• Category Archives Miscellaneous
  • Cutting the Cord – First Impressions of streaming TV

    It has been about a month since we first “cut the cord” and converted to an all-streaming and over the air television home. We have certainly experienced some highs and lows during these first few weeks, and we are learning a lot about what works for us.

    Overall, I have been happy with the experience thus far. However, of the members of my household, I consume the least TV. My girlfriend consumes the most, as she is currently at home with our daughter. This first month has barely lightened her skepticism. I think she is comfortable with what is available to watch via streaming TV and has an easy enough time finding content she likes; her issue is relying on our Internet connection.

    Mediacom’s cable Internet is not known around here for reliability. I had it in my previous home for many years and frequently fought with my connection, finding it down with no reported outages, or randomly dropping at the worst of times. I have still had that, to some degree. Thankfully, all of the instances, other than a 5-10 minute outage, were fixed with a modem and router reset. It is still a headache I would like to avoid, but not the end of the world. I did find that one reason for this issue may have been my router’s IP lease settings. It was set to one day, and since setting this to the max, I have not had to do daily resets of the Roku to reset the connection.

    One of my biggest concerns when considering cutting the cord was how to watch Game of Thrones when HBO Go required a cable subscription. So, I was quite excited when I learned that HBO Now would be available to iPhone owners and provide access to a web player, which could be streamed via Chromecast. I promptly signed up through my old iPhone 4 after charging it and updating to the latest and greatest iOS to be able to run the HBO Now app (sidenote: I never realized how small the iPhone 4 was until having my Galaxy S5 for awhile). I am thankful the first month has been free because their web player has been horribly broken for me (I’m not the only one). This has been disappointing, because I have yet to watch the first episode as episode three approaches. Thankfully, I learned after subscribing through the Apple app that streaming HBO is also available through Sling TV with on-demand access. I will be setting up that subscription soon.

    To get access to local channels, I purchased a digital antenna called the Muhu Leaf Metro (not an affiliate link because my state sucks). It took a bit of work to get it positioned properly. If I positioned it too close to the TV, only three channels from a distant town came in. If I moved it a little further away, I received another 3-5 channels, including one of the two local stations I was looking for. If I moved it further South into a window, I picked up another 3 channels from a town 20 miles South. However, in all these positions, I was unable to pick up a set of channels broadcast from the station nearest to me. If I move the antenna to the North end of the wall, I was finally able to pick up the channels I was looking for, but lost those from the South. I am fine with that, but it looks terrible having the antenna and cable stretched across my wall. I guess the antenna needed a better line of site for the particular station we were after. We also learned that the wireless signal from the Chromecast scrambles the antenna’s signal, so we cannot use the antenna if the Chromecast is plugged in. Thankfully, HBO Now was the only use we had for the Chromecast so far, and that failed miserably. We’ll just save the Chromecast to use on another TV, if we ever have another one.

    The greatest concern I have encountered to-date has been our Mediacom data cap. I have a 50Mbps down, 5 Mbps up connection, which affords me 350GB of data. I failed to look into how much data the HD settings consume and set my Roku to 1080p from the start. Well, according to Netflix, their high setting (1080HD) uses approximately 3 GB an hour, whereas medium (usually 720) uses 0.7 GB and low uses 0.3 GB. I got an online notice from Mediacom 4 days before the end of my billing cycle that I had used 80% of my allowance. I ended the cycle having used 96.4%, and I may have prevented the overage by switching Netflix to medium setting and the Roku’s overall settings to 720. However, I am not certain how directly the Roku setting impacts the stream from other channels, as channels like Hulu do not have a place to change the stream quality, so I am left to assume they use the settings quality from the Roku. For that matter, Netflix does not have a place to change the quality either; it has to be done by logging in through a browser and changing the playback settings for each profile. I also turned off the ‘automatically play next episode’ function in our Netflix profiles to avoid using tons of data if it did not get turned off at night.

    This means that you must have a significant data allowance to be able to stream everything in the highest quality available to you. How your Internet provider handles your overage will differ by provider and by area. Supposedly, Mediacom will just charge an extra $10 for each new 50GB (ie: 51GB would cost $20) with no disruption of service. I read on /r/cordcutters that some providers just send warning emails and never do anything about it, while others are known to actually throttle service (though some have supposedly gotten in trouble for this) when you go over. I could upgrade to a faster plan with a larger cap, but what I have now is a luxury item in my budget as it is. We will see how the next few months go once I start playing games again. It might be a necessity, as I will use 20% of my allowance when I download GTA V!

    One month in, and the cord is still cut. I am pretty happy with the streaming experience, but I am sure there is much more to learn and see, so there could always be other unseen headaches. I’ll be sure to update as I learn new things. Feel free to ask questions if you have them.

     


    Live TV. $20 a month. No Cable Company. Sling TV.


  • Attempting to cut the cord – cost and evaluation

    I have for a very long time wanted to “cut the cord” and drop cable/satellite television. I know I am probably a little late to the party, but it has taken quite some time to convince my significant other it would be worth it. She is rather accustomed to the convenience of DVR and the all-in-one programming guide of today’s digital TV systems.

    My reason for wanting to go streaming-only has been largely a matter of principle. I do not like the way TV service providers “reward” loyalty with increased prices. I also figured we could save a few bucks, which is good because TV seems like a lot of money, considering how little I consume it. I figured it would be more of a long-term savings because of the way cable providers increase their price over time, but I found myself a bit surprised when I did my analysis.

    I started by calling my local providers. My primary choices were CenturyLink and Mediacom. CenturyLink severely limited Internet speeds if you use their Prism TV, and I don’t want to mess with a satellite, so they were quickly taken off the table. With Mediacom, I was offered a package that starts at $90 per month and includes 50Mbps Internet and more channels than I need, plus Starz and Encore. I was also informed that, because of the way their packaging works, it would cost more to go without Starz and Encore. This required a 2-year contract, under which the price would increase $10 in year two. Without a contract, the price would increase $20 per year for five years! I also learned that adding HBO would be $18.99 per month (but just for a couple of months for A Game of Thrones) and extra channels for my daughter would be an additional $5 per month ($7 monthly in year two). So, we are looking at $95 per month for year one and $107 for year two ($124 and $137 for GOT months). After year two, I assume I fight for a new two-year contract special price so it doesn’t start going up $20.

    Next, I researched my streaming options. That started by also asking Mediacom (who currently offers the best Internet speed in my area) what it would be to get only Internet. With a two-year contract, it starts at $45/month for 50Mbps (so streams shouldn’t affect my gaming), which goes up to $55/month in year two and caps out at $60 without a contract. I learned that Sling TV was just launched in February and offers channels like AMC that had caused us hesitation. Through that service, one can get ESPN, HGTV, Adult Swim, Disney, and many more high-profile channels for $20/month. The downside is that many of them are livestream-only, so there is still no (easy legal) way to record or watch things like The Walking Dead on-demand without additional cost or waiting for it to come to Netflix in the Fall. For an extra $5 (just like with Mediacom, except it isn’t under contract to go up next year), I could get some extra kid’s channels through Sling. I also planned to get a subscription to Hulu Plus for $8 a month and already had a subscription to Netflix for $9 a month, though that doesn’t really count because I likely would have kept that subscription if I have cable, so it would be a cost either way. I decided we could hold off on Amazon Prime (yeah, I am one of those few people that don’t already have it for the shipping), but that would be another $8 a month, approximately. So, with the services we are using, year one is $45 for internet, $25 for Sling, and $8 for Hulu, or $78 per month. That’s $17 a month less! I was excited to realize we would save money from day 1. Of course, I couldn’t do that without access to decent bandwidth, and I still have a Mediacom bill, but it could be worse. Also, I know from past experience that the addition of Starz and Encore does not really add much value to having cable.

    It still took a bit of convincing because not everything is on-demand, but saving money was good ammo. The biggest issue we had was that with a Roku, we would not have access to HBO Now until July at the earliest. However, I just learned that I should have access to it through the old iPhone I use as an iPod, so there may be hope yet that we can watch GOT as it airs, rather than three months later. Plus, an HBO Now subscription is $14.99 a month, rather than the $18.99 subscription through Mediacom, so there’s more savings.

    Cost-wise, cutting the cord certainly seems to be worth it. We have been so busy lately that we have barely had time to try it out, so I’ll bring you more on our experience as time goes on. However, so far experiences have been positive, and we’ll see where it goes as we get more time with it. Feel free to ask questions or share your experiences below.


  • Unintended Hiatus

    I have been a little distant from the site and from YouTube lately. I must apologize for this unintended hiatus. You see, I have been rather busy in “real life” with buying a new house, selling the old one, moving, renovating, etc. Unfortunately, the projects we wanted to complete to prepare our new house are taking more time then we optimistically expected. While I focus on getting this house ready I have been neglecting hobbies and such. I don’t like it, but it’s necessary. In the end, it will be really nice to have everything done and make this feel like home. It is a really exciting time in a really exciting process, but boy does it take awhile!

    The projects are many: we are painting nearly every room in the house, expanding the master bedroom closet to be a walk-in, enlarging the doors to the smaller bedroom closets, resurfacing kitchen countertops, and many other minor things like cleaning. All of this is getting done just a couple hours at a time after work, which is why it is taking so long. However, it is getting close and hopefully I can have my PC set up soon and get back to relaxing.

    When I get back in action, I will be finishing up that Civilization Beyond Earth let’s play. I am also going back and forth on buying Battlefield Hardline. I keep reading a lot of mixed reviews on the game. With the way this house is going, it might be closer to the release of GTA V on PC before I am ready to play, and I imagine that would take too much of my time to worry about Battlefield. Feel free to convince me otherwise, however. I also have a lot of indie titles I’m wanting to pick up and play.

    There are also some other exciting things coming with this new house for us. We are getting a faster Internet, which means I was able to drop cable and go all streaming. I am excited to get the TV and Roku set up so we can get that going. I want so hoping to start the hobby of gardening so we can grow a few vegetables, & I have a workbench in the garage where maybe I can tinker with PC cases. Possibly most important (for the content of this site, anyway) is that I will be building my PC desk in the coming weeks. I will be sure to upload some pics of the process and the finished product. I am hoping to make it one-of-a-kind, though it won’t be too “out-there”.

    So if you’ve been missing my YouTube content I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, comment here, join me on twitter, join me on the Dawnbreaker Gaming forums, etc. Whatever you do, just keep having fun.


  • Keep Playing and Have Fun

    “Keep playing and have fun.” – This, or a variant of it (sometimes just, “have fun”) is how I typically end my YouTube videos. No, it is not meant to be a tag line, per se, though I guess you could argue it works like that, being my own personal oft overused phrase. What it is meant to be is a reminder to keep at it, and have fun doing so. It is meant, on the surface, to be just as it sounds: keep playing games, and have fun doing so. However, it has some much deeper meanings behind it as well.

    In high school, I played basketball and golf. I was not particularly good either, I just happened to attend a small rural school where the population was small enough that there was little competition to get on the team. I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) playing. However, the adults around me and my peers all took sports very seriously, so I followed that example. I would get aggressively competitive, angry at referees, and downtrodden by my mistakes. Much of my focus was on doing well and winning. This was especially evident in golf, where you are primarily playing against the design of the course and your own personal nature. If you focus on your mistakes, you tend to tense up and play even worse. At this point, it is no longer fun.

    Although I attended a university only 30 miles from my parents and high school, it was enough distance to get away from various influences that inspired and maintained my way of thinking. It took some time, but I started to realize, especially from solo golf outings, that I had better experiences if I would just keep playing and have fun. Focusing on the fun mean I not only enjoyed the experience more, but on average I played better as well. It took some practice to let the bad moments wash away and center my mind on the good moments. I still find myself getting wrapped up in a bit of frustration from time-to-time, especially if I am playing with others and feel compelled to impress or be overly competitive.

    The Anxious Gamers recently posted a video by NoZoupForYou Gaming titled “Hunt the Good Stuff“, which I recommend you check out. In it, Zoup talks about the Resiliency training he is involved in as part of the US Armed Forces, and an exercise within it to take a moment each day and focus on the good things that happened. “Hunt the good stuff” and “have fun” have much the same intent: a change in mindset to focus on the good of our day and the fun of our activities, even if for only a little while, with the hope that it helps eventually to make us feel better overall and to keep playing.

    I challenge you to try it the next time you jump in to Battlefield 4, play a round of golf, or whatever activity you might choose, and focus on the fun and why you do it in the first place. Find the fun or make it fun. You might just find you enjoy it a bit more.


  • On Leaving the Freedom! Network

    For the last six months of 2014, my YouTube channel was partnered with the Freedom! MCN via their subnetwork, Etatch. In December, I submitted a request to end this partnership, which became effective around the first of the new year. While this really isn’t a big deal, and there is no significant drama to speak of, I do feel it is a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts from the experience. Browsing the Let’s Play subreddit, I frequently see people ask about partnerships, so maybe sharing my thoughts will help someone else.

    The opportunity to partner with Etatch arrived in my inbox one day as a complete surprise. It was kind of exciting, as somehow it made me feel a little more “legit” as a YouTube hobbyist, because the message said they had watched some videos and felt I would be a good addition. I will not say this was not true, but I will get into the fallacy of my thinking soon. The messages implied how a partnership would help a channel grow, touted the revenue share, and promised a positive experience. After giving it significant thought, I decided it was a good opportunity to test drive a partnership, as I really had nothing to lose. One of the benefits of Freedom! is their 30-day “no lock-in” contract, which means they can be easy to test-drive and there is always a way out.

    The experience has not been significantly positive or negative. Overall, I found more things I would consider negative (in the way having nothing when you want something is a negative), which is why I terminated the partnership. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many of the issues apply to more networks than Freedom!, but I would assume most are similar enough in how they operate that it will take significant convincing of a difference to get me to trouble with joining one again.

    Advantages

    There were certainly some positive aspects to being partnered. For instance, Freedom has worked out deals that offer a lot of music you can use in your videos, though I cannot say if it is really any better or more expansive than the royalty-free music one can find without a partnership. Being part of a network can also make it a little easier to find and communicate with like-minded content producers to discuss tips, compare experiences, or put together collaborations. There are probably some other things I am either forgetting or was not aware of because they are offered to larger channels.

    Business Model

    The ways of one network do not represent the business approach of all networks, so be sure to investigate how a potential network operates before joining. Speaking specifically about Freedom, I have to say I did not like their business model. During my short time as a partner, it was clear that Freedom’s primary measure of success (for the moment, anyway) is the number of channels partnered with the network (and they count all subnetworks, so they weave quite a web). I believe their business plan is to simply sign up as many channels as possible, thereby playing the statistics and increasing the likelihood they have included those channels lucky enough to hit it big, as well as to simply work a profit from sheer volume, as taking a cut of a channel’s ad revenue is entirely passive income.

    This model is clear by looking at their structure. There are no real requirements to join Freedom. Nearly every application seems to be accepted, and almost anyone can start their own subnetwork under the main MCN. All partners are also offered referral bonuses for bringing other channels into the network. It all points to a desire for unmitigated growth. During my six months with Etatch, I received multiple requests to join other Freedom subnetworks, one of which even argued with me about how much more his network offered when I explained I was already with a Freedom subnetwork. Their system incentivizes, and therefore indirectly encourages spam and cannibalism between networks.

    I mentioned earlier that being contacted by a recruiter was exciting and made me feel more legit. However, I really was nothing more than just another channel. Freedom seems to show little discretion in what channels they partner. This results in you being a small fish in a sea only a bit smaller than YouTube itself, but also in Freedom being unable to truly deliver on the promise to help you grow. This also results in a large number of partners who are immature, both in life and in business, which significantly reduces the value of the community as a tool.

    As a member of the network, I of course subbed to the Freedom channel in an effort to keep up with any network-related news. However, I unsubbed after a couple months because it cluttered my sub box with overly frequent uploads. The channel was full of “helpful” tips for growing your channel, which the channel itself employed gratuitously. These tips include very gimmicky practices such as hype and teaser videos. Personally, I don’t have the time and will usually unsubscribe any channel that uploads a short video to tease or hype a video that goes live in an hour. I also found a lot of their videos to mislead one into thinking there was valuable news content, and if the content was anything more than a tease, it required getting deep into the video to find. Basically, I felt that as a subbed partner (and I would assume the majority of their subs are network partners), they weren’t there to help me so much as I was there to help them get views and revenue on their videos.

    Money

    I do not do YouTube for money. I started it as a curiosity and potential hobby, with the notion that it would provide enough cash to buy a game nothing more than a pipe dream. When you monetize videos on YouTube, you do so through Google Adsense, which requires you to accumulate $100 USD before it will pay you. At about $0.20 – $0.30 a month, ever receiving a payment is unlikely. One advantage to the Freedom! network is that they will pay you monthly, regardless of amount. However, they only give you 60% of what you would get through Adsense. Unfortunately, the way it was presented to me was that Freedom offered a 60/40 split, and that  was better than the 55/45 split from Adsense (which lead me to assume Freedom had its own ad network because this didn’t make sense otherwise).

    If you are doing videos for the money or have any concerns about this at all, be sure to look into how a potential network handles ad revenue very thoroughly. It may be that you are better off on your own. Thankfully, I did not really care, as this was all an experiment from the very start. However, had I been a larger channel with a real revenue stream, I would have been rather miffed at the poor communication on how the revenue works from the recruiter. Of course, had I been a larger channel, I also would have been given a more VIP recruitment effort and/or a greater revenue share offer anyway, so that might be a moot point.

    Help

    Networks offer very little to smaller channels in the way of direct help. I definitely found there was no real hands-on help. Instead, they provided “tools”. They never really explain what these tools are. I guess those would be the community, music library, and how-to videos. One quickly realizes the relatively low value of these tools, as royalty-free music and how-to videos can be found without a network (and in better quality in some cases).

    As I mentioned earlier, the value of the community as a tool is dependent on those within the community. Despite the sheer volume of partners, the number truly involved and helpful on the community forums is quite limited. There is a very large number of “check out my channel plz” posts. Their volunteer moderators work very hard to keep things organized and clean, but when such a volume of new partners is constantly flowing in without regard to experience, business acumen, or mental maturity, it makes finding valuable discussion quite difficult. Requests for help or critiques of your channel or videos in forum topics meant for that purpose often fall off without a reply. There is little more frustrating than receiving no help when you ask for it. I still don’t understand why they don’t hire people specifically for this purpose.

    Those who complain about the network’s failure to help them grow on the forums are promptly told that joining the network does not immediately grow a channel, and that it takes hard work using the tools provided.  This says a couple of things. First, I am not certain those defending the network could even identify these tools they speak of so confidently. The other issue is a sense that little will change, as your tiny channel is just a speck to the network and your concerns are quickly disregarded.

    The truth is, all partnered channels are passive income to the network. The network takes a percentage of each partnered channel’s revenue, regardless of what they have done for that particular channel. There is no incentive to help you, beyond that of keeping you partnered. One might think your growth bringing them more revenue would be an incentive, but you already have a drive to grow and will do it yourself, so why should they expend the energy? By playing the statistics of volume, they ensure that there will be plenty of large or growing large channels that are content enough to remain with the network that the attrition of discontent or anemic channels does not hurt them.

    Though it may sound like it, my experience was not entirely negative. I did manage to find a few quality channels to follow. With sufficient digging, I found some helpful tips and ideas to implement. I also learned a lot (much of which comes from the negative aspects, of course). As a small channel, it seems pretty clear a network is not for me. Honestly, unless the network was going to directly work for their share and help me do things I cannot do on my own, I have trouble seeing how one may ever be for me. Most of what a network like Freedom “offers” is the same as what one can find independently with enough searching. Using the tools available to everyone via Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch to find similar channels and other players/community members seems to do just as much for your learning, growth, and inspiration as being in a vast network.