On a day when most of the electronic industry’s press is focused on the opening of CES, and when Dish Network announced plans to add Google Assistant to its Hopper receivers, Dish also quietly flipped a switch. Locast, the free over-the-air TV streaming service, now has an active app on at least some Hopper receivers. Since FreeTVBlog World Headquarters happens to be in one of Locast’s markets, I can verify that it’s up and running; reports from other viewers suggest that it’s only working within those markets.

This is pretty much what I predicted almost a year ago when Locast first came on the scene. I wrote, “What do you think it would be worth for Dish, in its next OTA retransmission impasse, to be able to tell its customers to flip over to the local Locast feed? Could Dish add Locast as a digital service alongside YouTube and Netflix?”

Was this always Locast’s goal? I have no way of knowing for sure, but it’s easy to build that scenario. David Goodfriend, chairman of the non-profit behind Locast, worked as a Dish vice president for seven years. Despite its stated goal of benefiting online viewers, Locast only carries the primary channels and ignores the sub-channels, which Dish doesn’t rebroadcast. In recent months, Locast has beefed up its geofencing technology – VPNs and location spoofs don’t work as they did at launch. And check out Locast’s first seven markets by size: six of the top nine (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Boston), plus #19 Denver, home of Dish.

Locast’s Hopper app itself isn’t anything special, just a standard program grid with the major networks shuffled to the top, but it works just fine for delivering live local TV. For now, the app offers no DVR capabilities or any other coordination with any other Dish programming. I’ll keep checking in and let you know when that changes.

Man at Xbox One mall display playing a game

© canadapanda / Depositphotos.com

Ars Technica ran a story this morning with more bad news for free-TV viewers. Microsoft quietly sent an email to Xbox users who stream over-the-air TV on that platform through a Hauppauge USB tuner to a mobile device. It read in part, “You may have streamed TV content using a USB TV tuner from your Xbox console to the Xbox app. In 30 days, the Xbox app on iOS and Android will no longer support this functionality.” The Windows 10 app will continue to work.

This is reminiscent of Microsoft’s former commitment to the Windows Media Center, which was a pretty good way to watch and record OTA TV until Microsoft turned its back on it. WMC had been on some versions of Windows XP and Vista, then was included in almost all versions of Windows 7. For whatever reason, Microsoft stopped caring at about that point. For Windows 8, WMC was available only as a pricey add-on, then Windows 10 dropped it altogether.

In other words, it’s another example of Kilgore’s second law: It’s hard to monetize what folks get for free. A feature that helps buyers watch OTA TV can be a helpful selling point for that first hardware purchase, but there needs to be an economic reason to continue supporting that feature. Folks such as Tablo and TiVo sell subscriptions. Google probably uses Live Channels viewer data to sell more ads pointed at those viewers. Maybe Microsoft will tie OTA TV support to one of its Xbox subscription services. Until that happens, it might not have enough incentive to keep supporting free TV. If you rely on Xbox-served OTA TV, you have been warned.

Android TV screen showing ATSC 3.0 app listing

They told me that Sony has written an Android TV app for viewing ATSC 3.0 over-the-air, but there aren’t any ATSC 3.0 dongles yet to make it work

Television’s future was on display as the NAB Show exhibit hall opened today. Or I should say television’s futures, because different vendors had different visions of what broadcast TV will look like once everyone uses ATSC 3.0.

Most there had at least adopted the user-friendly phrase “next-gen TV” to describe the coming IP-based system of transmitting more types of information more efficiently than the current ATSC 1 system. What will those new features look like? No one knows for sure, which is why so many are trying to get out in front now throwing their favorite ideas at the wall to see whether it will stick.

It seems likely that some kind of civil defense-style warning system will be included; tornado warnings and the like are arguably the most important duty for local broadcast stations. I worry that mission creep will eventually be like the Amber alerts on my phone, keeping me on the lookout for a given green Dodge pickup in case I should see it in my living room.

A scarier outcome comes from the analytics info that broadcasters could be harvesting over the internet, showing which TVs and devices were watching which shows for how long. In theory, this could mean that a station could require user registration before a device could view its programming. Or someone could compile a list of Rosanne viewers or Democracy Now viewers. A guy from one of the labs gently suggested that all these new capabilities would merely be used for broadcasters’ traditional free public service, though he agreed that he didn’t know exactly how it would all shake out.

Interior of the autonomous vehicle at NAB, with the ATSC 3.0 receiver

Autonomous vehicles are also going to be part of the future, and the NAB Show had a joint demonstration of a driverless van displaying an ATSC 3.0 feed being broadcast as a local test. The van’s attendant worked for the self-driving vehicle folks, and I guess he was hoping to impress the TV news critters because he ignored the TV receiver while chatting endlessly about the van’s features as it navigated its short, simple, pre-programmed loop between exhibit halls. As I watched, the ATSC 3.0 video froze or broke up at least a half dozen times in less than two minutes. I still don’t understand the fascination with getting broadcast TV working for moving vehicles, but with all the attention it gets, someone’s going to get it all worked out one day. Maybe.

Product image of the Tablo Dual LiteOne of the problems with taking a vacation is missing out on good news. Tablo announced last week that it was coming out with a new version of its over-the-air DVR, better but less expensive than its original. The Tablo Dual Lite features two tuners, WiFi¬†802.11 a/c (although I’d still recommend hard-wired Ethernet), and cloud recording.

That last feature is the most revolutionary part. The Dual Lite will still accept a USB hard drive, up to 8 TB, and it also provides the option of saving to a free* 40 GB cloud drive. That asterisk is because the cloud recording system is still in beta and might cost something later on. My guess is that it’ll eventually be tied to Tablo’s guide data service plans, currently priced at $5 a month, $50 a year, or $150 for a lifetime pass.

Less revolutionary but still important is the Dual Lite’s price: $140 on the shelf at Best Buy as I type. It used to be hard to get started on Tablo for much less than $200, and now that barrier’s long gone. As the OTA DVR arms race heats up, it’s good to see another manufacturer continue to improve their product.