Sunday, January 23, 2011

Does OTA TV have a Program Guide Like Cable? ( YES, it does! )

DTVpal converter box program guide.
A number of former pay TV users have lamented the lack of a program guide when they switched to free OTA TV. The problem doesn't lie so much with OTA Digital TV as much as it does with the manufacturers of televisions and converter boxes. You see, the Digital TV standards provide for a rich set of features, including an EPG - an electronic program guide. Most TV stations broadcast their EPG info, which is embedded in the DTV signal. The information they provide includes the time, program name and a description. Some stations are very good at providing EPG info, while others fail miserably. Some stations will provide several days of EPG with detailed descriptions, while others provide only a few hours of program names or nothing at all. The worst offenders are LPT - Low Power Television - and independent TV stations. PBS stations generally do the best job with their EPGs.

As noted, the biggest problem with EPG data is that television and converter box manufacturers have chosen not to support this feature, or implement it in a very limited fashion.  On the most basic level, your TV will show only the title of what is on right now only for the channel you are watching. The next step up is a program guide that gives a listing of all your channels, with the program that is on each channel right now. Some sets implement a "Now/Next" guide that will show the program playing now and the next show along with the start and end times for both. The best EPGs are complete program guides that function similar to what you're used to with pay TV. They are clickable, searchable, and go out about a week, or however long the station provides data for. The picture at the beginning of this article is of the EPG from a DTVpal converter box. It is without question the BEST EPG ever to make its way into a converter box. It is capable of using TVGOS data (TV Guide On-Screen, an independent TV data service) as well as the EPG data encoded in DTV broadcasts. Unfortunately, the DTVpal converter is no longer manufactured, and finding one used is like finding free gold. I use one attached to my 52 inch LCD to provide the guide that my TV does not. I'll give up my cherished DTVpal when you pry it from my cold, dead hands, or it dies a horrible death!

So now you've converted to Free TV, but your TV's EPG sucks. You miss that program guide, and the local newspaper doesn't provide a weekly guide like they used to. You don't want to pay for a daily paper or but a subscription to TV Guide. What can you do?

The easiest and cheapest solution is to use the power of the internet. Go to http://www.titantv.com/, and register for a FREE account, and set up you guide for your own preferences. Make sure that you check the "remember me" function the next time you log in, to make TitanTV show your schedule as soon as you arrive. Here's a screen shot of my TitanTV guide:

TitanTV Guide for Cache Valley: Click to enlarge
It's a real nice guide, and the price is right: FREE. Of course, you can't just click on a show with our remote and have your TV go to that show... or can you? Well, yes you can, but it requires 2 things: A media PC with a TV tuner card or USB stick that's compatible with TitanTV. Most Haupauge WinTV tuners work with TitanTV, and as a bonus, it turns your computer into a DVR! Windows Media Center, built into Windows 7, also provides the same functionality, but uses it's own programming guide. For now, though, we'll leave the topic of a Media Computer to a later post!

Channel Master CM-7000PAL Digital Video Recorder, BlackAnother option for you to consider is the Channel Master CM-7000pal DVR. A bit of history first would be in order her. The Dish network DTVpal converter box was produced by Dish Network. Don't ask why a pay TV company would produce a converter box for FREE OTA TV, it doesn't make any sense. But, they also produced the DTVpal HDTV DVR. Both the converter box and the DVR were produced for a very short time and had a number of quality control issues. Dish network no longer makes either product, but they did sell the rights to the DTVpal HDTV DVR AND the SD DTVpal D/A converter box to Channel Master, who now manufacture the CM-7000pal DVR. The CM-7000 is better built than the Dish Network version, and has a longer warranty. It is a FULL 1080i HD DVR, with 2 digital tuners and an integrated program guide. The guide results will vary depending on where you live.  In New York City, the local CBS affiliate broadcasts the guide data of TVGOS (TV Guide On Screen) which provides detailed programming data for just about all of the local channels.  In other markets, or for certain local channels you may get limited guide data (12-24 hours) which comes from the digital PSIP (Program and System Information Protocol) data embedded in ATSC channels. The free guide may not be as reliable or comprehensive as a paid guide service through TiVo or a paid TV provider, but - it's FREE.

Now, the CM-7000 is not cheap - it's currently about $350. But consider that this is a one-time expense, and it adds the convenience of a DVR with a decent program guide to your home theater, and you'll agree that it's well worth the price. It can record up to 130 hours of SD content or up to 30 hours of HD content, pause live TV and skip commercials just like your Pay TV DVR or TIVO, but with no monthly fee. Speaking of TIVO, yes, TIVO makes a OTA DVR with a program guide too, and it will also record from cable - something the CM-7000 can't do. But a TIVO comes with a monthly subscription fee, too: 




You may purchase a subscription to the TiVo Service in one of the following ways:
  1. 2.1 For TiVo Premiere boxes purchased on or after November 14, 2010:
    1. 2.1.1 When purchasing a TiVo Premiere box and subscription at the same time directly from TiVo, you may select one of the following options:
      1. (i) You may purchase a TiVo box and service bundle with
        1. (a) a box fee of $99.99 (includes an instant $200 savings off MSRP) for the TiVo Premiere box or $299.99 (includes an instant $200 savings off MSRP) for the TiVo Premiere XL box and
        2. (b) a monthly service fee of $19.99 a month with a one (1) year commitment (renews monthly after one year); or
      2. (ii) You may purchase a TiVo box and service bundle on a monthly basis with
        1. (a) no upfront cost for the TiVo Premiere box (an instant savings of $299 off MSRP) or a reduced upfront box fee of $199 (an instant savings of $300 off MSRP) for the TiVo Premiere XL box and
        2. (b) a monthly service fee of $19.99 a month with a two (2) year commitment (renews monthly after two years); or
      3. (iii) You may purchase a TiVo box at the full MSRP (no instant savings) and subscribe to the TiVo Service on a monthly basis for $12.95 a month with a one (1) year commitment (renews monthly after 1 year) or you may purchase a Product Lifetime Subscription (defined below) for a onetime fee of $399.
    2. 2.1.2 When purchasing a TiVo Premiere box from a third party retailer at $99.99 (includes an instant $200 savings off MSRP) for the TiVo Premiere box or $299.99 (includes an instant $200 savings off MSRP) for the TiVo Premiere XL box, you may only subscribe to the TiVo Service on a monthly basis for $19.99 a month with a one (1) year commitment (renews monthly after one year).
  2. 2.2 For all other TiVo boxes activated on or after November 14, 2010, you may subscribe to the TiVo Service on a monthly basis for $12.95 a month with a one (1) year commitment (renews monthly after 1 year), you may purchase an annual plan for one (1) year of TiVo Service for an upfront fee of $129, or you may purchase a Product Lifetime Subscription (defined below) for a onetime fee of $399.


So, as you can see, TIVO is not cheap. And since you cancelled pay TV to save money (and get a great HD picture!) why would you commit to yet another monthly service fee?



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