Cable alternatives are more complicated than the click of a button on your remote
by Peter Vogel
As cable television cord-cutting picks up steam here in Canada, so does the adoption of various streaming devices, some mainstream, others operating in a bit of a grey market.
Devices with names such as Roku and Chromecast are widely advertised. Others, with generic names such as Android TV, sell generally outside the zone of established storefront retailers.
At this stage, streaming TV is far from a seamless experience, at least here in the Canadian market.
Do not expect a streaming device to immediately replace the TV experience you have with your present provider, be it Shaw or Telus, the two main players in the B.C. market.
First, there is the content. You simply won’t be able to replace all those channels you currently have.
Second is the way you access that content. With a typical cable box remote control, you are never more than three clicks away from any given channel.
In the world of streaming television, however, there can be significant work required in order to locate, and then load onto the box, a given channel, if it is indeed available. Once you do locate that channel, getting to it on a given streaming box may require numerous clicks.
Then there is the matter of remembering just where those favourite channels you’ve managed to identify are to be found on your particular streaming device. If they are standalone channels with authorized status from the manufacturer of your streaming device, they will have a root-level presence and can be located, by name and icon, using a remote control.
However, many channels are packaged up by third-party techies into bundles of a few to as many as dozens. Remembering where all these channels are to be found from your streamer’s remote can be, to say the least, frustrating.
And we haven’t even mentioned the PVR and digital box cable guide most of us use with standard home television. For now there is no viable streaming PVR solution, and programming guides are elusive.
Recently a colleague decided to try an Android TV box for his television viewing. A year ago he cut the cable cord completely and began using an external, roof-mounted antenna to pull in a half-dozen or so over-the-air channels available in the Vancouver area.
He settled on an Easytone T95Z Plus Android box, selling for around $100 on Amazon.ca. Here’s some of his feedback after a few weeks’ use.
“I am enjoying many things about this Android TV Box. I love how all my media content is accessible in one place, like my Netflix and Spotify subscriptions and my Google Play Store content. If there is content that I cannot find, there are endless add-ons that allow me to find what I am looking for using the built in KODI app. For example, there are hundreds of streaming music radio station add-ons to find the right music for my mood.”
Then a caveat. “Not everything is perfect though. Some of the add-ons for streaming music and videos are old and expired; I click a link and nothing loads. With hundreds of add-ons ready to go, it can be a challenge to find something that works without error. I can only imagine the difficulty non-tech savvy people will be dealing with.”
As for Vancouver content, he goes on to add “I was already able to tune into one of our local stations, Global, as well as watch a Canucks game on SportsNet Pacific, all in perfect 1080p resolution. My wife is a huge fan of HGTV, so I looked and found an HGTV add-on for both the U.S. and Canada. Oddly, the content from Canada was in standard definition but in 1080p from the U.S.”
While it took a bit of work, my colleague observed that he eventually found an eclectic assortment of channels, including ABC, AMC, Discovery, HBO, History, and NASA, just to name a few.
My colleague goes on to note that he will continue to use his OTA TV antenna, although maybe not as much as he did previously. In particular, he points out that the simplicity of the antenna is hard to beat, but that the amount of content available from an Android Box is spectacular.
In fact, in the United States, Dish Networks has just announced its AirTV device, based on Android TV, which includes support for its Sling TV service and for use of an OTA antenna.
In summary then, if you do decide now is the time to cut the cable cord to your TV, joining around 200,000 other Canadians who did so in 2016, realize that the streaming replacement you choose may not be quite as easy to use, at least for now, as the venerable TV/PVR combination.
By the time you read this column, the 50th anniversary of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, CES2017, will have been held, taking up every square foot of Las Vegas convention space.
Television sets and streaming technologies will be front and centre. Pretty much every television set will trumpet 4K display resolution, basically four times as many picture elements as on a standard 1080 display.
Gone will be pretty much any reference to 3D TV. That technology simply never caught on. Do watch for HDR, or high dynamic range, a technology that expands the range of dark and light levels on a TV, producing much more detailed picture quality compared to that of a standard TV.
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