A Power User’s Guide To Cord Cutting

Fellow site contributor Adam Miarka has cycled through a ton a television technology in the years I’ve known him and I thought it’d be beneficial to share his current configuration.

TL;DR: HDHomeRun Quatro, Mohu Leaf, Channels DVR, Synology DS218+, Infuse, Apple TV, iDevices

I’d call Adam something of an inadvertent cord cutter, as he didn’t wake up one morning and declare his intent to divorce cable. But his television approaches have evolved as the market has shifted and new gadgets have presented themselves. He (and his family) had started off as a CableCARD-powered TiVo household but, as a fellow geek, the SimpleTV network tuner really caught eye and that’s when he began dipping his toes into over-the-air television. Simple was ultimately replaced by the superior Tablo, where he happily dwelled for some time (with cable television service still periodically in play).

But, like me, Adam had a kid. And suddenly the math changed (keeping in mind he’s a frequent gadget flipper, also like someone you know). There was more, but differing, television to be watched, including viewing from mobile devices in and outside the home. So he started experimenting with HDHomeRun hardware (using the same, old reliable Mohu Leaf antenna).

Adam ultimately settled on the HDHomeRun Quatro, given his increasing deemphasis of cable and it’s been a more effective OTA tuner than Tablo — although Silicon Dust’s native software clients still don’t measure up (after one hundred years). Plex has had its own set of issues (many of them). So Adam’s rocking Channels DVR ($8/mo) – “it’s as simple as it needs to be” yet powerful and fast, especially since it moves untouched MPEG-2 around the home, versus the channel changing delays experienced with MPEG-4 transcoding (hello Fire TV Recast, Tablo). The DVR software and recordings live on his existing Synology DS218+ NAS – but it could have been hosted by any number of computers around the house, like a Mac Mini. Adam’s television set-top boxes are Apple TV. Channels also streams to Amazon Fire TV… but picture quality isn’t quite as stellar as Apple’s presentation, even after enabling hardware decoding.

Channels DVR Season Passes

I’m trying to fit Adam’s progression into a linear narrative. Yet, many of his solutions have coexisted. And it was about a year or so ago when he finally cancelled cable. But while he’s no longer a cable customer, he still values a smattering of pay television content and subscribes to HDHomeRun Premium ($35/mo) – a newish Internet streaming service that aggregates pay television channels into a relatively decent lineup… that his aforementioned Channels DVR will similarly schedule, record, and playback. WITHOUT any encryption or other offloading hassles, which leads us to Infuse.

Infuse Video Player App

To offload content onto iPhone or iPad, Adam currently swears by Infuse – an app he points at his NAS to download shows before they hit the road. While he gives up Channels commercial skip capabilities, he has efficient access to high resolution content without worrying about network connectivity outside the house.

Adam’s always changing it up and I expect HDHomeRun Premium’s days are numbered, as Nick Jr isn’t in the lineup and given a plethora of other content sources. Not to mention an ongoing contract dispute that has seen HGTV, Food, Discovery Channel and others pulled from the service. I also keep nudging Adam towards YouTube TV, although the lack of downloads could be a deal breaker for him. 

21 thoughts on “A Power User’s Guide To Cord Cutting”

  1. If Apple TV is your choice then this is probably the best solution. I will say Plex DVR is pretty darn good for me using Rokus. I also use infuse to offload videos post commercial skip for travel. If I look at things in totality I mainly watch news and football OTA and everything else on Netflix etc. The kids watch PBS or PBS kids streaming. I am sure as they get older things will change again.

  2. Which internet providers do you recommend? Ours is bundled with comcast/Xfinity and have come close or hone over our monthly data allotment when all 4 of us are streaming. Our kids (early 20’s) only stream; husband and I are trying it out, working toward cable cutting

    Thanks

  3. This really is a poweruser solution, unlike pretty much every other cordcutting article, because HDhomerun’s paid TV service is DRM-free. Good stuff.

    I use YouTube TV myself. Now that they allow the DVR to work (except on CBS and CW) it’s pretty satisfactory now.

  4. Amazon Recast is the real deal. I’ve tried all of the above but have settled on recast.
    Recast + Hulu + Netflix

  5. I haven’t used it myself, but heard from several that it’s slow. Has anyone documented how to offload recordings yet? Although it wouldn’t work in my household, as I have multiple brands of set-top streamers, not just Fire TV. If they ever cleaned up the UI, I’d reconsider given inexpensive yet powerful hardware and the new remote is money.

  6. It sounds like I need to look at the HDHomeRun hardware. Having lived with Tablo for over a year now, my wife and I getting tired of the nuances that come with it. Especially the ever present channel guide issues.

  7. after years of trying everything and living in an area that hasn’t had high speed internet until 3 months ago i went from a cord cutter to a box cutter. I use to love tivo but i have given up on them and the outrageous prices. today i have 2 hd homerun prime 3 first time with a cable cards, channels dvr running on a mac mini and using the new fire tv stick 4k. holy smokes is this the right combination. my wife loves it, i love it. we cut out tivo boxes from 6 rooms and once the new 6 tuner cabe card model comes out we can simplify to 1 hd homerun.

  8. What is most cost effective plan to get rid of $140/month Direct TV/Internet for 2 rooms/TV’s? Would also like recording capabilitym

  9. Well… the above probably isn’t what many would consider cost effective. Something like YouTube TV ($40/mo) or Sling TV on Roku or Fire TV could do much of what you want? YouTube TV’s DVR is “unlimited” – think all channels and recordings stick around for maybe 9 months? No offline capabilities, tho.

  10. We still have FiOS cable and just upgraded to Gigabit. Considering keeping cable and finally dropping the expensive and old Motorola cable boxes and just using the HDHomeRun Prime with cablecard and HDHomeRun DVR. Almost there…almost…

  11. Youtubetv, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Works great in our household (empty nesters, but grandkids and adult children here often and all stream. AT@T Fiber Internet (300 up and down).

  12. I’m really considering cutting the cable cord so I read this article. Unfortunately, I have no idea what you were talking about. Way over my head…

  13. @ Joel Ward, I got food and cable cards. I like Cannels Dvr UI way better than HDHomeruns DVR. But yeah that is exactly the thought process I used.

  14. We had DirecTv and Comcast Service, alternating a bunch of times in San Jose Bay Area for years. Then a year ago, we moved to North County San Diego. Not much OTA here, but have been ROCKING Spectrum 200 Mbps internet for $45/month total (Unlimited Data with NO Throttling!) Been using friends/family logins to rock TV service on our new Sony 75″ and loving it!! OH, and also friend’s Netflix and Amazon accounts! :)

  15. I used to have a pair of HDHomeRun Primes with cablecards thru Spectrum combined with an old MacBook Pro running Windows 7 and extending through several Xbox 360s. It saved me plenty of money over the years, but it was also a hassle when something went wrong (bad WMC updates, service packs, botched firmware, etc).

    When Spectrum started requiring tuning adapters in my area and couldn’t get them to work properly, I was forced off this setup. I tried a ton of setups and landed on PhiloTV/YouTube TV running on Rokus.

    It’s cheap, it works great, and I can watch anywhere I want without maintaining any additional equipment. There’s not a channel we watched on cable that we’re missing with these services, so this $56 a month combo is fantastic for our family of 4.

  16. Comcast just increased the cost of cable cards for my TiVo’s from $1.50 a month to $9.95 a month. Obviously trying to get me off TiVo.

  17. I cut the cord in 2007. For real cut the cord. I only watch via an OTA antenna and discs from Netflix. And from those two sources, I have access to pretty much every movie and every show from every network. Yes, most of shows on disc are at least a season behind, but that’s fine with me.

    For my DVR, I’m still rocking SageTV. The interface is dated, but it works flawlessly. It also does something no other DVR I’ve found has yet to replicate: real-time commercial detection. So I can start watching a football game 30-minutes late, watch the whole thing commercial-free, and be caught-up to real time before the game ends.

    I might eventually switch to Plex DVR or Channels, but the still-in-beta SageTV iOS app may keep me on that platform for a while to come.

  18. True cord cutter Carlton. Not even internet. How does Sage get program guide or does it not?

    It is hard to call yourself a cord cutter if you subscribe to YouTube, Sling etc. Those services cost as much as cable TV. The only difference is you own the hardware and don’t have to pay bogus fees. In exchange you are subject to an inferior DVR experience where you can’t always fast forward and recordings can run short. But at least you can take it with you anywhere there is internet!

  19. Carlton is hard core! Wonder how many folks still run Sage. I had a pal on BeyondTV for years after it was shuttered. Didn’t Sage release all their code post Google-acquisition? Wonder if someone like Channels could make use of pieces, approaches.

  20. SageTV was released as open source and many of the original developers are still active. There is a SageTV Mini-Client that runs on Android TV, but the SageTV Media Extender hardware still offers the best playback experience. I would definitely switch to something with a more modern UI and better integration with other devices/ecosystems, but nothing else matches SageTV feature-for-feature, even after all of these years. The only cost is $25/year to maintain a Schedules Direct subscription for the program guide data.

    Given all of the struggles with Plex DVR and Silicon Dust DVR, building on the SageTV code certainly would have resulted in a better product. But I expect the architecture and programming language differences could make that non-trivial.

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