Disney XD logoHere’s a weird one for you. With my Sling TV subscription, when I tune in to Disney XD on my phone, I see the east coast feed. But if I want to watch Disney XD in the Sling TV app on my Roku, I get the west coast feed. The folks I’ve talked to in Sling’s support department don’t know why.

It all started with Southwest Airlines. I’ve been flying them a lot lately, and one of their perks is free in-flight TV entertainment. That gave me the chance to check out a few episodes of Gravity Falls, a show I’d heard great things about. Sure enough, I fell under its spell and wanted to catch up on all the episodes I missed. One of the things* I love about Sling TV is the ease of adding small channel packages, and a few clicks and $5/month later, I had added Kids Extra, including Disney XD, exclusive home of Gravity Falls.

Back at home a few days later, I saw on the Sling app on my phone that a Gravity Falls episode was about to start. I gathered the family around, fired up the Sling app on my Roku and saw … something completely different. With a bit of research, I figured out that I was getting the east coast version on my phone (and my iPad, and my Android tablet, and my Windows app) but the west coast version on my Roku (and my ChannelMaster DVR+).

The last I heard from the eager support folks at Sling was that (a) they had not previously noticed this problem, and (b) it must originate with Disney. I imagine it’s possible that Disney gets confused about us scattered Mountain Time subscribers, but it seems more likely that somehow the internet device feed is in a different office than the connected TV feed, and that no one there noticed they chose different coasts. Anybody out there have a better explanation?

* The FTC wants me to remind you that I own a laughably small chunk of Dish stock. That’s another reason to like Sling TV.

Two women in a small TV studio

Two women and a rotating bowl of fake fruit were the subject of the first live ATSC 3.0 broadcast in North America.

Yet another great thing about attending the NAB Show is watching demonstrations of the very latest TV broadcast technology. Sometimes those trial balloons are dead ends (to mix metaphors), but ATSC 3.0 looks like it could be a keeper. This next-generation digital platform packs more data in the same slice of bandwidth, and it natively supports more descriptive emergency alerts, better surround sound, the possibility of 4K ultra HD signals, and a lot of other nice features. Too bad it’s not compatible with current digital TV tuners.

Remember that the old analog TV standard was NTSC, and that was replaced in the US in 2009 by ATSC, a digital standard that allowed for high-definition TV. That was ATSC 1.0, and now the new 3.0 version is ready for testing.

The NAB Show hosted the first live North American broadcast using the ATSC 3.0 system, with a mini-studio and transmitter at the east end of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall and a receiver in a special “consumer experience” set of booths at the far west end of the hall.

If you want to dig into most of the details of the event, you should read Chris Tribbey’s account at Broadcasting & Cable. Also, before the show was over, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he would open the comment period on ATSC 3.0 this coming week. I just have a few more notes to add.

  • The Ultra HD display was underwhelming for me, despite the colorful scene. I think that the display monitor was a little small (maybe 50 inches?) to show off the UHD advantage. Then again, I think that’s a problem with UHD in general; it provides too little benefit at typical screen sizes.
  • Two women stayed at that little table from 8 am to 6 pm Monday, then from 9 to 6 Tuesday and Wednesday. They took short individual breaks (they told me, I never saw one) and chatted and smiled all that time. Amazing stamina in the bright lights.
  • The literal centerpiece of the tableau was a rotating bowl of very fake fruit. How fake? The bananas were blue. The oranges, red apples and green pears looked pretty normal, but the bananas were nowhere near yellow. It was an odd, unexplained choice for folks trying to show off their superior colors.
  • One of the projected uses for ATSC 3.0 is to send encrypted content overnight to a local storage device, allowing unlockable movies on demand. I’m always hesitant about using free airwaves to send pay-TV content, but that doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, that’s always been a selling point with TabletTV, the one-piece over-the-air DVR that’s still hanging in there. (Its FAQ page mentions “In the future, TabletTV may offer ad-supported and video-on-demand services”.) Let’s see how that works out.

Google's president of global partnerships Daniel Alegre during a speech at the NAB Show

Google President of Global Partnerships Daniel Alegre at the NAB Show

I’m back from the NAB Show, worth the trip as always. As I adjusted to the stingy oxygen supply of Denver air, I wondered whether I heard Google’s President of Global Partnerships Daniel Alegre correctly yesterday morning. Turns out that I did.

The setting was so tame – a closing keynote on the subject “Transforming TV – VR, Cloud and the Multi-Screen Revolution.” Through the first quarter of Alegre’s remarks, he concentrated mostly on reassuring the half-filled room of broadcasters that TV is not dead or dying. Then Alegre slipped in the first of his surprises. “Today, I’m excited to announce that, coming soon, Google Search will have live TV listings,” he said. (For the rest of those surprises, mostly about TV ads, see Alegre’s blog post, or you can watch the whole keynote here.)

Wait a minute! Did Google bury its announcement of a new product in the middle of a speech on the last full day of the convention? Dieter Bohn of The Verge heard that too, writing “IMDB and whatever you’re using as a TV guide are getting some competition.”

This could be really big news in this niche. There are only a handful of companies behind the TV listings that get shuffled, reformatted and fed to various online, print, and device displays. Of course Google’s data and advertising background would make it a natural to swoop in and take over.

I’ve got a lot more to share with you the next few days as I decompress from the show, including some virtual reality and a live test of the next broadcast standard. Stay tuned.

PBS logoThis looks a little scary. One of the most attractive English-language features of North American free-to-air satellite TV is the plethora of PBS channels. As you can see here, a modest-sized dish can pick up a half-dozen national PBS feeds plus the statewide broadcasts from Oklahoma, Louisiana and Montana.

One of these days, perhaps not so long from now, that might all change. In advance of next week’s NAB Show, TV Technology ran an interview with Edward Caleca, former senior VP of technology for PBS and currently an “executive consultant” for the network. Caleca said “Stations have been looking for a NRT (non-real time) solution that is a pull model versus the current push model. The current system is delivered on satellite, which is very inefficient for file delivery. The future will be public or private internet.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone on satellite say that they’re going to move to much, much cheaper internet-based distribution, but the PBS cluster would arguably have the largest impact if and when it leaves. As always with FTA satellite, the key is to enjoy it while you can.

VIZIO SmartCast P-Series 55” Class Ultra HD HDR Home Theater DisplayVizio announced a couple of weeks ago that it’s selling some great looking Ultra HD sets with Google Cast (previously ChromeCast) built in and a nifty Android-based remote, but without ATSC over-the-air TV tuners. As a result, Vizio can’t call them TVs, so they’re “home theater displays” instead.

(It reminds me that when I shop for a monitor for my desktop computer, I typically keep looking until I find one that includes a TV tuner. The price is about the same, and being able to watch TV comes in handy now and then. But I digress.)

If you love free OTA TV the way I do, this is a little scary. As Jared Newman pointed out at TechHive, these sets are being actively marketed as “tuner-free,” as if tuners were an inconvenient nuisance. When Newman asked Vizio about that, “Vizio cited its own surveys, which found that less than 10 percent of customers were watching over-the-air broadcasts.” The company also said something about simplified menus. Based on computer monitor/TV prices, I’d also bet the tuner might cost Vizio as much as $5.

Considering the growth in cord-cutting, Vizio’s move away from tuners might seem strange. Then again, folks who forgo pay TV because they’re barely staying above water aren’t likely to buy the latest Ultra HD set. As long as this trend doesn’t spread to less expensive sets, it’ll probably amount to nothing, but for now, I’m keeping an eye on it.