Thumbnails of dozens of TV shows

The typical Tablo TV show display screen

It’s a fun perk of most pay-TV subscriptions to have access to a bunch of on-demand programming. It’s nice to flip through the listings and find something worth watching, even if it usually comes with unskippable advertising. (Ditto for Crackle and other free, ad-supported services.)

But I’ve found a way to use an over-the-air TV DVR (such as Tablo or DVR+) to build a better version of the on-demand vault. All it takes is sufficient hard drive space and about a half hour of planning every week. My secret is to record every movie, show, and sporting event that I think I might want to watch any time in the future.

With the Tablo, it’s pretty easy. After the app spends some time syncing up with the receiver, I start by checking OTA sports, typically a sad little list. Then channel by channel, I sift through available TV shows and movies. (Bonus points if a movie is on the local PBS station. On Spanish-language channels, anything but sports is out.) Along the way, I tell the DVR to record this and that, which usually adds up to more TV than I have time to watch in a month.

The DVR+ isn’t quite as friendly, though its guide data doesn’t require a subscription like Tablo’s. In this case, I fire up TitanTV and go to the custom broadcast channel grid that I created earlier. Then I click on each channel and thumb through its three-day program grid. When I see something I want to record, I search DVR+ for the title and set the recording.

Both DVRs use external USB hard drives, and it’s great that they’re coming down in price. There’s no good excuse any more for getting a portable drive that’s less than 1 terabyte, and you should probably spend a little more to get a 2 TB drive. That’ll hold a huge library of shows that your DVR recorded while you didn’t even notice. (For example, my 2 TB drive currently holds over a dozen sporting events, over 200 movies, and close to 1000 TV episodes.)

The best part is when you get a chance to sit down and watch something from the weeks’ accumulation of shows. It’s just like an on-demand library except it won’t contain anything you hate. And once you start watching, you’ll be free to jump past any commercials. Maintenance is easy; when you discover that a particular show wasn’t worth the dozen episodes you requested, just delete them to free up space for the next potential binge.

When I pull up my long list of recordings and the wife asks, “What’s all that trash?,” I don’t mind. It’s better to record a show that I’ll never watch than to wish for entertainment and not have enough. Besides, she’s used to me by now.

In my occasional series of FTA questions answered by other people, here’s one of my friends at FridgeFTA explaining how to pick up C-band signals using a Ku-band dish.

There are several challenges to overcome in this project. Ku-band dishes are offset, bouncing the collected signal back to the LNB at an angle. C-band dishes typically use a prime focus LNB suspended on the center of the reflected signal. More important is the sheer signal volume. The typical minimum C-band dish is about two meters wide, which will collect four times the signal of a one-meter Ku-band dish. (A one-meter diameter is just a touch larger than the typical 90cm Ku-band dish, but it’s the largest width protected by the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices rule that overrides local laws and neighborhood associations.)

Despite these problems, I’ve been able to pick up some stronger C-band signals using a setup very similar to the video above on my 1.2-meter offset dish. Since signal strength varies widely according to geography, it’s hard to say which C-band channels you’d get, but if you don’t mind experimenting, it’s fun to try!

TiVo's Mantis receiver prototype

A blurry photo of the Mantis from the FCC report

This latest news comes from the invaluable site Zatz Not Funny: the FCC has approved TiVo’s application for a new over-the-air TV DVR called the Mantis. Zatz has a great diagram showing just four inputs: power, antenna, USB and Ethernet, and he says it’s just 5 inches square and an inch and a half deep. That matches the blurry corner of a photo from the report to the FCC about how interference testing was performed.

A box that size sounds a lot different than the TiVo Roamio OTA or its Bolt which includes OTA. It sounds just like a SimpleTV without a TV output jack, or a Tablo without a second USB port, or a slightly larger HDHomeRun. And it can sit on its side.

Zatz quotes a TiVo Community thread where the company says it’s planning to “break the trajectory of traditional DVR” around the time of the January 2017 CES. Just one more reason to drop by the show and see what’s new.

According to Bloomberg Technology, the remains of KlowdTV OTT service have been resurrected by the owners of the One America News Network, a conservative news channel. The new KlowdTV looks a lot like the old version, which OANN owner Charles Herring purchased after it ceased operations in June.

In addition to OANN, KlowdTV also carries conservative channels TheBlaze and Newsmax. Herring told Bloomberg, “We know there’s a demand, but there wasn’t a single place where you can pick up all three of these channels.” Other channels in the $8/month bundle include The Now Network, AWE, two GolTV channels, the Fight Network and FNTSY Sports.

It’s always nice to have choices, and I enjoy GolTV, but I liked the old KlowdTV for eScapes and other sports. Let’s see if this version of KlowdTV does any better than its predecessor.

The reasons are a little sad. A baseball team leverages its value on a TV network that’s too expensive for most cable systems. A Hall-of-Fame announcer approaches retirement. A huge metropolis has no good way to watch the final games of a local celebrity.

But I’m really happy with the results. For the first time since 2001, Los Angeles TV station KTLA will broadcast Dodgers games, six from their final month of the season, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. The first will be September 23, “Vin Scully Appreciation Day” at Dodger Stadium.

As I’ve often written, baseball teams are losing future fans by blacking out entire seasons from over-the-air TV. Some folks can’t or don’t want to pay for TV, and the number of cord-cutters seems to be growing. Putting a few games on OTA is a good first step. Now let’s see if they can find a half-dozen games to broadcast free every month in 2017.

And this is one extra perk for us few Dish subscribers who are grandfathered in to the KTLA and the other four FCC-defined Superstations. Baseball was once a big reason to watch them (and still is for WPIX), so it’s nice to see it return, even for just a month.