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Ultimate Cord Cutting Guide - Part 1: Devices and Content

Live Content

We turn now to the second area of focus: content. A media device is nothing without content. In the previous section, we judged the SHIELD to be arguably the best choice for a media device in terms of capabilities, and we mentioned the wide range of content also available on the device. But no one media device, including SHIELD, has access to every form of content. Therefore, if you prioritize content over capabilities and the content you want isn't available on a particular device, then the capabilities of that device really don't matter.

For example, while SHIELD leads the pack when it comes to support for live over-the-air TV (thanks to its support for directly attached TV tuners as well as Plex, which also supports live TV), it's currently missing some of the subscription streaming TV services, such as DIRECTV NOW. Additionally, while some other services like YouTube TV are still available, they lack native apps and must rely instead on "casting" the video from your smartphone via the Shield's built-in Chromecast feature.

With the likely exception of native iTunes content, services currently absent from any device will probably become available eventually, but it's important that you pick a device that supports the content you want today, lest you risk alienating your spouse and family while they wait impatiently for their favorite service or channels to arrive. Therefore, if content is king in your household, pick the services you want first and then decide on a compatible device. As we're primarily interested in both content and capabilities, and since the SHIELD is at the top of our list for capabilities, we'll focus on the content available on that device.

Live TV

On-demand content, whether it's commercial movies and shows from places like Hulu and Netflix or independent videos from YouTube, has never been a problem for cord cutters. The real issue, especially in the early years, was live content. Thankfully, the live TV situation has improved significantly in recent years, and there are now a number of options available to cord cutters.

Subscription Streaming Services

When the practice of cutting the cord first gained mainstream attention, those engaging on such an endeavor had no choice but to abandon traditional cable networks. Some networks began to offer their own apps that granted users a subset of on-demand content but, for all intents and purposes, cord cutters were forced to say goodbye to live premium television content.

Now that cord cutters and frugal millennials are harming the cable industry's bottom line, things have changed and the lack of live premium content is a thing of the past. Multiple companies, including traditional television providers as well as newcomers, have started to offer subscription-based streaming television. These services offer access to the real-time live feeds of national and regional cable networks.

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Users -- via a browser, phone, tablet, or media player -- can access a guide of currently airing programs, navigate to their favorite networks, or simply "channel surf" in search of something interesting. You get the live cable channels just as they air on traditional cable and satellite services, as well as a selection of on-demand content and DVR capabilities. However, you also get the less desirable stuff, too, such as commercial breaks and infomercials.

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In other words, these services have basically taken the content normally provided to cable and satellite subscribers and made it available over the Internet. The benefit, however, is that most of these services are available everywhere (in the United States, at least) and not limited to a particular region or provider. They also don't require contracts, boxes, or frustrating setup appointments, which means that users can instantly join, switch, and cancel these services month-to-month as desired.

As mentioned earlier, not every subscription streaming service is available on every device, so since we're building our cord cutting hub with NVIDIA SHIELD, we'll focus on those that are currently available on that platform.

The subscription streaming services available natively on SHIELD are Sling TVPlayStation Vue, and, starting today, YouTube TV. All three offer a range of cable channels for a set monthly price and let users browse and search for live shows, recorded programs, and on-demand content. While each service offers some local channels depending on location, YouTube TV offers all of the major local networks, but the service itself is only available in certain markets. Here's a table comparing the primary features of each service.

  Sling TV PlayStation Vue YouTube TV
Monthly Price (USD) $20 to $40 $40 to $75 $35
Number of Users/Streams 1 to 4
depending on package
Up to 5
limited based on device
6 users
3 simultaneous streams
Channels (base packages) 28 to 44 49 to 90 51
Local Channels

FOX, NBC, ABC
(select markets only)

FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS
(select markets only)
FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CW
Premium Channels

HBO ($15)
Showtime ($10)
Cinemax ($10)
Starz ($9)

HBO ($15)
Showtime ($11)
Cinemax ($15)

Showtime ($11)
Fox Soccer Plus ($15)
Shudder TV($5)
Sundance Now ($7)

DVR "My Shows" saved for
up to 28 days
$5 per month
50 hours
Unlimited recordings
saved for up to 9 months
DVR Limited Yes Yes No
Supported Platforms

Apple TV
Fire TV
Roku
Android TV
iOS
Android
Xbox One
Windows
macOS
Chrome

PlayStation 3
PlayStation 4
Roku
Fire TV
Apple TV
Android TV
Chrome
Firefox
Safari
Microsoft Edge

Chrome
iOS
Android
SHIELD TV
Chromecast Devices

In addition to these native services, SHIELD owners can also view Hulu TV via the use of Chromecast "casting," which means you'll browse and select content from your smartphone or tablet, and then cast just the video to the SHIELD.

This method isn't overly complicated, but we found the practice of using a native app to be more enjoyable and "spouse friendly."

OTA

SHIELD TV offers multiple ways to get live over-the-air (OTA) programming, but they all rely on having some form of TV tuner and antenna to get started. We'll touch on specific hardware choices in Part II of this series, but the short version is that you can use one of several network or USB-based tuners to view live TV.

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Network TV tuners, like the HDHomeRun lineup from SiliconDust, can be placed anywhere in your home that has a network connection and they then receive the OTA signal from the antenna and distribute it to compatible apps and services via your home network. Local USB-based tuners, such as the WinTV from Hauppauge, plug directly into your media device, so you'll need to have a coax connection from your antenna nearby.

With either tuner option, there are a number of SHIELD applications that can be used to view the live OTA content. Plex, the popular media server application, recently added live TV support (including DVR), allowing you to view and record OTA programming locally as well as share both live and recorded shows with your Plex friends.

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The appropriately named Live Channels is a free app from Google works with both network and USB tuners. It's a simple app lacking more advanced features found in Plex and other TV apps, but it offers a basic TV experience with limited DVR support that could suffice for some users.

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If you chose an HDHomeRun tuner, another option is the official HDHomeRun app. It offers a complete interface for browsing live programs, searching for content, and scheduling DVR recordings. It also supports unencrypted cable content if you purchased one of the CableCard-compatible HDHomeRun tuners. Note, however, that some older HDHomeRun tuners don't support DVR functionality, so keep that in mind if you're picking up a used tuner. The current model lineup -- Connect, Extend, Expand, and Prime -- are fully supported for DVR. There's also a $35 per year DVR fee if you want more than 24 hours of guide data at a time.

Although support is currently limited to USB tuners, another option is Tablo ENGINE. Like its counterparts described above, it offers a full guide experience for live TV as well as DVR support, although guide data and one-click recording functions are limited to a $3.99 per month subscription.

Video News


October 30, 2017 | 02:43 PM - Posted by H380

Forget all of the "Devices". You want a HTPC. I have 3 all are Win10. That way you can run an ad blocker and play games if you want. YouTube and Twitch are unwatchable on Roku. The Twitch ads on the app locks up the Roku so a power cycle is needed to fix. YouTube has unskipable mid video ads that are unacceptable. Netflix is SO much better in a browser than an app for searching. The HDHomerun is great. Just plug it into your router, screw in an antenna and download the app on your PCs.
You can also run Kodi for a game console type of interface. For interfaces I use a Logitech M570 wireless trackball for a mouse. No pad needed. Win10 has an onscreen keyboard which is good enough for google searches and logins. If you go with Kodi a wireless Xbox controller works well.

October 30, 2017 | 04:08 PM - Posted by sircod (not verified)

Does Netflix in browser support 4k or HDR yet? I know Kodi can do a lot, but every time I have tried it just seems so janky compared to something like Plex. Using a trackball from the couch also sounds cludgy compared to a remote, but maybe better than a keyboard with trackpad.

October 30, 2017 | 04:48 PM - Posted by docace911

So how do you do 4K Netflix HDR+ATMOS, AMazon 4k HDR, YouTube HDR, VUdu HDR, PLex HDR, KODI HDR on your windows 10 box?

My win 10 box can't do any of the above. The shield can do all but the YouTube HDR native, it can do it if you download the clips.

October 30, 2017 | 05:26 PM - Posted by H380

Simple I don't. I have all 1080p TVs and will for years to come. Also my ISP data cap kills any hope of streaming 4K. It is a non issue.

October 31, 2017 | 11:40 AM - Posted by docace911

So your saying you hate advanced positional audio and the largest leap in picture quality (HDR) this decade?

That's fine, but this article is for those who care about quality and media. SDR and stereo sound is fine for a monitor but not a home theater.

October 31, 2017 | 01:01 PM - Posted by H380

Apples vs Apple pie. How in the world do you get "Quality media" from the Cable Co? The article was about cord cutting not bleeding edge tech on a budget. I don't care about 4K or HDR or "Home Theater". My TVs are just monitors now.
All the boxes give you are apps with unskipable and unblockable ads. To me it is worth 2x or 3x times the money just to get an ad blocker. Period. The added benefit is you get PC functionality in the deal.

October 30, 2017 | 05:30 PM - Posted by Banzai51 (not verified)

By the time you drop the money needed for 4k, you could have bought the Shield several times over. Buy the Shield, and plow the rest of that money into a Plex/Embry server, or a file server. All the advantages of Android TV apps, and local content.

October 31, 2017 | 02:31 PM - Posted by SWKerr (not verified)

I have been using HTPCs since before they were practical but recently pretty much retired them. I like the simplicity and lower maintenance of the set top boxes.

HTPCs are expensive and more difficult to maintain than a FireTV, Android TV, X1 solution. I have an unRAID server running Emby and Plex with HDHR OTA tuners on the back end but the front end are no longer HTPCs and I don't miss them. Also getting something like DirecTV Now, Hulu, Netflix or YouTube to work with a Remote on a HTPC is complicated to say the least. HTPCs are just not couch friendly.

Now saying this I have one PC attached to a 43" 4k set in my office that I am writing this on and could never part with since it is also my gaming rig and HTPC but the normal's in the house just prefer the simplicity of an set top box.

October 30, 2017 | 02:55 PM - Posted by Mihle (not verified)

Why not just use Chromecast? Its cheaper than any of these.

October 30, 2017 | 04:55 PM - Posted by docace911

How do you watch liveTV on your chromcast? How do you watch amazon HDR?

November 2, 2017 | 02:48 PM - Posted by sircod (not verified)

Youtube TV supports Chromecast. You will never get Amazon stuff on Chromecast though since Amazon wants you to buy a Fire stick instead.

November 9, 2017 | 02:14 PM - Posted by Mihle (not verified)

As someone else said, YoutubeTV, and also, there are multiple TV channels that have their own app for it, for example NRK(The Norwegian main TV channels), BBC, CBS, Disney Channel, ESPN/TBS/TNT all support it
Also other non english TV channels, like there was at least two German TV channels

List:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_apps_with_Google_Cast_support

October 30, 2017 | 05:33 PM - Posted by Banzai51 (not verified)

Because while many content sources may make an Android or iOS app, few make them castable.

November 9, 2017 | 02:09 PM - Posted by Mihle (not verified)

Youtube(TV) Netflix, HBO, NRK(The Norwegian main TV channels), BBC, CBS. Hulu Plus, Plex, Viaplay, Disney Channel, ESPN/TBS/TNT all support it.

October 30, 2017 | 03:54 PM - Posted by Travisty (not verified)

I agree with H380. Why settle for someone else's box o' junk when you can have a full computer hooked up to your TV with spare parts or for about $250-300? Netflix and Amazon video w/o pita apps. Access ripped movies from a shared home-networked drive. I really don't know why tech sites keep pointing to breakout boxes when they are so inferior to HTPCs.

As for control, Logitech has a few really good multimedia wireless keyboards.

October 30, 2017 | 03:57 PM - Posted by Travisty (not verified)

I'll add too there's TV online now that HTPC users can use. https://layer3tv.com/ for instance - i know this works in the US and i think a few African countries.

October 30, 2017 | 04:54 PM - Posted by docace911

But you NEED Comcast or RCN cable to buy Later3Tv on top of that - its crazy. Would be great if you could just have google fiber or webpass+ Layer3. But who will pay 2x.

October 30, 2017 | 07:40 PM - Posted by Travisty (not verified)

I guess i am spoiled. I have city run fiber 1gig up/down for $50/month & no cap. I do not watch tv either so i do not use layer3 personally. So wonderful not paying comcast anything!

Longmont, co - https://www.longmontcolorado.gov/departments/departments-e-m/longmont-po...

October 31, 2017 | 11:41 AM - Posted by docace911

Ok, but this article is about cable cutting - those who want to legally obtain TV and movies.

October 31, 2017 | 01:44 PM - Posted by Travisty (not verified)

???
There's nothing illegal about what I've posted.

November 6, 2017 | 10:18 AM - Posted by docace911

SO ho will you watch any non OTA station? If you don't care, thats fine, but the article is about cord cutting.

Some of us like AMC or getting all their channels over wifi - which you can only do if you subscribe.

Again, layer3 REQUIRES a concurrent subscription with RCN or XFINITY even if you never plug the cable in.

October 30, 2017 | 07:20 PM - Posted by TheValvesOnThoseInternetPipesCanThrottled (not verified)

Yes but my internet service providor is also one of those cable or satellite/other content providors. So until they force the internet service providors to become entirely different businesses from the content providors by forcing the big cable/content providors to spin off their internet providor business units as different companies then cutting the cord is not really cutting the cord, it's more like just changing the pipe/delivery method.

And the BIG content providors that are also Internet Service Providors will not be net neutral with content and so users will still have to pay, and maybe pay even more for third party content directly delivered over the web based protocols by any Netflix/other streaming services.

Just look at who is in control over at the FCC, and those streaming content providors fees are going up because the big content providor interests that are also big Internet Service Providors do not like open competition that may hurt their content creation delivery business(Old fashon Coaxial-Cable business models). And all the big old Coaxial Cable providors that have their Own Internet Service providor customers are offering up their own fast tracked over the pipes streaming content services that do not even count torwards any data caps as the Internet and the streaming/content, if offered by the same content providor companies, to their Internet customers can have that streamed content data not count towards the monthly data cap.

The only reason that I'm currently paying in the low $60 dollar range for Internet Service(no monthly data cap) is that there is competition in my area/building from other Internet Service Providors/content providors. But for streaming content in other areas without much competition and monthly data caps, that streaming of content that does not count towards the monthly data cap is really going to make fair competition hard for startups in areas without much competition to begin with. So the big Interests will have even more of an advantage for their Internet streaming services.

And 9 times out of 10 that internet cable modem has an Ethernet cable connection on the user side but is still wired up to a Coaxial Cable on the building/services side so that's not much difference if at all with cutting the cable providor off.

October 31, 2017 | 07:51 AM - Posted by RickP (not verified)

The DVR features are crossed up between Sling TV and PS Vue. They should be swapped around.

October 31, 2017 | 11:42 AM - Posted by docace911

Who will buy later 3? They informed me they ONLY partner with Comcast and RCN and you NEED TO PAY for those channels FIRST before you pay for their service.

Its kinda nuts. What is their business model?

October 31, 2017 | 10:31 AM - Posted by RadioActiveLobster

Step 1: Have good internet.

Well, looks like I'm out.

October 31, 2017 | 12:19 PM - Posted by Anonymously Anonymous (not verified)

correction:

Step 1: Have good internet connection provided by an ISP that doesn't throttle video streaming services.

* I know from experience. Recently att rolled out fiber in our area(only ones to offer it so far) and soon as it becames available we switched. QOS for gaming and workign remote has hugely been improved, however the video streaming is throttled whtout a vpn.

October 31, 2017 | 09:04 PM - Posted by DrinkBleachBezos (not verified)

If you buy anything from Amazon, you're a moron who is making the weapons for your own self destruction.

November 1, 2017 | 08:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous744 (not verified)

A good option for AppleTV fans...run your AppleTV 4k's with silicon-dust HDHomerun tv tuner and channels app for local HD ATSC... terrific quality when combined with other streaming services for cord cutters. The infuse 5 app also is a great alternative to Plex for those using AppleTV's... just my opinion.... Android streaming boxes of course also have their benefits as well (more open,and google play store)

This being said,HTPC's are still very relevant In my opinion for gaming on the big screen in you living room... subjective, but i say much more flexible than a console.

November 1, 2017 | 05:14 PM - Posted by docace911

I wish the free HDHomerun app ran on my appleTV> They are working on it - dropping $15 for channels seems excessive.

Plex Live TV works well too - the guide is fun to look at but not as functional as the simple list.

All in all when Apple

1. Fixes resolution switching (11.2 is working btw)
2. Adds Amazon 4k
3. Adds ATMOS/Bitstream
4. Fixes Siri (it is broken, no homekit integration, only some commands work others are "can't do that yet")

It will be my favorite box :) For now the shield does the above but lacks robust airplay :(

November 1, 2017 | 02:39 PM - Posted by rbricker99

I use Youtube TV and Netflix with Chromecast on a Visio 4K HDR tv using Comcast Business internet.

I do get occasional poor video quality and Chromecast isn't always reliable but I'm pretty happy with it.

Missing piece was Amazon because of the lack of Chromecast, but Visio added a native Amazon app so problem solved.

No box needed, but WAF is low.

Business internet is $$$, but easier for taxes.

November 3, 2017 | 12:04 AM - Posted by Way neJetSki (not verified)

Very interested in a OTA DVR you were talking about like Silicon Dust devices.

November 6, 2017 | 10:19 AM - Posted by docace911

Works great with PLEX and HDHomerun app. iOS and Android and WIn10/XBOX apps are free now. Guide is not great but free.

November 9, 2017 | 01:47 AM - Posted by thezfunk

I don't think you explained the differences between the HDHomerun Extend and Connect. They both do OTA channels but the Connect sends the MPEG2 stream out whereas the Extend encodes it to H.264. If your box has enough horsepower it won't matter (and your WIFI is good enough). However, if you have a less powerful box you want the Extend (it is more expensive) because the lighter powered boxes typically handle the H.264 stream but choke on the pure MPEG2.

Case in point, my Amazon TV handles the MPEG2 just fine but my older Nexus TV has glitches and pixelation.

November 9, 2017 | 07:58 PM - Posted by CrankyDave

Yeah, and Roku doesn't understand MPEG2, so if you're streaming OTA TV or using Plex's new DVR function to record that or cable TV and serving it to a Roku device or TV like I am, it's gonna need to be transcoded. Obnoxiously, the dorito that's powering the Qnap NAS that my Plex server is running on isn't powerful to do that, so I'm gonna have to repurpose some old hardware to create a new server that *is*. I use a Homerun Prime cablecard tuner, so I can't just replace it with an Extend.

November 9, 2017 | 01:47 AM - Posted by thezfunk

Double post

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