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We were paying around $150.00 per month for cable and internet. Plus we had Amazon Prime at $99/year (that's $8.25/month) and Netflix ($9.99/month). Our cable TV service was not digital and we only got the basic package.
The basic package consisted of PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, NESN (New England Sports Network), NECN (New England Cable News), AMC, TNT, TBS, HGTV, History Channel, BBC America, MoviePlex, and a bunch of other channels like LifeTime and Hallmark. We pretty much only watched AMC, History Channel, NECN, NESN (for the Boston Bruins), and NBC for Jeopardy!.
We tried it for a month without cancelling cable -- just by unplugging to cable box. That way, if we couldn't handle it, it wouldn't be too difficult to revert back.
This was a success - we were able to watch the Super Bowl with only one minor streaming issue on the Fire Stick's Fox Sports App. In addition, my local Fox station has an Amazon app that streams the live broadcast. The only thing that I missed was Jeopardy!
Kodi is an app for the Fire Stick (and many other devices) that is set up to stream from many many many sources... ABC, CBS, NBC are included, but there are hundreds of sources that it'll let you stream. It also lets us listen to radio stations that live stream. An additional bonus - there is built-in functionality to connect to security cameras, live radio streams, RSS feeds, the weather, and even has video games. It does this through "Add-on" applications. For those folks that need live television there's the ustvnow add-on. It lets you watch the live ABC, CBS, NBC, and a few other networks if you're out-of-country.
Since we don't plan on dropping Amazon Prime, it would be silly for us to not use it's free movie streaming to the Fire Stick. It provides us with many films and television shows as part of their service. Also, there are Amazon apps that we have access to. To access these we have to turn on apps from unknown sources (unknown to Amazon).
Settings→System→Developer Options→Apps from Unknown Sources→On
To see what kind of performance you're getting from your Fire Stick, put it in Developer Mode.
Developer Mode: Press (and hold) SELECT & DOWN for 5 seconds then press MENU or from a console:
adb shell am start com.amazon.ssm/com.amazon.ssm.ControlPanel
In order to make the setup run a bit smoother, I installed Fire DL on the Fire Stick so that I could ftp to and from it. For fun, I also put a telnet server on it... but like I said, that was just for fun.
After it was all setup initially, the main things we used Amazon Apps for was the Fox 25 News Live Stream and PBS Kids app. After the antenna went up - we hardly used those at all.
The antenna was key. While we could watch many television channels using Prime and Kodi, we missed the "feel" of live tv. Not to mention, the live streams from USTVNow weren't in HD. So we needed an antenna to pick up the main channels live.
We live on the Atlantic coast just north of Boston. Our location dictated what type of digital antenna we needed and our proximity to broadcast towers dictated how strong it should be.
Using www.tvfool.com we learned that there were many stations within a 80 mile radius of us. In fact, we learned that they were specifically at 225o (SE) on a compass < 80 miles away. This meant that we didn't need an omnidirectional (360o) antenna-- we could get a directional one and point it directly at those towers.
So - we got one from Amazon that had good reviews. It was the: 1byone. I didn't want to put the antenna too high up on my house - so I opted for this strong antenna with an amplifier and I have NOT been disappointed.
On our tv we got about 45 channels in the initial scan and I removed some foreign language ones and the shopping channels afterwards so we have 35
The important thing is that we now get good local news and Jeopardy! on live tv. The only thing that we miss is NECN and NESN for really good local news and the Boston Bruins games.
For those two, I can stream NECN from my laptop or phone and listen to the Bruins on Radio (or the digital audio stream using Kodi).
We also investigated installing Kodi on a Raspberry Pi 3 using LibreELEC, OpenELEC, OSMC, or XBian. This seems to give a little bit more functionality than the Fire Stick, but this is still a work in progress for us. When it's done, I will most likely put it on the upstairs television. I heard the the Raspberry Pi doesn't have quite the video capabilities as the Fire Stick, but it does have alot more memory and is much more configurable. UPDATE 2017 12 11: Since I've added a network drive, the need for having the extra memory and storage of a Raspberry Pi is unnecessary (See Below).
Virtual Private Networks allow 2 things:
We looked at lots of providers of VPNs. Some were free, some not. After all the research I found that I liked the idea so much that I put CyberGhost on my iPhone.
For the Fire Stick (which does NOT have the capability of running a VPN client), we had to go another route (pun intended). We'll pay for a VPN.
After my research, I found that there are many great VPN solutions out there. In the end, I went with NordVPN (Click here to sign up for it! and I'll get referral points!). It seemed to be fast and cheap - no logs are kept - many servers - etc.
On a side-note, if we used the Raspberry Pi instead of the Fire Stick, we could put the VPN Client software right on it. This would slow down the machine a bit but it still would be functional. The reason we are choosing to have a separate VPN Client Router is that we could have any device that we want connect via VPN, not just one.
The difference between a VPN Client and a VPN Server:
Allows you to connect to the internet via a "tunnel" to a server somewhere else in the world.
Your internet provider cannot see what you're doing.
Allows you to "tunnel" into your home network from anywhere in the world.
For Kodi, you want a VPN Client.
The two router solution is so that when streaming things through the Fire Stick it's using the VPN, but when using any other device in our house, it just uses the regular internet connection (without a VPN). This allows for faster access for most devices. Also it's not possible to put a VPN on a Fire Stick (yet)-- but it IS possible to put one on the Raspberry Pi (yet another reason that that is a good choice).
I tried out the 2 router solution first:
The Xfinity issued Wireless-g/n router AND A Linksys WRT AC1200 router ($80) together -- the Xfinity Router connects to the world and the Linksys router connects to the Xfinity router. The Linksys router needed some configuration changes for this to work. I had to re-flash the firmware to install DD-WRT on it.
DD-WRT gives an alternative interface to a router that allows the user access to many internal settings such as Transmit (TX) and Receive (RX) speed and VPN information. Once we plugged in the VPN Client info into the DD-WRT web interface we were all set up.
I ran into one issue, though. The dual-band router transmits one of its channels at 2.4 GHz which interfered with the Xfinity wireless router, so I disabled the 2.4GHz channel on the new Linksys.
After a week or so with this 2 router trial period, I did some investigating. I was trying to find out how easy it would be to route only specific MAC addresses through an Open VPN Client on the Linksys 1200AC. It turns out that it's actually pretty simple, so I decided to go with only the one router... the problem was, if I didn't want to use that Xfinity router, I couldn't use their cable modem as they were a combined unit.
SO I bought a High Speed 8x4 Cable Modem (approved by Xfinity) from Amazon for about $50. This isn't the fanciest unit, but it does what I need it to. It has 8 DL channels and 4 UL channels and can handle pretty high speeds (high enough for streaming video anyway).
In addition, Xfinity was charging us $10/month for that stupid router/modem - that's $120/yr we'd save.
We were sick of paying out the ear for cable tv so we decided to "cut the cord". We did a trial month with the Fire Stick and we found that we didn't miss cable. We installed Kodi onto the Fire Stick while keeping Amazon Prime. We bought the correct digital antenna for our area (tvfool.com). It was a directional antenna that has an 80 mile range. We ditched Xfinity's modem/router and signed up for a VPN service (only about $35/year). We configured the new router with DD-WRT and setup the VPN client on it. Our Fire Stick only connects to the internet via the VPN and all other devices just connect normally.
So our upfront cost was: $30 for the antenna and $40 for the Fire Stick, $80 for the router, and $50 for the cable modem. Internet costs us $80/Month, VPN costs about $3/month. I'm not including the Amazon prime cost in this because (like I said) we use that anyhow for the free shipping. This is an annual savings of about $760/year with an upfront cost of $200. It's not as much as I thought I would save cutting the cord, but it's a decent chunk of change.
One of the greatest features of the WRT AC1200 Router is the ability to plug in a USB 3.0 drive and use it as a network drive. So, I purchased a San Disk 128 GB Thumbdrive for $26 and plugged it into the back of the router.
After some (very minimal) configuration on the router's 192.168.1.1 address, I got it to work.
What this allows me to do is store files from any machine on the network to this Samba mounted drive... including the Firestick.
In the Firestick's configuration, I turned on the ability to download videos and set the download location to this network drive. Now, when I see a movie or TV Show that I want to watch, I can download it right to my network drive and watch it later. This eliminates any streaming issues that might occur by streaming it directly from the source. There are no frozen streams or buffering issues. It's all through my local network - and at the fastest possible streaming rate due to it being USB 3.0! Granted - the speeds won't be maxed out because I'm doing this all through my wireless network, but that's good enough to have a good video experience. Also, because this drive can be accessed by any machine on my network, I can manage folders (one for kids movies - another for suspense - another for comedy - etc.) from any machine just like managing folders on my laptop - easy peasy!
An added benefit is that I can also use this drive to store files (that aren't video) that I don't want on my machines anymore, or I could use it as a backup drive.
Most two hour movies take up between 0.75 and 1.25 gigs so that's over one hundred movies I can store on this drive.
A few things have changed a bit since my last update so here's some new stuff:
If you haven't done so in the last month or so... re-scan your celestial channels if you have a digital antenna - I'm not sure if this happened everywhere but the transmitters changed a bit around Boston (I think it's supposed to be settled down by mid October or so) and you may need to in order to get the most stations.
In one of our upstairs rooms, where our router is, we also have a Firestick, but this one has the Wired Ethernet Adapter, so it connects via ethernet cable to our router. The streaming is incredibly fast and there are almost never any issues with stuttering video.
I also picked up a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ and put OSMC on it. I loaded it up with Apps nd I heard you can put Prime Video on it too. It's perfect for connecting to my network hard-drive. The only drawback is that I use an X-Box controller to control it. I believe I could hook up a Bluetooth remote to it, but that would require batteries and I'm frankly too cheap to do it. We use this one when travelling or for a movie night on our porch with a little projector and screen.
For a while, I was routing certain MAC Addresses through to the VPN from our router, but I recently switched that to only running the VPN app on specific devices.
Apps that I use on the Firestick and/or the Raspberry Pi on a Regular Basis:
Apps that I sometimes use for specific things like sports events:
|Cordcutters Minimalish Shopping List|
|*The VPN price was a Special Deal if we signed up for 2 years.|
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Last Updated: 2019 09 06 14:12 by: Mike Pellegrino