View from the top of Pikes peakI’m sure that most of you are familiar with Pikes Peak, “America’s Mountain”. If you look at it up close, you might wonder about the cool, thin air at its 14,000-foot apex. You might think of the amazing views from the top, or the interesting wildlife you could encounter along the way. If you have a historical bent, you could consider how its roads and facilities have changed in the past 100 years.

Me, I wondered how many TV stations you could see from there.

This Labor Day weekend, I set out to find the answer. As the crow flies, Pikes Peak is only 57.4 miles from FTAList world headquarters, but the drive is a bit longer than that. It takes about 75 miles to reach the entrance of the Pikes Peak Highway, and then it’s another 19 miles of twisty, steep road to the top. The Pikes Peak Highway was a lot more adventurous, or dangerous, back when the top 10 miles or so were unpaved and completely without guardrails. Now that it’s paved all the way up, it feels more like a drive through a park, although the rest of the family tightly gripped their armrests while gazing out the side windows into glorious oblivion.

TV setup on Pikes PeakAfter we reached the summit parking area, I got out my gear. My portable digital TV setup is currently a rebranded Hauppage HVR-950 that I got from FilmOn (much more about that in a future post), a 6-inch antenna, and a laptop with enough horsepower to run TV viewing software. I set it up on the viewing stand near the southeast corner (see photo), but a scan only picked up about a dozen channels. Maybe the metal fence was in the way?

I relocated to a convenient ledge on the north side of the visitors center there and ran another scan. A few minutes later, I had 49 channels on my list. I didn’t recognize some of the call letters, so I set the laptop to hibernate, put it away, and went inside to feast on Pikes Peak’s world famous high-altitude doughnuts.

Back at FTAList world headquarters, I unpacked the laptop and checked the call signs. Turns out that it had picked up possibly every TV station between Cheyenne WY (almost 160 miles away) and the peak, except the channels of Colorado Springs, which sits just to the east of the mountain. That included a low-power station in Denver and several other Denver-area stations that I can’t scan in from here.

Unfortunately, each scan erases the results of the previous scan, so I don’t know which stations I picked up from the other side of the summit. That’ll give me a reason to return, other than magnificent scenic beauty and doughnuts.

This cornucopia of channels might be important. What if Aereo or a similar company put a bank of tiny antennas in a box on top of the Pikes Peak visitors center, then sent those signals along to subscribers? It could be a selling point, a way to differentiate its service from what you can get at home with rabbit ears. Mountaintop TV could be really cool.

UPDATE: Check the comments for the TVFool link with the precise list of the channels you can see on Pikes Peak. I had no idea TVFool knew about mountains.

When you think of famous Madonna videos of the 80s, Borderline isn’t near the top. It’s not her first US hit; Lucky Star hit #4 on Billboard, while Borderline later peaked at #10. It was her first US gold single (how did Lucky Star miss?), but it was soon eclipsed by Like a Virgin and Material Girl, and it all snowballed from there.

What I see is a Madonna who’s still playful, if not innocent, and what I hear is a nice tune with a good bass line. It’s a video that tells a story with not a lot of posturing or dance numbers. If you haven’t seen it lately, see what you think.

TVU networks logoAfter spending years watching oddball little networks and local stations over free-to-air satellite, I got to thinking: Why don’t *I* create a TV station? (And judging by the number of emails I get on this topic, I’d say it’s not just me.)

Putting a 24-hour TV station on satellite is pretty darned expensive. The last extremely rough estimate I’d heard for a dedicated Ku-band slot was about $10,000 a month. (If you’ve got a better figure, please leave a comment.) And that doesn’t account for all of the equipment you’d need to prepare your content and deliver it on a scheduled basis.

But now we all live in the age of fast internet connections, and an internet-based TV station is a lot cheaper to broadcast. For a good example try the Livestream Broadcaster device, a darling of the 2012 NAB Show. Or you can do what I did, start a channel using TVU Networks’ Broadcaster software.

There are a lot of really good things about TVU Broadcaster:

  • It’s free for noncommercial use. You’re welcome to set up the software and broadcast a channel, and all it takes is your time and bandwidth.
  • It includes a scheduler. It doesn’t have a lot of features, but it really works, and it’s included. The scheduler would be an extra paid (and full-featured) component of any other system.
  • There’s no limit on viewers. With most streaming systems, you have to multiply the number of viewers times your stream rate to figure the amount of bandwidth you need to pay for. TVU is based on a peer-to-peer system, so you don’t have to worry about any of that.
  • TVU provides a dedicated player for iOS and Android. So your channel will be available on a lot of smartphones.
  • There’s enough documentation to get you started. Good stuff such as format type, recommended parameters, and even a test file to broadcast.
  • It has a built-in audience. Anyone with the TVU Player will see your channel in a list with hundreds of others as they look for fun content for viewing.

But there are also a lot of not-great things about TVU:

  • There’s no support. Well, there’s supposed to be support, but I’ve never seen it. The most recent version of Broadcaster was released in 2008, and TVU’s forums tell a sad story of years’ worth of unanswered questions.
  • The scheduler is very rudimentary. It lets you stack your program files, then plays them in that order, and that’s it. There’s no good way to swap a new file in the middle, except to add it to the stack, then move it one position at a time until it’s in the right place, then delete the old file.
  • Relying on peer-to-peer is a turnoff for some viewers. They worry about adding a special plug-in that might use their upstream bandwidth without their noticing. I understand the hesitation there.
  • The player doesn’t work on all platforms. It doesn’t work on Google Chrome in Windows except on TVU’s official Watch TV page. I still don’t know how to embed a player on my site so it’ll work in Chrome, or in Macintosh Safari for that matter. (See: support.)
  • There’s no way for a broadcaster to edit a channel name or description after launching it. Which is why my channel still has “test” in its name and a completely inaccurate description.
  • The TVU channel list is a zoo. There are ways to filter by language and category, but it can be really hard to pick through hundreds of choices to find something you want to watch.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I visited the TVU booth at the NAB Show in April. A nice woman there listened to my questions and assured me that TVU was continuing to support Broadcaster, and that I should consider a Pro account. I said that I’d be happy to invest in a Pro account if TVU would demonstrate that it truly offered active support. We emailed each other a few times in the following weeks, but that correspondence did not dissuade me that TVU had not turned its back on Broadcaster.

If you try to go straight to the TVU Networks home page, you’re greeted with a popup-style window that asks, “Looking for TVUPack?” with the options “Yes, take me to tvupack.com” and “No, take me to tvunetworks.com”. That says it all. TVU Broadcaster is a surprisingly good tool, but all of its signs point to a dead end.

Update: I guess I was right. TVU’s site now shows that “TVU Networks shut down service to the TVU Player on February 25,2013.” Sure glad I didn’t buy the Pro account.

Michael Jackson would have turned 54 this week, and in honor of his birthday, here’s my favorite MJ video. Not only is it a great example of dreamy, abstract 80s music video awesomeness, it opened doors at MTV.

At the time, 30 years ago, MTV didn’t want to air this video. Reports at the time suggested that the executives worried that the suburbanites who subscribed to cable didn’t want to watch African-American performers. CBS Records insisted, MTV relented, and the rest is history.

Cool logo for CES 2013Speaking of trade shows, August 31 is the first deadline to register for a free pass to the exhibit halls at the International CES. Judging from the room rates, they’re expecting an ever bigger crowd than last year’s, so they might actually stop giving out free passes next month. If you think there’s any chance at all that you might be able to attend, the smart move is to sign up now. If you can’t make it, no worries.

Of course, “CES is not open to the general public. To attend, you must be affiliated professionally with the consumer electronics (CE) industry.” Heh. To learn how to professionally affiliate yourself for the cost of a few business cards, read my earlier post.

To register, just go to the CES site and click through. The email I got suggested Priority Code LC14, but your mileage may vary. And if you’re going, you should book a hotel now too; if you can’t make it, you can typically cancel in December and get your money back. If you want to go really cheap, stay downtown at the Fremont (or any similar decent hotel there) and ride the city bus.  My choice for convenience, quality, and price is the Riviera on the other side of the convention center parking lot. I think it’s great to be able to walk back to my room to drop off heavy convention swag and take a midday break.