Mistake in math formula on chalkboard

© DepositPhotos / olechowski

After I posted my review of Channel Master’s DVR+, a part of me was just certain that something was wrong about it. That was the first time I used the Kill A Watt meter, and despite what it told me, I thought its numbers didn’t add up. I used the same meter with the same settings on my Dish 922 receiver, and the meter told me that my 922 was responsible for about a quarter of my electric bill. That couldn’t be right.

Sure enough, the meter had somehow bumped my electricity rate from almost 9 cents per kWh to over 89 cents/kWh. (User error? Not that!) After resetting with the right numbers and calibrating against a known amount of usage (a lamp), I was ready to try again.

This time, the meter told me that my Windows Media Center computer was burning less than $1.50/month of electricity. That was based on a measurement over several days, including several hibernation periods, so I took the computer’s measured peak power consumption of 40 watts and multiplied up to about $2.60/month of 24/7 usage. The meter showed a similar reduction for the DVR+, down to a tiny 7 watts. The DVR+ is still much better with electricity, but not $12/month better. I’ve corrected those figures in the original post.

As I was doing these retests, a comment came in. I was expecting someone to tell me that my power figures had to be full of beans, but this one corrected my remarks about DVR+ buffering. Turns out that it works just fine if it’s got an external hard drive plugged in, so I also added that note to the original post. That’s where it all stands now, and if I ever learn how to reprogram the DVR+ skip-ahead buttons, I’ll let you know.

Update: Commenter phil came through with the full DVR+ manual (PDF) which reveals all sorts of things, including the secret of reprogramming the buttons. To change from the default 10 seconds, just go to the DVR menu, which of course is where you would expect to find remote control options.

Once upon a time, I helped prepare in-box manuals, so I understand that printing a zillion short booklets saves real money over printing a zillion full manuals. In this case, with such non-intuitive options, I think that Channel Master would be well served to include those full manuals. Or maybe just single sheets of attention-grabbing colored paper with the note to be sure to go online for the full version. Then everybody would know exactly how it’s supposed to work.

CBS TV eyeLes Moonves, the CEO of CBS, was in the news again this week after threatening again to pull his network from the airwaves if Aereo is allowed to continue to rent antennas to viewers. Well, the way he put it was “If the government wants to give them permission to steal our signal, we will find another way to get them our content and get paid for it.”

Moonves was just one more voice in a series of public pleas from folks who might lose some cash if more viewers switch to free TV, and I hadn’t planned to even mention it. (Only a month ago, Moonves had said that Aereo wasn’t a threat to CBS’s bottom line no matter what happens in court.) Then I checked in on Techdirt last night, where Mike Masnick really nailed it.

Masnick wrote: “(I)f CBS is really so clueless that it thinks abandoning the free handout it was given by the US government in terms of a massive chunk of spectrum is the right way to respond to something like Aereo (which only increases the viewers of its free, over the air broadcasts) well, then by all means go for it. I’m sure plenty of others would leap at the opportunity of making use of that spectrum, either for broadcasting other content, or putting it to even better uses.”

Masnick has much more about Moonves’ blustery bluff, and you really should go read it!

Channel Master DVR+When I first read about Channel Master’s DVR+, I guessed that it was like my Simple.TV device. Tunes over-the-air TV? Check. Works best with a USB hard drive? Check.

As so often happens, I was wrong. The nice folks at Channel Master sent me a DVR+ to review, and I quickly discovered that it’s very little like Simple.TV. The DVR+ records OTA TV, but it doesn’t stream on its own, and it hooks directly to the TV for viewing. Come to think of it, those features match a Windows Media Center computer, so that’s what I’ll use for the comparison test.

By coincidence, I had just purchased a refurbished Dell Inspiron 660 (4 GB RAM, 1 TB HD, Windows 7 Pro, built-in HDMI output) plus a wireless mouse at Micro Center for under $200, which is about $50 less than Channel Master is charging for the DVR+ at its online store. Now let’s start reviewing the differences between the two.

Form factor: The DVR+ is sleek, wide and thin. Looks nifty. The Dell is a thick black box. Looks bulky. Advantage DVR+.

Setup: The DVR+ is ready to go almost out of the box. It includes a small amount of storage memory onboard, so it’s possible to record a few shows without a USB drive. It only took a few minutes to run its setup, let it scan my channels, and download its guide data. The Dell? Hoo boy! It took hours to download and install all the latest Windows security updates, the driver for the USB OTA tuner I added, and then scan my channels and download its guide data. Advantage DVR+.

Add-Ons: Although it’ll work without it, the DVR+ gains a lot of recording space with an external hard drive. The Dell needed an OTA tuner, so I used my rebranded Hauppage HVR-950, which would otherwise cost about the same as the external hard drive. Even.

Remote: The DVR+ includes a full-service remote control that can be taught to control its TV as well. The Dell has that wireless mouse. (I’ve tried Windows Media Center remotes, but never found one I liked.) The DVR+ remote is extremely complicated, with more buttons than my TV remote and almost as many as my Dish DVR remote. (That includes four color buttons that don’t do much yet, and a skip-forward button that only goes 10 seconds. Why not 30 seconds like every other DVR?) (Update: Deep in the hard-to-find full manual (PDF), there are instructions to go through the DVR menu to reprogram that button if desired.) The Dell mouse is extremely simple; it can never control my TV, but it can access anything in the Windows Media Center. Simple is good; I’m calling this Even.

Power consumption: A tip of the hat to the Channel Master folks who pointed out this one. According to my Kill A Watt EZ Electricity Usage Monitor, using my local rate of nearly 9 cents per kWh, my Dell uses about 60 9 cents of electricity per day, but the DVR+ uses only about 19 2 cents a day. That’s a difference of about $12 $2 per month to run Windows Media Center. Advantage DVR+, even after correcting my first use of the Kill A Watt.

Tuners: The DVR+ was just a little more sensitive than the Hauppage on marginal channels. I don’t know whether a different Windows tuner might work better. The DVR+ has two tuners, but the sole advantage of that here is being able to watch one live show while recording another. Halfway through a recording, I couldn’t watch that show live on the second tuner; I had to go to the recording in the DVR and fast-forward. On the other hand, if multiple OTA tuners are important to you, Windows Media Center will support up to four (!) tuners if you add them to your computer. Even.

Aspect Ratio: The Windows Media Center somehow automatically chooses the correct aspect ratio (16:9 widescreen or 4:3 standard definition-style) for every channel and sub-channel. The DVR+ always defaults to 16:9 for every channel and when playing every recording, as far as I could tell. Although I couldn’t find it in any documentation, there’s a button on the remote that cycles through three styles – the third is a zoomed-in view for those 4:3 channels that are showing 16:9 content in a letterbox. That last feature is nice, but having to click the 4:3 button every time I want to watch a movie on Get TV gets annoying. Advantage Windows.

Buffering: With the Dell, if I’m watching a show and I want to see what someone just said, it’s easy to skip back a little and watch it again. On the DVR+, it doesn’t buffer automatically that way (update: unless an external hard drive is plugged in). I’m out of luck unless I’ve already clicked pause (it’ll only go back as far as the pause request) or I’m already recording it, and in that case, it’s not so simple to watch it live. (See Tuners above.) Since the recommended configuration for the DVR+ is to include an external hard drive, I’d call this Even.

DVR+ guide showing missing channel data

The local Lesea affiliate shows Roy Rogers and Lone Ranger reruns, but I can’t tell that from the DVR+ guide.

Live guide: Both the DVR+ and Windows Media Center offer free online guide content, a huge advantage over other OTA tuner products. But what’s in that guide? DVR+ turned up blanks for several of my local channels that had full listings in Windows Media Center’s guide. Another shortcoming was that for the entire testing week, which included both Standard and Daylight times, my Bounce TV affiliate’s listings were consistently one hour off in the DVR+ guide but no where else – not Windows or Simple.TV or TitanTV or Zap2It. Everything else seems accurate in the DVR+ guide, so YMMV, but this is definitely Advantage Windows.

Extended guide: Discovery is the name of the game these days. With so many channels (even with OTA, there are usually at least a couple dozen), it’s hard to identify what to watch. Simple.TV does a great job of this on its iPhone app, but I’m not talking about Simple today. Windows Media Center’s Movie Guide at least presents posters of the full set of movies that will be available during the next 10 days or so, making it easy to thumb through them and select some that look good. Advantage Windows.

Searching: Another part of that discovery process is flexible searching. The DVR+ allows searching on title words only. Windows Media Center allows searching on title, keyword, categories, actor, and director. Both devices found future episodes of Arthur, but only Windows could tell me which upcoming movies starred George Brent. Advantage Windows.

Other streaming content: Channel Master incorporated online movie service Vudu into its DVR+. That’s a nice touch, but Vudu and Netflix, Crackle, YouTube, FilmOn, and a zillion other services are available on the Windows PC, even if most aren’t accessed within Media Center. Advantage Windows.

Music: Windows Media Center can access FM radio if it’s attached to its computer, typically as part of a TV tuner card. And Windows has quite a few streaming music sources available, or you can store music files to its hard drive. Nothing like that in the DVR+. Advantage Windows.

DVDs: The Dell plays them, and if I added a Blu-ray drive, I could probably mothball my standalone Blu-ray player. Nothing like that in the DVR+. Advantage Windows.

Miscellaneous: Soon after I installed it, I recorded a show to the DVR+’s onboard storage. After I attached the USB drive, I could no longer see that onboard recording until I disconnected the drive and rebooted the DVR+. Both devices accept system updates over the internet, often requiring a reboot, but that seems to happen more often with Windows. The DVR+ is quieter than the Dell. The DVR+ is a dedicated device, but the Dell could be a general purpose computer, especially when it’s not playing back a show. Even.

Conclusion: If that extra $12 $2/month (or more or less, depending on local electricity rates) speaks loudest to you, then I could see that as a really good reason to choose the DVR+. For me, the buffering, the automatic aspect ratio detection, the guide, and the universe of online content make me happier to stay with Windows Media Center.

Browser tab showing an Aereo page titled UnavailableAfter a short reprieve, Aereo’s service in Utah and Colorado shut down this morning at 10. Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit refused to overturn a preliminary injunction against Aereo granted two weeks ago by a Utah District Court Judge Dale Kimball. With that last appeal exhausted, Aereo was left with little choice but to stop serving customers within the Tenth Circuit.

In an email to affected subscribers, Aereo founder Chet Kanojia  wrote, “Consumers have a fundamental right to watch over-the-air broadcast television via a modern antenna and to record copies for their personal use. The Copyright Act provides no justification to curtail that right simply because the consumer is using modern, remotely located equipment.” As Kanojia has repeatedly said elsewhere, the case boils down to the length of the wire from the antenna to the viewer. (An edited version of that subscriber note now greets visitors to Aereo’s Denver home page.)

The subscriber note continued, “We are unwavering in our belief that Aereo’s technology falls squarely within the law and we look forward to continuing to serve you.” If we all get lucky and the US Supreme Court confirms Aereo’s right to stream OTA TV, Denver viewers might be able to watch it again this summer. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Gavel on calendar

© DepositPhotos / AlphaBaby

Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton wrote that the reason Aereo is still available in Colorado and Utah is that the Utah judge that blocked them there had yet to rule on Aereo’s request for a stay of his injunction.

A short time that article hit the web, Eggerton added an update that US District Court Judge Dale Kimball denied Aereo’s request but would give Aereo a temporary 14-day stay while it appealed his decision to a federal appeals court.

Kimball wrote: “While Aereo’s paying customers benefit from Aereo’s infringement in the form of lower subscription rates, the court assumes that they are mostly unaware of whether Aereo is abiding by governing copyright laws and paying the appropriate licensing fees to engage in such business. This confusion in the marketplace is part of the intangible harms to Plaintiffs.” What garbage! Find me a study of Aereo subscribers that suggests they believe Aereo is paying retransmission consent fees.

Kimball continued: “The court also recognizes that harms are accruing to Plaintiffs every day and enforcement of the copyright laws is a clear public benefit to the public as a whole. The court, however, finds some benefit in allowing Aereo’s customers uninterrupted service pending the Tenth Circuit’s decision on an emergency motion to stay. Therefore, notwithstanding the many factors weighing against a stay, the court, in its discretion, grants Aereo a temporary 14-day stay.”

Given that Kimball wrote that today, that would suggest that we Aereo viewers in Denver have until March 11 or whenever the appeals court rules, whichever comes first. We have that much more time to enjoy it while we can.