Cutting The Cord: RCA Digital Antenna ANT1450BR

I recently re-acquired my little Sansui TV (long story) and decided to forego cable and see how I’d handle life with just a Roku 3 (and Netflix, HBOGo and Hulu) and an over-the-air antenna.  I had heard that sometimes you could have good luck and pull in all the local stations in 1080p high definition, without having to have a large antenna or move it all around the house.  So I went down to Wal-Mart and picked up the RCA ANT1450BR and gave it a shot.  ($30 at Wal-Mart, quite a bit cheaper at Amazon – click link below for current pricing.)

Connecting the antenna was quite simple, even though this antenna is amplified and thus has an additional step in the process (connecting the amplifier to the antenna before connecting the antenna to the tv).  After re-scanning the channels, I found all the regular local stations, plus an abundance of Spanish language stations.  Initially I had the television and desk in the center of my room, away from any windows, but the reception was still pretty good.  Since the signals are digital (at least on the stations I watch) you don’t get increased fuzziness, the picture just actually goes dark with a “Digital Signal Strength Is Low” message.  When that happened, some movement of the antenna was required.

I eventually moved the desk over closer to the patio door and there are now very rarely have reception issues.  The antenna is very light, reasonably small, and easy to move (I don’t have mine mounted, it just sits on my desk next to the television).  I can watch every network show in very high quality HD – for free!  Not a bad deal.  Not having a DVR is cramping my style a bit (I know there are ways to set up a makeshift DVR on my computer, but so far haven’t worried about figuring that out) but I’m getting by.  If you are thinking of cutting the cord (ie ditching cable), I highly recommend checking out this antenna (or other similar offerings) first to confirm that you live in an area with good signal strength.  I am lucky to get great reception and have been somewhat stunned by how easy (and free after the upfront $30) it was to get all the local programming.

Once the NFL season starts, I will likely have the urge to get cable, at least temporarily.  But I’m a 49ers fan, and they seem to play most of their national games on Sunday night (NBC) so I suspect I can make do by heading to a bar for the handful of Monday (ESPN) and Thursday (NFL Network) tilts.

 



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iHome iHM60 Portable Speaker Review: Plenty of Bang For Your Twenty Bucks

I have been meaning to purchase some auxiliary computer speakers for quite some time – at the moment my TV is in another state and I’m frequently watching Netflix or HBOGo on my laptop or iPad.  I have terrible hearing, so even with the volume cranked I have to have the computer about an inch from my head to hear any dialogue - I’m pretty sure that is not the way Game of Thrones was intended to be watched!  So I went to the store anticipating that there would be many cheap alternatives, and I was correct – there were a bunch of little speakers to choose from.  I initially just grabbed a pair of “normal-looking” computer speakers, not realizing that they required batteries. Batteries are a non-starter as the last thing I need is additional daily admin.

cheap ihome computer ipad speaker

This perspective makes it look larger than it really is, it's small

Actually as I was walking to the checkout I saw one of the Music Bullet speakers in the As Seen on TV display, but since I already had the mini computer speakers in the basket I opted not to delve into it.  After I got home and realized the battery situation, I started doing a little research and realized the bullet-type speakers are all the rage at the moment for their portability, surprising performance and modest price.  $20 and below was totally in my wheelhouse for this purchase, and all of the previously mentioned attributes sounded good, so I went with the iHome iHM60 model (widely available for under $20).

The thing pretty much works like you would expect it to – plug it in to the headphone jack of your device and you are off.  There is also a USB cable to recharge the internal battery (handy). This little thing is much louder than my standard laptop speakers and I was happy to be able to actually hear what Daenerys was saying to Jorah for once.  The speaker collapses to a very modest size – easy to drop in a jacket pocket when on-the go. I’m pretty happy with product given the reasonable price.  The only downsides are that it’s a mono speaker (can add another for stereo effects) and that there is a slight buzzing when plugged into my laptop with no media playing.  I recommend the iHome iHM60 portable speakers if you are looking for a convenient solution to boosting the volume on your laptop or iPad.

I bought mine down at Wal-Mart but you might save a buck or so at Amazon (check the link for current pricing):


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Review: Roku 2 XD Streaming Player 1080P

I bought my first Roku way back in I believe 2003 – it was a little silver log that could amazingly stream Napster (the crappy pay service, not the awesome but illegal original) songs to my home stereo.  Unlimited music for $15/month!  Unfortunately that version was buggy as hell – it froze up on me frequently and I got to the point where I never even tried to use it anymore.  Having until recently had a PlayStation 3 at my disposal, I never had the need to try out any of the many streaming devices now on the market.  One of my technofile buddies has had a Roku for a few years and swore by it, so when I lost my PS3 in a custody battle I decided to give Roku another try since the Roku 2 XD got great reviews and was under $80.

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The Roku (I never really figured out if it was pronounced “rock you” or “row coupe”?) is indeed a simple device.  Plug it in, connect the HDMI cable to your TV, sign into your wireless network (maybe the most difficult part of the process since typing with a simple remote is always challenging) and you are in business.  As advertised, you can be watching Netflix or Hulu Plus literally within minutes of opening the box.  The picture looks pretty good but as many people have noted you probably won’t get true 1080p output through many wireless internet connections.  There are many channels available but mostly I will just use this product to stream Netflix and Hulu to my TV; I believe I will eventually cut the cord with cable completely.

Things I like about the device: Super simple to set up, Roku seems to be actively working with content providers as shown by recent introduction of HBOGo app (need HBO subscription – or at least to know someone with one!) and the most recent version of Netflix which provides a Closed Captioning option (handy if you are in an apartment and don’t want to be blasting the volume late at night), great value.  Also can integrate with cloud services to display saved pictures, videos, etc.

Things I don’t like about the device: Non-premium content is pretty scant – there are some news programs and audio streams, but without Netflix/Hulu/Amazon streaming one would be pretty disappointed with the options for mainstream entertainment.  Apparently Crackle is an option but I’m pretty sure I got a virus from Crackle ads last year so I’m staying away from that one.  Would be nice if there was a wired option (looks like there was in a previous version) would perhaps improve the video output up to true 1080p.  Not really a lot to dislike, these are quibbles.

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As you can see, the connections are indeed super simple, most people will just use the HDMI slot but there is a output for a composite video cable as well as a MicroSD slot if additional memory is needed for apps or games.  There is a reset button as well which I have not had to use as of yet – I hope this is not an ominous reminder of the frequent hangup problem from the silver log Roku of old, but I’m pretty confident they got those problems ironed out.  Overall the Roku 2 XD is very much worth the price – if you already have subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu, you can certainly extract $80 of happiness from being able to watch those services on your big screen tv.

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