How I Cut the Cord

About a year ago, we decided to “cut the cord” and get rid of cable. We’ve been extremely happy with our setup and multiple friends have asked which products and services we’re using. As an answer to all the questions, here is a write up explaining our setup.

We already had Netflix, Amazon, etc. for streaming content but local channels were a huge concern for us when we initially cut the cord. These usually include channels like your local CBS, ABC, NBC, etc. These cover most of the TV we watched on cable so it was extremely important that we kept access to them. And since we were spoiled by our DVR from the cable company, we weren’t going to cut the cord until we had a system in place to allow us to watch on our own time. That meant we needed 2 things: an antenna and a DVR system that worked with HD antennas.

The Antenna

The 1x2 pictured here has been replaced by 1in PVC so that the entire antenna can be pointed in the right direction.
The strip of wood pictured has been replaced by 1 inch PVC so that the entire antenna can be pointed in the right direction.

The first thing you will want to check is a site like TV Fool (www.tvfool.com) to ensure you have over the air near you. Visit the site and input your address and it will output a list of the channels near you color coded by the type of antenna you’ll need. For TV Fool, green means an indoor or set top antenna will work. Yellow means you’ll probably need at least an attic mounted antenna. Red means you’ll need a roof mounted antenna and grey means you’re probably out of luck.

For some channels, we fall in the attic mount range so we went with the following antenna: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CXQO00K/. We’ve had little to no problems with the antenna and I’d highly recommend it for anyone within the yellow or green ranges on TV Fool.

Now that you’ve got the antenna, head back to TV Fool and write down the direction that your antenna should be pointed. This makes a huge difference. We went from 11 channels on initial mounting to 30+ once the antenna was pointed in the right direction. You can user your phone’s compass application for this.

If you don’t want a DVR, you’ll need a coax splitter and coax cable runs to each TV that you’ll be viewing live over the air TV. Most TVs today have built in capabilities for over the air HD TV.

The DVR System

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For the DVR, we decided on a 4-tuner Tablo TV DVR (https://www.tablotv.com/) which allows recording up to 4 shows at a time. The Tablo requires a single coax run from the antenna to the Tablo and an external hard drive. To help you select a hard drive, their website has both a suggestions page and a community driven thread to ensure you buy a hard drive that will work with the system. If you want to grab the drive that we purchased, it’s a 3TB Seagate (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00TKFEEJ4/). I doubt we’ll ever fill the drive but it gives us the ability to save movies and TV shows for as long as we want.

The Tablo connects directly to the antenna then connects to your router and uses your home network to deliver content to the different devices in your home. That does means you’ll need a device to watch the content at each location. We already had a Roku device on each TV for Netflix, Amazon, etc. so we simply had to download the Tablo app from the Roku channel store. They have apps for most devices out there though and you can check to see if yours is supported here: https://www.tablotv.com/tablo-products/. I’ve also installed their Windows app on all of our computers.

Product and Service Links

What Tools Do I Use?

At Houston TechFest 2013, Claudio Lassala presented “Want to Build Software? Get Your Act Together First!“. It got me thinking about how I work and what software I would recommend. The following tools fit into two categories. I either use it daily or it’s invaluable in specific situations (for example, taking screenshots or giving presentations).

The Data I Need When I Need It

I use a combination of three pieces of software to ensure that I always have all of the information I need at my fingertips. The three are: SkyDrive, OneNote, and KeePass.

SkyDrive is the Microsoft DropBox competitor. I use it for a 2 reasons. The first reason is it that it offers more storage for free. SkyDrive gives 7 GB while DropBox gives 2 GB. I actually have 25 GB due to an old SkyDrive promotion. The second reason is that I can view and edit all of my files directly through a browser. This has become extremely important to me. For example, I was recently in a meeting and a presentation that I was working on came up. I didn’t have my laptop but the meeting room had a computer connected to the screen. I was able to log into my SkyDrive and review the presentation directly from my SkyDrive.

OneNote is Microsoft’s note taking software. Evernote is a popular competitor and one that I have tried before. When OneNote was released for my mobile platform, I immediately switched back. Now I have access to my notes anywhere I have my phone or have access to an internet browser (I can view and edit my OneNote notebooks through SkyDrive).

KeePass is a password manager tool. We have passwords for everything now and they should all be unique and varied. How does it work? You create one password for your encrypted KeePass file and you place all of your other passwords into the file.

Collaboration

I currently work on a distributed team so having effective tools in place for collaboration and communication is a must.

For task and backlog tracking, we use Team Foundation Server. If TFS wouldn’t be available, I would be using Trello or a tool with similar features.

For voice, we use Skype. It’s simple, effective, and proven. Its screen sharing feature comes in handy if it’s just a quick discussion. For more complex screen sharing, we use TeamViewer. TeamViewer allows users to pass control around. This comes in extremely handy when working through code with another developer. Another plus is that TeamViewer has official apps for Android, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and iOS.

Let’s Develop Something Already!

I have already mentioned that I work in a Microsoft development team so Visual Studio is a must. I currently have 2010 and 2012 installed on my machine but we will be moving everything to 2013 on its release. If you’d like to know which plugins I’m using for Visual Studio, see my post “Visual Studio Add-ons“.

Everyone has their own favorite text editor and mine is Notepad++. It’s always the first thing that I install on a new machine and I immediately set it as my default text viewer. I’ve recommended it to every developer friend that I know. It has lots of goodies throughout the program including plugins. For example, the Compare plugin has taken the place of WinMerge on my machines and ToolBucket let’s me easily generate GUIDs and lorem ipsum, encode/decode to base 64, and more.

A great tool for testing .NET code snippets, LINQ statements, etc. is LINQPad. This little application is extremely feature packed and you’ll find more ways to use it every time you open it. One of my favorites is the ability to generate the SQL for a LINQ statement.

IETester by DebugBar is a must have for web developers wanting to test their website’s rendering in multiple IE versions.

Greenshot is my go to application for screenshots. It has multiple capture modes and a built in image editor which allows you to edit an image before saving the final version.

Presentation Must Haves

If you’re giving presentations or sharing screens often, I have a couple of recommendations.

The first suggestion is Key Jedi. Presenters tend to forget that the viewers don’t know when you press Alt, Ctrl, etc. This is a little application displays those special combination keystrokes so that your audience doesn’t get lost when you’re flying around Visual Studio using only the keyboard.

The second is ZoomIt. This application allows you to Zoom in and out of any application running in Windows. It also has some markup features which are quite nice once you get used to the keyboard shortcuts.

MCPD Web Developer 4

Right on the heels of the upgrade to Web Developer 3.5, I took the test for an upgrade to .NET 4. I’ve finally caught up to the latest release. I have to say this was the longest Microsoft certification test that I’ve taken. It was over 80 questions long and split into 4 sections. For a second I thought my test would be lost. When I clicked to finish the exam the testing software crashed. Fortunately, everything was there just like I left it when they rebooted the computer.