Sunday, July 31, 2022

Privacy phone, part 4

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a new SIM from a different carrier in order to set up and test a privacy phone. That is, a phone that doesn't share all of my data with some big company that sells it to advertisers.

The latest company I'm trying is Good2Go (they style it "good2go") and it has stuff I like and stuff I don't like.

What I don't like is that it's running T-Mobile, though they indicated it ran AT&T. Well, it says it can run AT&T, but I can't get it to connect to AT&T -- yes, there is a setting on the phone for that -- so it picks T-Mobile automatically.

The good news is that this is the best T-Mobile reception I've ever received at home. I've used T-Mobile in the past, many times over the years, and reception at home has always been spotty. That includes recently, with a couple of previous SIMs I tried with this phone.

So far, it's working. I'm cautiously optimistic about this. Perhaps T-Mobile has improved their reception in my area. I really don't know. But so far, the texting and phone service works on cellular. GPS works. Apps that require Internet connectivity work on cellular.P

I have to say, I'm surprised that it works. This may actually be my solution. However, there are a few things I have to keep in mind.

First, if it won't connect properly to a cellular network, it's no good for me. So far, this setup works.

Next, there are the apps. I need to find apps that do what I need to do but respect privacy. That means that apps that depend on Google Services won't work. There are alternatives, and I'm looking at those, but the fact is that many apps won't work, although my understanding is that most will.

I'm going to try open source apps initially, rather than proprietary apps, where possible. I mean, if I go through all this and some proprietary app is sending my data to the big companies or selling it themselves anyway, what have I accomplished? Open source apps reduce this likelihood greatly.

For now, I suppose I'll keep taking this phone around with me and see if it actually works in regards to privacy. I enjoy my Streaming Life. I'd like to have a private life to go along with it.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Buffering issues when streaming

One complaint I see on support forums is about streaming devices buffering. You know, you're watching something on your Roku or you Fire TV device (or whatever) and suddenly the image stops, the circle appears, and after a few to several seconds, things pick up again.

Why does this happen? Well, there are a variety of possible causes. And the one that most people jump to most often isn't always the actual reason.

For many, the default response is to increase the Internet service speed. That may or may not be the problem. And, to make it more confusing, even if speed isn't the cause, it may be the solution, though not the best solution.

If you are experiencing buffering, it could be that your Internet service speed is too slow. So how do you find out? Well, that depends on how you stream. For example, I'm not an Internet gamer. No online games for me. It's just not something in which I have an interest. But, if you are a gamer, you want to get as much bandwidth as you can.

But if you are not a gamer, you should ask  yourself how much streaming does your household do? One stream at a time? Two? Three?

Generally, 25 Mbps is sufficient to stream. Sure, you'll find some that say you must have 200 Mbps or 1000 Mbps or some other high number. But, that's not so. If you are a simple streamer, with one stream, you can stream 4K video quality with 25 Mbps. But there's a catch. There's always a catch.

The catch is that you must have a good quality network delivering the 25 Mbps to your streaming device. If you network is sub-par, then you'll get sub-par performance. Your router can be getting 100 Mbps, but a wireless device may not be getting 25 Mbps consistently if your network isn't delivering it consistently.

All of the pieces involved in streaming -- your streaming device, your wireless network, your service speed, the Internet connections between  you and the source -- all are a part of the chain. And whichever link is the weakest is the strength of the chain. If your network can't provide proper coverage in your location, then it doesn't really matter how fast your service speed is if it can't maintain a connection to utilize it.

The TV Answer Man has an article recently about a similar topic, and he offered four solutions. I think what he offered was good, and covered many aspects of it, but I did want to expand a little on something I think needs more stress.

At the high level, here are his suggestions. Click the link to see the details on each.

  1. Change the channel or show.
  2. Reset your home WiFi network.
  3. Upgrade your Internet plan.
  4. Delete and reinstall the app.

Here are some thoughts I have on what he offered.

  1. Change the channel or show. This will help determine if it's a problem at the source. If the originating stream has a problem, there's nothing you can do about it. If changing fixes it, then it's probably the source. And switching back may allow you to skip whatever in the stream was a problem and the stream will be clear going forward.
  2. Reset your home WiFi network. Not that by "reset" he's not saying "factory reset." He means turn it off and on again. Sometimes your network my simply need that. All networks run into issues on occasion and simply turning it off and on again may fix it. It's cliche, but it's cliche for a reason: it often works.
  3. Upgrade your Internet plan. This is the last resort in my mind. Don't spend money if  you don't need to spend money. Besides, if the problem isn't your Internet speed, you will still have the issue. But his thoughts on 25 Mbps are in line with mine, so no disagreement there.
  4. Delete and reinstall the app. This is a more drastic version of "turn it off and on again." And I will add that it's a good idea -- and for Roku a requirement -- to reboot the machine after removing the app and before reinstalling the app. A lot of people skip the reboot, or do the order differently, but the order matters. Remove/Reboot/Reinstall is not the same as Remove/Reinstall/Reboot or Reboot/Remove/Reinstall. Do it as Remove/Reboot/Reinstall every time.

Again, I don't really disagree with him, but I do think that your local network should receive some scrutiny, especially if your Internet speed is already above the recommended speed. Going higher isn't really the best answer. Getting a good network is the best answer.

If you are having streaming issues, give the suggestions the TV Answer Man had a try. But if your speed is sufficient, look at upgrading your network before you increase your plan's speed. It will be better in the long run for  your Streaming Life.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Large push for ViX

I've seen articles recently touting the availability of ViX or ViX+ streaming service. It's a Spanish language service that contains a variety of content, including TV shows (including some original content), movies, and sports.

Amazon has promoted the availability of ViX+ through its Prime Video channels. Sling TV has a press release about it, promoting the sports coverage:

ViX+ is the premium tier of ViX, the first large-scale global streaming service created specifically for the Spanish-speaking world, featuring more than 10,000 hours of entertainment programming and 4,000 hours of premium live sports coverage in the U.S. in its first year. ViX+ is the only Spanish-language streaming service in the U.S. with coverage of the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, and Conference League matches.

The service has been around less than a year and a half, premiering in March 2021 as PrendeTV, and changing its name to ViX in March 2022. It is owned by TelevisaUnivision, which has a large broadcast and cable footprint already in North America. The push of ViX seems to signal an effort to get a foothold in the streaming market.

ViX content is available with the Sling TV app, and according to the news release, the Vix+ service is available for $7/month.

If you're wanting a Spanish language entertainment source in your Streaming Life, ViX may be something to consider.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Bad antennae with good reviews

You may or may not know that many of the antennae that you find for sale at Walmart, Best Buy, or other retailers, are ... well, junk.

Oh, not all of them to be sure. But some are simply junk. That is, they may work, but so might a paper clip. And no, I'm not exaggerating or engaging in hyperbole. There are situation where a paper clip will work just as well as some fancy TV antenna.

First, understand there is no such thing as an HDTV antenna. HDTV is a recent thing. Well, at least, I consider 1998 recent. That's less than a quarter century ago, and people have been watching TV a lot longer than that. And the TV antennae that we used to use back in the 1960s -- I don't or can't remember before that -- will pick up today's HDTV signals.

The HDTV is part of the content that is being broadcast, not the broadcast frequency. The antenna will pick up signals on certain frequencies, and it's the same channels that have been used all along, within the Low VHF, High VHF, and UHF bands. The antennae that picked up the signals 60 years ago will pick up the signals today. The antenna has nothing to do with the picture being HD or not.

An antenna is nothing but a piece of wire. Sometimes it gets all fancy and such, but when you get right down to it, it's nothing but a piece of wire. So is a paper clip.

That's not to say you will pick up all the channels you want with a paper clip. But, under certain conditions, you actually could. Those are rare, but possible.

And that's why it's so hard to find a good quality TV antenna for a reasonable price. Some people are in a situation where just about anything -- yes, maybe even a paper clip -- will pick up stations. I'm not, but some people -- those that live close to a TV tower -- are in that very position.

So, what do you do?

Well, honestly, if spending money on some piece of junk TV antenna gets you the channels you're after, there's nothing really wrong with that. The goal was to pick up the channels, and if that was the easiest or most expedient way to get the channels, then fine. You got what you want and that was the goal.

However, if, like me, you live several miles from a TV tower and an indoor antenna won't pick up a good reliable signal, then you have to go with an outdoor antenna. That's where the antenna being junk really matters.

So, what do you do?

You can do some research -- checking various Websites regarding the virtual channel number of the stations you want, the actual (RF) channels of those stations, the distance, your elevation of you antenna, and the relative signal you'll get from those stations at your location -- or you can let others do the work for you.

I did my research, then tried out The Antenna Man. Turns out he came up with the same results I did, which confirmed that it was possible for me to do the research properly -- and for you as well; if I can do it you can do it. Still, I was happy enough to pay him the money he asked, as I know he did a good job. He even found someone to put up the antenna, which was something with which I was having difficulty.

So, while I paid him to do the work I already did, and did well, I also found I was happy with his results, and had I simply paid him to start with, could have saved myself some real aggravation. The research wasn't easy, after all. But, it wasn't hard enough to make it impossible.

Circling back, why do bad antennae get good reviews? Because there are circumstances where they will actually do the job requested. But again, so will a paper clip under some circumstances.

If wading through all the nonsense if too much, then use someone to help you. The Antenna Man is a good option, but no the only option. Whatever method you use to get the local TV channels you want is a good method. But using a reputable source is always a better option, but no the only option, in your Streaming Life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tablo dropping new lifetime subscriptions

Being a fan of Tablo, I took notice when I got the email last week that the service was no longer selling new lifetime subscriptions to the user guide.

What they're talking about is the 14-day live TV guide that tells you what is coming up on the various channels.

They're not dropping the guides, to be sure, but they're only offering them as part of a monthly or yearly plan.

This week, we announced that Lifetime TV Guide Data Service plans will no longer be offered starting August 30th.

If you CURRENTLY have an active Lifetime TV Guide Data Service subscription, these changes DO NOT AFFECT YOU.

Customers who already have a Lifetime TV Guide Service subscription can continue to use it on their existing device and/or transfer it to a different Tablo DVR model at any time using the account portal at account.tablotv.com.

New and existing Tablo customers who own a network-connected Tablo DVR and are considering a Lifetime TV Guide Data Service subscription have until August 29th, 2022 to purchase one from the account portal. This service plan remains unavailable for TV-connected Tablo models.

For more details, including answers to frequently asked questions, check out the Tablo blog.

I already have the lifetime plan, so I am not impacted. I have network connected Tablo DVRs, and have used the plan since I first bought mine over a year ago.I never bought the HDMI connected devices, which are single-TV devices, and I don't plan to buy one, as I like the idea of having it available across the entire network.

If you have a network connected Tablo device, or are thinking of getting one, a lifetime subscription, which is equal to less than four years subscriptions, might be the way to go. But you have to do it by the end of August. But, if you don't, the $50/year price isn't a bad price for the two-week guide. It's something I'm glad I have as a part of my Streaming Life.

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