty of stock. I’m also experimenting with a new affiliate platform that dynamically looks for the best in stock price which you can follow at this link.

I made two videos with my shiny new Series S. The first on my Extra’s channel is an unboxing and comparison vs. the much more powerful Series X. The TLDR is that beyond the added horsepower the Series X has an optical drive which is lacking on the Series S. So those who have a large library of older disc based Xbox games will not get much use out of the S as it can’t currently access the discs!

The second video looks at the Xbox as a streaming media device. As we have previously noted the Xbox does do a pretty decent job with Plex so I was curious how it fared with streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, etc.

Unfortunately it falls short in a key area – none of the apps I tested successfully switched the television into 24p mode. Who’s fault is that? Likely the app makers as we know the Xbox is capable of doing this and even has a setting to enable 24p switching!

The Apple TV still reigns supreme when it comes to 24p playback but it’s not so great at Plex. Unfortunately we don’t have a box out on the market at the moment that does everything right !