Jay Little
Sadism, Masochism and HD Antennas

07/15/2018 11:43:14

Way back when in 2012, I did what is commonly referred to now as "cutting the cord". It was a bold move as all I had was a Roku device, a Tivo DVR and an HD antenna. If it had been solely up to me I probably wouldn't have bothered with the Tivo and the antenna but Annette really wanted some form of live TV, so that was that. Six years down the road, I've finally decided to begin moving away from the Tivo/Antenna combo.

Antennas are funny things. By that I mean, they drive me insane. But don't get me wrong. When an antenna works, it is absolutely great. There are few things more satisfying than plucking free high quality HD television streams right out of thin air. But when an antenna doesn't work it is one of the most pure rage inducing things you will ever experience. Lately I've had a lot of antenna drama and it has really left a bad taste in my mouth.

My current batch of troubles started when our local CBS affiliate decided to switch transmitter locations as part of a frequency switch. After that happened, it became virtually impossible for us to get that channel reliably. Now one thing you need to understand about antenna life is that getting your antenna placed and wired up is a ritual composed of equal parts dumb luck and black magic. Seriously. The position my HD Antenna occupies in my living room is a very specific place determined after hours of screwing around and observing the results on the television.

The only problem is that moving the antenna now is a zero sum game in my case. Why? Well it was positioned in order to allow us to grab the ABC affiliate stream which also happens to be the channel furthest away from us. So if we move the antenna to accommodate CBS, we will lose ABC. This is quite infuriating.

Last weekend, in a fit of desperation, I decided to hook up a secondary antenna in the master bedroom along with some HDHomeRun units I had lying around. Surprisingly I managed to create a setup that allowed me to get everything. It was actually amazing. I then installed the "Channels" app on our AppleTV and we ended up with a pretty nice live TV experience. It is worth mentioning that transcoding on the HDHomeRun units was turned off so they were streaming native video. It is also worth mentioning that Channels on the AppleTV is an amazing app and I would recommend it to anybody who asks despite its relatively high cost.

Keep in mind that this setup was very odd. In order to get it to work I had to string the antenna and its cabling in a very specific way along the wall of the master bedroom. But once setup, it seemed stable. For a week that worked great. Annette and I were happy. This persisted until I decided to switch out the 100 megabit POE switch I was using in the bedroom for a gigabit non-POE switch this past Friday. Whatever black magic was allowing that setup to function, dissipated when I changed out the ethernet switch. Switching back did not resolve the issue. I spent a few hours trying to get everything working again, but it was to no avail. At that point, I hit my limit. Annette hit her limit too as she has gotten more than a little tired of watching me fight with antennas over the years. In any event, we both knew that it was time for a change. Even if it meant spending money.

As a pragmatic pessimist, I've actually been trying various live Internet TV services over the last few years as I knew the antenna would drive me insane at some point. So I already had a good feel for Sling, DirecTV Now and Playstation Vue as I've tried them all at least once within the past year. The reality is that none of these services really measured up. Luckily YouTube recently created their own service called YouTube TV so I decided to give that a shot. Frankly, it's been great so far. Captions work reliably and consistently (which is a requirement for Annette), the streams are high quality and it doesn't appear to buffer at all. The only other service on the list which came remotely close to this one in terms of quality was Playstation Vue. Sadly only YouTube TV actually provides access to all of the local channels that we care about.

So while I don't want to spend $40 a month for Live TV, I feel I don't have much of a choice. For better or worse, Live Local TV channels and the shows associated with them are a part of our lives that we aren't going to get rid of anytime soon. Not to mention the fact that signing up for YouTube TV is a bit of a setback especially in light of my goal to divest myself of my association with every Google owned/operated cloud service.

However at the end of the day, I'm a pragmatist. As a pragmatist, I'll always prefer a solution that works over a solution which doesn't work that satisfies every single ideal I hold near and dear to my heart. That being case, I hope the HD antenna rots in hell for eternity. Because I'm not going to miss it.

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