Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Brave New World—Cutting the Cord

Over the recent three-day holiday weekend, my family and I cut the cord and cancelled DirecTV, which I've had for about 15 years. In its place, we signed up for YouTube TV, a streaming app that carries live broadcast TV just like cable or satellite but delivered over the internet (to be clear, this app is different and separate from the regular YouTube streaming app for its videos). We have the app running on an Amazon Firestick, which plus into an HDMI port on your TV, though depending on the brand, it's available on other smart TVs and streaming devices that have agreements with them (so be sure to check).

Partly because our monthly bill for DirecTV seemed to go up in price every year, I'd been contemplating a change for awhile. But of course we still wanted to have live broadcast TV, and the alternatives when I did my research a year or so ago didn't quite seem to meet our needs, especially when it came to DVR capability, so we waited on pulling the trigger.

Mind you, we've been otherwise satisfied with our DirecTV service. But with the addition of several relatively less expensive streaming platforms to our household (including Netflix and Amazon Prime), the $158 monthly cost of DirecTV seemed out of whack with our actual viewing habits. While it varied within my household, I myself was probably spending only about 30 percent of my television viewing time, if that, on DirecTV. And our plan didn't even include any additional premium content like HBO, Showtime or sports packages.

When I researched it again in January, I learned that YouTube TV had fairly recently launched in 2017 in a more limited fashion and has continued to expand and mature. I looked at the reviews and comparisons to its main competitors (which include Hulu Live, Sling, Roku, DirecTV Livestream). At the end of the day, YouTube TV looked the most appealing: it had the most channels and about 95 percent of the channels that we watched and wished to retain, including TCM, WeTV, Bravo, IFC, and the Food Network. And because subscriptions are based on zip code, we get all our local stations except for one (more on that below).

Especially appealing was the "unlimited cloud DVR," where they keep an unlimited number of recordings for 9 months (versus reportedly 30 days on Hulu Live).

While the DVR feature is great, I discovered that YouTube TV also operates like an on-demand streaming service. So although I showed my wife how to "record" all scheduled episodes the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I also noticed that if you searched and found a show in the system, you could still stream on demand recent past shows anyway! (Similarly, I had forgotten to record the premiere episodes of Doctor Who, but easily found the show available to stream on demand in the app). I presume this varies by show or network, but in some cases, we could find shows with many if not all past seasons and shows available! This goes way beyond what's possible through DirecTV satellite.

And, as a reminder, the YouTube TV app sits on the Amazon Firestick (and other smart streaming devices) alongside other popular streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more.

The only real hole in offerings we found was the CW, Cartoon Network (for my son) and one local channel, which also happens to be the local affiliate owned by the CW. I discovered, however, that we could access Cartoon Network shows via Hulu, so adding a $5.99 Hulu plan (or $11.99 sans commercials) was something I certainly could live with since we were saving nearly $110 with the cancellation of DirecTV.  (Heck, we can even add other premium channels, like HBO Go, as needed, again for a fraction of what it would have cost through DirecTV—and without a contract, so we're free to add and cancel those subscriptions at any time!) As for the CW, it has its own free app, where you can access all of its shows. (They had gathered together all the episodes of its Crisis on Infinite Earths series that crossed over properties like Supergirl, the Flash, and the Arrow, so I was able to access all the episodes.)

In addition, many people have found a workaround for getting their local stations through an antenna, and not the cheesy rabbit ears from back in the day—they are now digital/HD devices, and plug into the cable connection on the TV. Stations are required by law to broadcast their signals so that people can still get their local stations for free. Since you can find these antennas for as cheap as $12 (and most under $40), this is a reasonable workaround for the one local channel I'm not receiving.

I should add that earlier in 2019, I also switched my phone and internet service from AT&T to Spectrum, to save money and for faster internet speed. With the cancellation of DirecTV—which was purchased in 2015 by AT&T—I'm almost completely out of the AT&T ecosystem. Only my mobile device remains with the company!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Entertainment Round up for 2019

Below is my annual list of the films, books, television and streamed shows, plays, live performance, etc., I took in the previous. My usual caveat applies: while I strive to be exhaustive, I am sure there are some items that slipped through the cracks.

I've also somewhat streamlined and re-organized the way these lists are presented. In the past, I listed all films together regardless of whether I saw them in a theater, DVD or streaming. For this year, I decided to group films and DVDs together; and placed films I saw on streaming services with other streamed content under the single banner of "Streaming." This is partly in recognition of the fact that some "films" are now streamed exclusively and that there is sometimes a gray area between streamed content, films and "television." (Indeed, I listed no television series at all that I watch regularly since I now have NetFlix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus—so far, I still have DirecTV.)

The number of films seen in a theater this year jumped from about 7 in 2017, 8 in 2017, to 18 in 2019! I'm not sure whether that's a reflection of there being more films I wanted to see versus my having more free time to do so now that the kids are older.

That said, my favorite films this past year rank among the best I've seen in many years. My absolute favorite was Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit, followed closely by Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood. Honorable mentions as well to Ford v. FerrariKnives Out, Little Women, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; as well as Downton Abbey, Tolkien, and Aladdin. Films I enjoyed well enough but I thought were overrated (at least critically or by general audiences) include Shazam!, Frozen 2The Favorite, and Captain Marvel!

In terms of streamed content, seasons 3 of The Crown and the BBC's Victoria, and season 2 of GLOW were topnotch, as was the Disney Plus series, the Art of Imagineering. My Name is Dolemite, the third season of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Home for Christmas (from Norway), and season 3 of Kim's Convenience get honorable mention. Disney Plus's Mandalorian (and baby Yoda) seemed to be on everyone's radar—while I said through most of it that I wasn't totally sold on the series, finding the episodic nature of it a bit pointless, I have to give it credit for ending strong. I also watched the second season of Jack Ryan—while I thought it was better than the first season, I give it credit for being very upscale and movie-quality, while also being also a bit bat-sh*t crazy at the end!

Also read some great books, check them out below.... So without any further ado...

Little Women (12/29/2019)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (12/28/2019) - rewatch
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (12/22/2019)
Knives Out (11/30/2019)
Frozen 2 (11/28/2019)
Ford v. Ferrari (11/23/2019)
Jojo Rabbit (11/11/2019)
Downton Abbey (9/21/2019)
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (9/1/2019)
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (7/28/2019)
Spider-Man: Far from Home (7/4/2019)
Yesterday (6/29/2019)
Aladdin (6/22/2019)
Tolkien (5/18/2019)
Avengers: Endgame (5/11/2019) - rewatch
Avengers: Endgame (4/27/2019)
The Favorite (1/5/2019)
The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies - DVD (1/6/2019) - rewatch
Captain Marvel (3/10/2019)
Topsy Turvy - DVD (4/2019) - rewatch
Shazam! (4/13/2019)

Waking Sleeping Beauty - Disney+ (12/31/2019)
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - Disney+(12/30/2019) - rewatch
Art of Imagineering, eps 1–6 - Disney+(12/30/2019)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (12/29/2019) - rewatch
Great News, Seasons 1–2 (12/28/2019)
Star Wars: A New Hope (12/25/2019) - rewatch
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Season 3- Amazon (12/10/2019)
Home for Christmas, 6 episodes - Netflix (12/9/2019)
Tucker: the Man and His Dream - Amazon (12/8/2019) - rewatch
Kim’s Convenience, Season 3 - Netflix(12/6/2019)
Too Big to Fail - Amazon (11/30/2019)
Chris Claremont's X-Men - Amazon (11/29/2019)
The Mandalorian - Disney+ (11/25/2019)
Star Wars, Empire of Dreams - Amazon (11/24/2019)
The Crown, Season 3 - Netflix(11/23/2019)
The Real Rob, Season 2 - Netflix (11/16/2019)
Living with Yourself, Season 1 (5 eps) - Netflix (11/11/2019)
GLOW, Season 3 – Netflix (11/11/2019)
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Season 2 - Amazon (11/2019)
Dolemite is My Name – Netflix (11/3/2019)
Modern Love, Season 1 (5 eps) - Amazon (10/2019)
Ghost World - Amazon Prime (10/2019) - rewatch
Victoria, Season 3 - Amazon Prime (09/2019)
Inglourious Basterds - Netflix (9/7/19) - rewatch
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz - Netflix (9/2/2019)
Pirate Radio - Amazon (9/2/2019) - rewatch
Stalag 17 - Amazon (9/1/2019) - rewatch
This Beautiful Fantastic - Amazon (9/1//2019)
The Bookshop - Amazon (8/31/2019)
Jim Gaffigan - Amazon (8/2019)
Funeral in Berlin - Amazon (8/2019)
Richard Jeni: A Big Steaming Pile Of Me - Amazon (8/2019) - rewatch
Force 10 from Navarone - Amazon (8/2019) - rewatch
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee - 2019 Season - Netflix (8/2019)
Nowhere Boy - Netflix (8/15/2019) - rewatch
Four Weddings and a Funeral - Netflix (8/3/2019) - rewatch
Spotlight - Amazon (7/2019) - rewatch
Marshall - Amazon Prime (7/2019)
Damned United - Amazon (7/2019) - rewatch
The Iron Lady - Netflix (7/25/2019)
Good Night, and Good Luck - Netflix (7/25/2019) - rewatch
In a World - Amazon Prime (6/2019)
San Pietro - Netflix (6/29/2019)
Always Be My Maybe - Netflix (6/16/2019)
Bathtubs Over Broadway - Netflix (5/23/2019)
John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky - Netflix (5/11/2019)
The Highwaymen - Netflix (4/12/2019)
Unicorn Store - Netflx (4/11/2019)
Kim's Convenience: Season 3: eps 1-2 - Netflix (4/7/2019)
Arrested Development: Season 5 - eps 1-5 - Netflix (4/6/3019)
Bottle Shock - Amazon (4/5/2019) - rewatch
Arrested Development: Season 4 Remix - Netflix (3/22/3019)
Richard Jeni: Platypus Man (03/2019) - rewatch
Music and Lyrics - Netflix (3/3/2019) - rewatch
Saving Mr. Banks - Netflix (3/2/2019) - rewatch
Beauty and the Beast - Netflix (3/2/2019) - rewatch
Movie Movie - Amazon (3/2019) - rewatch
Henry V - Amazon - (2/2019) - rewatch
Billy Elliot - Netflix (2/15/2019)
Lincoln - Netflix (2/15/2019) - rewatch
Schitt’s Creek, Season 1, Eps. 1–3 - Netflix (2/9/2019)
The Founder - Netflix (2/8/2019) - rewatch
Ray Romano: Right Here, Around the Corner - Netflix (2/6/2019)
Agatha and the Truth of Murder - Netflix (2/1/2019)
Poldark (eps. 1-8) - Amazon (1/28/2019)
Monty Python's Almost the Truth: The Lawyer's Cut, Eps. 1–6 - Netflix (1/20/2019)
FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened - Netflix (1/19/2019)
Eric Idle’s What About Dick? - Netflix (1/16/2019)
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug - Amazon (1/5//2019) - rewatch
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Amazon (1/2//2019) - rewatch

The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy by Kliph Nesteroff (12/29/2019)
Star Wars Memories: My Time In The (Death Star) Trenches by Craig Miller (12/24/2019)
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle (1/15/2019)
Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-earth by Ian Nathan (1/5/2019)

Exhibitions/Sports/Theater/Live Performance
Hollywood Babble On (12/31/2019)
OK Go - The Soraya (11/2/2019)
CCHS Football game and drumline battle (11/1/2019)
Band Competition (10/26/2019)
CCHS Football game and halftime show - Lawndale W 29-27 (10/11/2019)
CCHS Football game and halftime show - Palos Verdes W 55-52 (9/20/2019)
35th Anniversary Screening of Electric Dreams - Frida Cinema (9/7/2019)
The Ralph Report at the Improv (3/9/2019)
1776 – The Soraya (2/9/2019)
Cinderella (Peri and Syd) Music Center (2/6/2019)
Wicked (Peri and Syd) (1/26/2019)
CCHS Jazz Festival - Robert Frost Theater (1/26/2019)