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.

Sling Help page with a service interruption announcementI tried to take a couple of weeks off before the NAB Show, but TV won’t let me. Sling TV suffered an outage Tuesday afternoon, and as of this writing 14 hours later, it’s still out for most devices, including its own AirTV Player.

Minor service hiccups aren’t worth discussing, but this one has gone on for a while. When I mentioned it to Jeff Baumgartner, he wrote a quick note about it, so I figure I ought to tell you about it here too.

On my Roku, my travel Roku in another state (long story), my Android phone, and the Android TV-based Stream+ and AirTV Player, I can see my listings for recordings, even fresh ones made during the outage. The channel lineup shows current program listings. But nothing actually loads when requested. (Update: Sling appears to have restored some but not all of its live channels, though recordings are still unavailable.)

If you’re a glass-half-full kind of viewer, you can take the Sling support site‘s suggestion that all channels are available using a Windows-based Chrome browser pointed to watch.sling.com, though that platform doesn’t support recordings. If you’re running Linux, Sling has never worked on a Chrome browser or anything else there.

Over the past few months, other folks have suggested that other over-the-top services have better channel lineups, but I’ve always defended Sling as the OTT provider with the best reliability. I’m going to have to stay quiet about that now.

Update 2: About 16 hours after the problems started, everything on Sling appears to be back to normal. I wonder if we’ll ever hear what caused them?

onlineTV application window showing Ellen on NBC New YorkGiveaway of the Day is a web site that offers a free software download every day, typically the previous version of something its developer is trying to sell. The gimmick is that it’s only available on one calendar day and must be downloaded and installed only then. Today’s suggestion, a streaming TV and radio app called onlineTV 13, fits the usual pattern; its German developer includes a special offer to upgrade to version 14. But is it legit to use, and how would I tell?

The source checks out. Giveaway of the Day has been operating for years, and the handful of times I’ve downloaded the software of the day, it was authorized by the developer and gave no hint of irregularity. The developer is apparently Engelmann Software, which has been creating and selling utilities since at least 2008, according to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The About page for onlineTV says that it has been “downloaded several million times” since it was launched in 2002.

There’s only one reason for me to question whether it’s okay to use this program. Among its “130 stations from 11 countries” are the New York City affiliates of NBC and CBS, plus several BBC channels from the UK. After installing the app, I could watch them all. In fact, the info page for the latest version specifically notes that it bypasses the “geotargeting” that many broadcasters use to restrict where their channels may be watched. Considering what I know about how conservative NBC, CBS, and the BBC are about redistributing their feeds, I’d guess that those folks probably aren’t happy with onlineTV.

(On their Legal page, the developers are less boastful, claiming that “Responsibility for the content of external links (to web pages of third parties) lies solely with the operators of the linked pages. No violations were evident to us at the time of linking. Should any legal infringement become known to us, we will remove the respective link immediately.”)

Now let me quickly point out a counterexample. Pluto TV is also available as an app with dozens of live channels including Bloomberg, Stadium, Fox Sports, CNBC, Mystery Science Theater 3000, movies and much more. I read way too much industry news, so I feel pretty confident that Pluto is legit. But how would the average user recognize whether one service’s offerings are more legitimate than another’s?

I’m not here to pick on onlineTV, whose full slate of channels might be perfectly legit for all I know. I point it out in hopes that you’ll remember it the next time someone talks about penalties for anyone caught watching TV the wrong way. There are times when the average viewer can’t easily tell whether the way they’re watching is right or wrong.

Stadium TV network logoThe digital TV subchannel that had been at the top of my wish list has finally arrived at FreeTVBlog World Headquarters in Denver. Stadium, the sports channel co-owned by Sinclair Broadcasting and a subsidiary of the Chicago White Sox, must have been turned on here in the last few days, because when I did a channel scan with my new Stream+ last Monday, it wasn’t there yet.

I first noticed the new channel on my local listings page on TitanTV, the remarkable online service that I often praise. In my travels, I had seen its predecessor, Sinclair’s American Sports Network, and was eager to check out the latest version. Ever since Universal Sports moved to pay-TV, Denver had been without a dedicated OTA sports channel, so Stadium is particularly welcome.

Maybe it’s that White Sox connection, but for whatever reason, Stadium’s lineup is dominated by major league baseball replays from 2017 this week. College action is limited to a softball game scheduled Friday and a lacrosse match Saturday, which is odd considering the number of college games available live on the Stadium web site. Oh well, considering that Stadium just launched in September 2017, maybe they’ll find a way to blend more live sports into the mix. I’m just glad to have another good channel available for free.