TBD logoIt’s been four weeks, but I just now noticed a new diginet broadcasting over the air to FreeTVBlog World Headquarters in Denver. I usually spot them sooner than that; I blame the holidays. The new guy is TBD (its actual name, not something to be determined), a Sinclair-owned channel providing “TV for People Who Love the Internet”.

TBD is trying to attract millennials, offering mostly curated clips and shows from the internet. On broadcast TV. In between ads for baldness treatments, among other things.

Is there any chance I can trademark the phrase “I don’t get it”? Folks who truly love the internet can, y’know, surf around and see an infinite variety of content on demand. Or they can tune in to TBD and watch externally chosen, dated internet-based clips after hearing about reverse mortgages. Who is in TBD’s audience? Sad teenagers with no data plan? Twenty-somethings who can’t get the internet in their apartments? Kids with parents who won’t let them use computers but will let them watch TV?

With Sinclair’s backing, this channel will last as long as they want it to. Considering my First Rule of Programming (Regardless of its original niche, every channel will become like every other channel), at least there’s hope for the future.

Most of the TV pundit industry seems to be taking off the last week of 2017, so I am especially glad for Jon Lafayette‘s note at Broadcasting and Cable. Lafayette said that the NBA’s Christmas Day game ratings were way up this year. The Golden State v. Cleveland Cavaliers matchup drew a 5.5 rating, “the fifth highest ever on ABC for Christmas”, and the Oklahoma City Thunder v. Houston Rockets game drew a 4.1, “the highest for a primetime ABC NBA broadcast since 2003.” There are more and more cord-cutters these days, and they’re hungry for live sports. The NFL, which recently posted a new record in TV ad revenue, remains hugely popular with most of its games freely available to anyone with an antenna. More major sports leagues need to put more games where they can be seen by such casual viewers, especially the new generation of cord-nevers, so they can capture another generation of fans. I hope the NBA can find more excuses for games on free TV.

And this one’s not really video, but it felt like it. Dick Orkin, the man who created radio serials of Chickenman and The Tooth Fairy, passed away at the age of 84. Orkin did an amazing job, despite little budget and a tiny cast, of creating coherent, deeply silly worlds that filled listeners’ imaginations better than most TV sitcoms. Here’s a YouTube video of The Tooth Fairy’s first episode – because it’s radio, you can’t actually see anything.

Stream+ imageChannel Master just announced through a blog post that it has begun selling its new Stream+ receiver, which should come out in mid-January. The technical specs are everything that I hoped for and maybe a little more.

As expected, Stream+ runs on Android TV with full access to the Google Play store. According to its press release, the device also includes:

  • Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity. Better than the DVR+’s Ethernet-only connection.
  • Integrated voice search. What used to be an amazing remote control feature is quickly becoming required.
  • 4K and HDR viewing technology. Soon to be as ubiquitous as HDTV.
  • A quad-core CPU for advanced gaming. Never mind gaming, I appreciate what a good CPU can do for peppy responses when navigating Android TV. Do people still play games on general-purpose devices? I really don’t know.
  • Two built-in ATSC 1.0 tuners with a MicroSD storage option for DVR. Two tuners are required for a decent OTA DVR. MicroSD makes a small form factor, but USB hard drives can provide more storage. (Update: They tell me the microSD can be up to 512gb. Not bad!)
  • USB 3.0 for personal media use and future options. Does that mean users will be able to use it for DVR storage like the DVR+? (Update: They tell me USB storage is in development, but they wanted to get microSD certified first.)

Apparently Stream+ is going to rely on Google’s Live Channels for its free(!) program guide data after separating from Rovi a few weeks ago. I played around with that app a little on my AirTV Player, and I hope it integrates better with the Stream+.

Perhaps the best news is the price point. During pre-release, Channel Master is selling the Stream+ for $99 delivered. That’s a no-brainer for a subscription-free OTA DVR with high-quality over-the-top capabilities. If it works as advertised, the Stream+ could become the signature device for cord-cutters everywhere. I’ve placed my order.

AirTV device, shown from the frontYesterday, I wondered what drove Sling to withdraw from Channel Master’s over-the-air receivers. There’s no official reason yet, but Jeff Baumgartner pointed to a new device from Sling’s AirTV. Unlike the device Sling launched at CES 2017, the AirTV Player, this new one is called just, uh, AirTV.

The Player accepts an optional (though recommended) OTA adapter for local channels and streams Sling TV, Netflix, YouTube, and everything else that works on an Android TV. The new AirTV doesn’t have any streaming; instead it works a lot like SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun, taking an OTA antenna input and making it available throughout the house via WiFi. The differences are that the AirTV integrates with the SlingTV viewer app (and its own AirTV app) and makes those locals available from anywhere.

Another way to look at the AirTV is that it’s like a Tablo with no DVR, which is the most conspicuous omission for the AirTV Player as well. In a marketplace where a sub-$40 digital converter box can pause and record OTA, it seems like a no-brainer for AirTV to add it. Maybe I’ll learn more about it at CES next month.

CES logoI had been on the fence about attending CES again next month. The former Consumer Electronics Show was once a treasure trove of new equipment for satellite TV and terrestrial over-the-air devices. It was always interspersed through a few thousand non-TV exhibitors like targets in a scavenger hunt, and for several years the sea of irrelevant (to this blog) but amazing stuff surged to drown out what I was looking for.

Then Channel Master announced that it would use CES to show off a new device that combined the Android TV world of internet-based content with a mature OTA DVR. I decided to give CES another year.

(By the way, if you want to attend for free, I just got an email link from Hypercel that’s supposed to be good through Dec. 18. If you’re coming, drop me a line so we might find time to say hello.)

Since I’ve committed and bought my plane tickets, I sorted through the announced exhibitors to see who else I want to meet with while I’m there. Dish/Sling isn’t on the exhibitor list, though its usual location is still “On Hold” on the CES map. So here are a few other promising, relevant companies.

  • Plex – A streaming media app with 14 million users. It works well with OTA TV and so much more, but I’ve never had time to really try it out.
  • CloviTek – One of those startups at Eureka Park, the section with the most new ideas per square foot. CloviTek makes a device that transmits audio from a TV to a mobile device.
  • Stream TV Networks – After everyone laughed 3D TVs out of the building a couple of years ago, Stream TV has been keeping the faith. I still believe that glasses-free 3D could be a huge hit.
  • Antop Antenna – They just make really good OTA TV antennas, and they usually have some new form factor to show off.
  • Samba TV – Easier to experience than to describe, Samba tracks what you’re watching and suggests what else you might like. I think it’s better than that sounds.
  • Hisense – Like the experience of standing in a real mountain range, the dazzling room-filling video walls at CES defy adequate description. Hisense is one of those TV makers.
  • Silicondust – Makers of the HDHomeRun interface box that puts OTA TV on your home network. Always gracious and fun to talk to. I backed the Kickstarter for their DVR then neglected to give it a try when it came out. On my ToDo list now.
  • XUMO – After praising Pluto TV recently, I need to look more at XUMO despite its all-caps name. It also offers a free package of live TV and on-demand content.
  • Solaborate – Another Eureka Park exhibitor, it makes a device that “transforms any TV into an all-in-one, video communication and collaboration device for video conferencing, screen sharing, wireless screencasting, live broadcasting, camera feed with motion detection, Alexa Voice Assistance, and more.”
  • REMO Electronics – A Russian manufacturer of indoor and outdoor TV antennas. It might be interesting to see what they do differently.
  • And Channel Master – The single biggest reason for me to visit CES this year. I always love chatting with them about the latest DVR+ channels, but I’m hoping for something even better this time.