Review Index:

Ultimate Cord Cutting Guide - Part 3: Quirks, Savings, and Conclusions

Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: Various

Quirks, Savings, and Conclusions

Welcome back to the third and final chapter in our recent cord cutting saga, in which the crew here at the PC Perspective office take a fresh look at dumping traditional cable and satellite sources for online and over-the-air content. We previously planned our cord cutting adventure with a look at the devices, software, and services that will replace our cable and satellite subscriptions, and then put that plan to action by deploying an NVIDIA SHIELD TV, Plex, and an HDTV tuner with antenna.

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Now, several weeks into this experiment, we wanted to take a step back to evaluate how the process went in practice, including a look at some of the challenges we failed to initially anticipate, projections of the increased Internet bandwidth usage that accompanies cord cutting (especially important for the many of you with home broadband usage caps), and finally a calculation of the initial and ongoing costs associated with cord cutting in order to determine if this whole process actually saves us any money.

Read on for our debriefing of PC Perspective ’s 2017 cord cutting guide!

Quirks and Challenges

We’ll first start by discussing some of the issues or challenges we discovered. As we mentioned during Podcast #477, our experience with using Plex for live TV was less than perfect. Getting everything hooked up with our tuner, antenna, and the Plex software was easy enough, but the process of browsing and streaming the live TV signal wasn’t great.

First, Plex doesn’t use a traditional grid-style programming guide, instead relying on its standard “poster” style layout. Browsing and searching for shows is doable for sure, and there’s something to be said for keeping a consistent interface between live TV and your stored content, but it is a noticeable change for those transitioning to Plex Live TV from a traditional cable or satellite box.

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This unusual interface could be forgiven, however, if the actual live streaming actually worked reliably. Instead, we experienced regular issues while streaming live channels, both on our local network and remotely. The live stream would frequently freeze or stutter and, two or three times a day, would simply crash. These issues were not related to the tuner itself or our antenna placement; the signal and experience while using other live TV apps, such as the native HDHomeRun application, were flawless. The issues were also not limited to a specific server; they appeared not only on our primary test server at the office, but also on the personal Plex servers at our homes.

The strange and potentially good news is that theses issues only affected live TV. Plex’s built-in DVR functionality worked great, with recorded shows displaying none of the stuttering or dropped video that we saw in the live streams. So, if your interest is primarily over-the-air content, but not necessarily live content, setting up Plex to record all of your shows seems to work just fine at present. However, considering the technical problems and unusual interface, it’s currently difficult to recommend Plex as a live TV solution.

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Fortunately, there are several other options for receiving live TV, especially if you’re using the NVIDIA Shield TV as we are. First, if you’ve already invested in an OTA antenna and tuner, you can keep your current setup and just use one of the other live TV apps available on the SHIELD platform. HDHomeRun has its own app, and there’s also Google’s own Live Channels app. If you have enough available tuners, you can also use these apps in conjunction with Plex, relying on the apps for live streaming and Plex for DVR.

Another option is to use a subscription streaming service that provides access to local channels, such as YouTube TV. Just be sure to check that the service offers the channels you want before abandoning the antenna route.

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The second challenge we noticed during this experiment is that, for those long accustomed to it, giving up cable or satellite can be difficult for some family members. Certain family members may not realize until the cord has been cut that they’re missing out on cable-only events like Monday Night Football or those dreadful made-for-TV Lifetime movies.

In our case, one big problem was children’s programming. With young children in the homes of more than one PCPer staffer, content such as Disney Jr. and Nickelodeon is essential. Some of the shows on these networks can be streamed for free from each service’s app, or ripped from DVDs and Blu-rays, but the bulk of it requires a paid service of some kind. Thankfully, many subscription streaming services like PlayStation Vue, DirecTV NOW, and Sling TV now qualify, so you not only get access to the live channel feed as part of your subscription, you also can access the full catalog of on-demand content in each channel’s app.

As we’ll look at later, one of the big reasons to pursue cord cutting is to save money, so having to fall back to a paid subscription streaming service seems a bit counterproductive. The reality, unfortunately, is that some content is still locked behind traditional media paywalls, and if that content is important to you or your family, you may not have a choice.

But the bright side is that trading traditional cable and satellite for one of the subscription streaming services may still yield some advantages. For example, many of the streaming packages are cheaper than their traditional counterparts, and because the content is served over the Internet, you have many more options from which to choose (well, for now anyway). There are also no contracts, installation fees, or leased equipment to deal with, meaning that you can switch from service to service each month to find the one that meets your needs the best, without needing to schedule technician visits or return cable boxes.

January 3, 2018 | 07:00 PM - Posted by CNote

I've run into a few issues since I've cut my cord a few years ago. First off Plex doesn't always detect my downloaded shows but I've got my TV connected to my PC so it's just annoying.
Second my new Amazon Fire stick was using half my bandwidth ALL THE DAMN TIME. Ended up plugging the usb into the tv instead of the wall. If I didn't live in the boonies it wouldn't be an issue but 5mbps at best just can't handle Amazon constantly buffering shows I might watch.
3rd... Too damn many app choices makes it frustrating. My new TV is "Smart" but not as good as the fire stick. The same app will buffer more and look worse on my TV. But my TV doesn't slow my network as much as the stick... But my stick has Alexa. Damn you choices!

February 6, 2018 | 12:44 PM - Posted by Plex user (not verified)

That's very odd re: Fire stick. I'd factory reset and enable the data monitoring under Preferences. It will specifically show how much data all the apps use Including Fire TV Home and Fire TV System.
They don't to my knowledge "hide" data usage for preloading any shows. Also for the Featured Content on the home screen you can turn off Video and Audio Autoplay. Nothing should be constantly downloading in the backgroud, I have multiple Fire TVs and they don't east up all my data.

January 3, 2018 | 08:29 PM - Posted by owcraftsman3610

I've settled on Roku TVs & Devices, Tablo for OTA w/DVR, Netflix and Sling TV with cloud DVR service. I save $50 over the cable equivalent even after the increase suffered by dropping triple play from Comcast. The experience is consistent from remote to GUI on all devices at all locations including away from home support for all the above. The only setup I have occasional glitches with is a WiFi connected Roku TV on my patio all other are hardwired and set to max quality including 4k Netflix. Most important My wife and grand kids use it all with ease.

January 4, 2018 | 06:06 PM - Posted by a_seeker (not verified)

Do you have a problem with the Shield TV going to sleep and not waking up? When that happens with mine the only solution is to unplug the power and plug it back in.

January 5, 2018 | 07:42 PM - Posted by Jim Tanous

No, I haven't experienced anything like that frequently. Maybe four or five times in the two years I've owned a Shield I've had it lock up and require a power cycle. But that was usually related to installing new apps or emulators.

February 6, 2018 | 12:37 PM - Posted by Plex user (not verified)

You'll need to do factory reset. if that doesn't fix it you probably have a defective device and should try to get service. if it's within 30 days just return it for another.

January 5, 2018 | 12:04 PM - Posted by thezfunk

I wonder if your TV viewing experience would have been better with an HDHomerun Extend instead of a Connect. The Extend is more expensive but has a built in H.264 encoder which greatly reduces bitrate and bandwidth. I missed a sale on one a month ago. I have an older HDHomerun similar to the Connect right now.

I never liked Plex, personally. It never worked well and although it was pretty, the functionality never lived up to the hype. I use Kodi for local media and specific apps for paid content. HDHomerun's TV app has finally gotten very usable.

January 5, 2018 | 07:46 PM - Posted by Jim Tanous

I've thought about this, too. Our primary test server at the office is based on a Threadripper 1950X with a 10Gbps network, so it should be more than capable of handling multiple uncompressed OTA streams, but there might be something else going on that would be resolved by having H.264 come right out of the tuner from the start.

February 6, 2018 | 12:28 PM - Posted by Plex user (not verified)

No it wouldn't have helped. Plex Live TV is incredibly buggy. It's well known issue that Live TV will work perfectly with any app that can stream from HDHOMERUN Except for Plex. DVR stability is also not great. They simply have a very buggy home grown DVR. The rest of Plex works great even with severely mixed devices. Just don't rely on it for Live TV and DVR. It is excruciating to use in it's currently GUI if you have more than 10 channels. Complete lack of information on programs and bizarre to navigate. RIP MCE, the best DVR setup that ever was...And that was like 20 years ago...

January 7, 2018 | 10:04 AM - Posted by Scott (not verified)

I have found the Roku is easiest for our family as an interface to use so I have one of them for each tv. With Netflix, Amazon prime and couple of aps/subscriptions for specific special interests and running Plex on a desktop with a home run covers most of what we want. I did find I have to set plex to send lower res streams 720P when streaming to vacation home served by another ISP to prevent annoying buffering.

January 9, 2018 | 07:55 AM - Posted by Dave McLain (not verified)

I use the Roku boxes and PlayOn running on a PC as a server. It works well and PlayOn is handy because not only can it stream content from the DVD's and Blu-Rays that I have ripped and stored on that machine but it can also be set up to batch record a series from Netflix etc. My wife has done this several times when a series was going to no longer be available.

January 10, 2018 | 12:56 PM - Posted by brentil (not verified)

At the nearly $700 cost you could have gotten an OTA TiVo with Lifetime Service which would have been an all around rock solid OTA recording/playback system which also itself supports Plex.

I used to use TiVo then went Plex/PlayOn/OTA and after about 2 years of that I'm actually considering ditching it and going back to TiVo. It's far more solid and reliable than Plex/PlayOn which both take constant monitoring to make sure they're running let alone working correctly.

January 13, 2018 | 01:29 PM - Posted by OctaveanActually (not verified)

According to CES reports there is an upcoming hardware DVR unit with built in Dual OTA ATSC tuners that can be built upon with additional SiliconDust Network tuners. This will likely have the same interface as the HDHomeRun DVR software solution and have the same ~$35 annual fee but nothing has been confirmed yet.

Also, Plex DVR is reportedly going to gain a traditional guide within Q1 of this year. So by the end of march it should available.

January 23, 2018 | 01:15 PM - Posted by Nick (not verified)

For Antennas, I found works best is two Leaf 60's each plugged into unused outlets and facing in different directions, between the two it gives the whole house a perfect signal for local channels. In a window is even better as long as there's no metal screen over it, or hung on the wall between two studs, not over top of them. We use the new Firetv with addons and Kodi for national news and things like that to stream.

January 23, 2018 | 01:51 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

Interesting idea, are they showing up as two different tuners or combined?

February 6, 2018 | 12:34 PM - Posted by Plex user (not verified)

It sounds like he is using signal stacking but I could be wrong. If it's the other thing they show up as 2 different tuners and Plex can see both. You can cherry pick which channels from which tuner you want. That's a very expensive way of doing it. You are better off with a HDHOMERUN Dual or Quattro and a antenna like the 4228HD in the attic etc.

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