Cord Cutter’s DVR

Since I cut the cord some time ago I have been using a couple generation 1 Simple.TV DVRs to record over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasts in my local area.  I found them on Woot with a lifetime subscription at a really low price.  They are not the most polished devices, but are very functional.  I have heard the generation 2 Simple.TV DVRs, which they sell now, are better.

I like the ability to record shows and stream them to any device I want, anywhere I have a good network connection.  (I recently watched part of the NFL playoffs at a local gym streamed from the Simple.TV at my house.)  I also enjoy having the option of skipping the monthly bill ride and instead paying a one time lifetime subscription.

Recently, Simple.TV performed some maintenance on their infrastructure which, for what appeared to be a lot of their customers (to include me), resulted in a catastrophic loss of all recorded shows, reset of the devices, and re-registration. Imagine how one would feel if they completely lost all their information stored in their cell phone with no way to recover it.  Many customers of Simple.TV (again, to include me) were not happy.

The fault at Simple.TV sent me back out to see what OTA DVRs the market now offers for the cord-cutter enthusiast.  During that search I found Tablo.  I pulled up the reviews and watched several videos about the product, both by Tablo and users.  I even found reviews from Simple.TV users who made the switch and could well compare the two products.  Additionally, I found a couple of very good total cost of ownership (TCO) charts that the Tablo staff put together, one of which I have included below.

While I must admit up front that I am not going to switch out my Simple.TV DVRs, yet, it was tempting to think about doing so.  Reliability is a strong selling point for me.  If I had to find a good OTA DVR now, I would strongly recommend looking at Tablo.

Over the Air (OTA) DVR Total Cost of Ownership (Chart courtesy of

Over the Air (OTA) DVR Total Cost of Ownership (Chart courtesy of

Security Camera Field of View

I recently went to mount a new security camera.  I configured it for the network, hooked it up to my POE switch, and pulled out my ladder to evaluate the mount position.  As I put it into a notional spot I quickly realized while watching the video stream that the camera just was not capturing as much of the area that I needed.  The reason?  The field of view (FOV) was a little smaller than I expected.

A camera’s field of view is based on the focal length of the lens, which is the distance of the lens to the imaging sensor, and the imagining sensor size.  This focal length is represented in millimeters (mm).  The smaller the distance, the wider the field of view.  The larger the distance, the more narrow (think tunnel vision) the view.  The smaller the FOV, see close up and wide.  The larger the FOV, view something at a distance.

Since most surveillance cameras use a 1/3″ sensor, this chart can be used to quickly reference FOV and image area.  You can also quickly calculate different focal lengths and see example output at IP Video Market or Polaris USA.

The camera I was looking at mounting has a focal length of 3.6mm, resulting in a horizontal field of view of around 67°.  Based on the mount location and the size of area to be imaged I really need a camera with a FOV as close to 90° as I can get.  Which means I need a camera with a sub 3mm focal length.

One last consideration.  Keep in mind that the larger the area being imaged, the lower the amount of resolution available to image specific areas in the field of view.

Camera field of view example. (

Camera field of view example. (

Home Security Camera System

Today I spent most of my day researching a good entry level security camera system for my home.  The range and diversity of the technology in this market space is considerable.  Security cameras are largely separated into analog or digital platforms.  There are a lot of factors to building a security camera system.  Here are a few big considerations.

  • Analog Pros.  Analog cameras have been around for a very long time and they are a very well established technology.  The upshot of this is the generally lower cost of entry to build an analog based system.  This is a great choice if your looking to just put up cameras.
  • Analog Cons. The technology is showing its age.  Upper end analog cameras can not produce the same level of detail that upper end digital cameras can produce.  Analog cameras also have cabling requirements that can become cluttered (e.g., video, audio, alarm, and power running across separate cables).  Analog systems also require a centralized video management system to either display or record analog signals from the cameras.
  • Digital Pros. These cameras can have outstanding image quality.  They can run on TCP/IP networks, which means they can be accessed from the internet, individually if desired.  Some models of digital cameras can take advantage of power over Ethernet (POE), meaning one small cable to do it all.  They also can leverage wireless connections for areas where running network cable would be challenging.  The cameras can also process and, on some models, store the video stream or take snapshot pictures locally on the camera, essentially creating a decentralized system.
  • Digital Cons.  The newest technology often comes with a higher price tag, especially with the ability for the cameras to do everything locally.  Oh remember these things can be connected to the web?  Guess what that means.  They can be susceptible to hackers and consequently others may be able to see your video streams.  (This can also be true for a analog system that uses a digital video recorder connected the web.)  There are a lot more factors to image quality with digital cameras, it is just not as simple as analog platforms.  Additionally, the devil is in the details for digital cameras. You have to know the jargon and specifications to ensure to get the desired performance (e.g., H.264 vs MJPEG) and to plan a system that can support them.

I have opted to build a digital camera system connected to my local network which leverages POE.  This construct provides the ability to place cameras where needed utilizing one Ethernet cable to handle both the data and provide power.  Going wired instead of wireless also means an additional layer of security as well as reduced demand on my available wireless spectrum.

Expect more to come as I build and evaluate the system.

Digital Security Camera System Diagram

Digital Security Camera System Diagram (Images and products via

Pulling In Free HDTV – Finding the Stations

It has been a long time since local TV stations around the US started the switch from analog to digital signals providing people access to free, beautiful HDTV.  Getting that signal to your HDTV capable TV starts with the right antenna, one HDTV capable.

I highly recommend starting at  First, plug in your zip code or address.  It will provide a nice map of local stations in your area, their direction and their distance.  It also provides a Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) color code for the antenna sensitivity needed to collect that signal.  AntennaWeb also provides a walk through of these CEA color codes.

I also recommend running through the same process over at as well.  At AntennaPoint they provide a nicely detailed spreadsheet of stations which includes both the virtual channel number and the power output of the station.

Unless you are looking at putting together a multi-antenna system which points in more than one direction at the same time look for a direction that has the majority of stations you want.  Knowing the minimum recommended antenna type provides the option to upgrade to provide a little more flexibility.  But keep in mind, it is possible to pull in too much signal and over saturate your HDTV tuner.

Antenna Selector Color Wheel

Antenna Selector Color Wheel

Cutting Cable TV

I recently went through the process of cutting my cable TV. I was using one of my local provider’s higher end TV, phone and internet package plans, renting three DVRs and multiple basic boxes for the TVs in my house – yes I have way more than I probably should – all for around $270 a month. At some point I realized I was spending over $3K a year for these services. In today’s digital age there had to be a cheaper way. So I built a list of needs.

  • Receive HDTV
  • DVR or play back shows on demand for three different users
  • Use any TV to watch shows
  • Maintain house phone at a lower price
  • Maintain internet service at a sustained or better level of service

The below is the new system I installed.  I needed three Simple TV DVRs and four Rokus for media streaming, so my system was around $1.4K.  A one DVR and one Roku setup can be done for sub $700, and less if you need lower sensitivity antennas.  I will talk more about some of the individual components in following posts.

Cable Cut Diagram

Cutting the Cable Component Diagram (Images and products via

Now I just pay for my internet ($840/yr for 50/50) and VOIP phone ($30 year). So I have gone from $270 to $83 month.  It is really nice to have that money back in the bank for other things.

Protected Rechargeable Batteries

While looking into rechargeable battery options for the Nitecore SRT5 I noticed some 18650 Li-ion batteries were marked “protected” and came with a slightly higher cost.  After some quick research it appears some rechargeable batteries come with a built in safety switch to help you get the most out of them you can.  Since I like self-correcting systems I would recommend spending a couple more dollars and let the batteries do the math for you.