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Top 5 products for cord cutters at CES

Houston Chronicle

Top 5 products for cord cutters at CES

If CES 2016 is any indication, the future is only looking brighter for cord cutters. While 2015 brought loads of new streaming options for those looking to ditch cable, sorting through all the options and finding content became quite the difficult task. Look for that to change in 2016.

The top cord-cutting products at CES 2016 centered primarily on one main thing: making cord cutting as easy as possible. In other words, aggregating content, making it easier to find and search what you want. The goal is cutting down on the moving parts of cord cutting and creating a seamless user experience.

Cord cutting is only going to get easier in 2016. Let’s take a look at the top products that will help.

TCL’s 55 inch 4K Roku TV

I have a confession to make. I don’t like smart TVs. In general, they’re buggy and offer very little flexibility. Loading apps often takes forever, and your choices for apps are limited. That being said, I understand what makes them attractive. Taking away the need for a set top box makes the cord cutting process much easier. It’s one less piece to the puzzle, as everything is on the TV in one convenient interface.

TCL’s new 4K Roku TV fixes all my smart TV gripes. It has all the simplicity and speed we’ve come to expect from Roku’s line of streaming players (which happens to be my go-to brand of set-top box). You also have access to the 2,000-plus apps from the Roku channel store, making your home screen quite customizable.

On top of that, it displays your list of inputs above all your channels on the home screen, and allows you to name each. This does away with the “wait, what do I have plugged into HDMI 3?” It also fixes a common gripe for new cord cutters, which is the annoyance of flipping through inputs trying to navigate between over-the-air (OTA) television and streaming services.

And finally, 4K is still new enough that it’s difficult to find content. Netflix is rapidly increasing its 4K offerings, Amazon has some, and there’s a little spread across other streaming channels but it requires some rummaging to find it all.Thankfully, the new TCL Roku TV offers 4K Spotlight, a section that automatically pulls together all available 4K content for you across different streaming services, so there’s no need to get frustrated digging to find those 4K gems.

When it comes time to get a new TV, this is the one I’ll be purchasing.

Over-the-Air DVRs

One of the most common questions I receive is about DVRs, which is why I put together this DVR guide awhile back. But CES 2016 has shown that DVR options are only getting better. Here’s a quick overview  of the OTA DVRs on display at CES:

  • TabloTablo has been around for awhile, but they were at CES showing off their new Apple TV and LG webOS-powered Smart TV apps.
  • TiVo Bolt — The newest offering from TiVo can function as a cable or cord cutting DVR. The Bolt’s interface is sleek, but only works for one TV and doesn’t support Sling TV. So if you’re a cord cutter looking to watch live sports like NBA on TNT, this won’t do it for you.
  • Magnavox — Magnavox is releasing 3 OTA DVRs that made a lot of noise at CES. Each comes with a no-fee live guide, Wi-Fi, and more.
  • Channel Master DVR+ — Channel Master’s big news at CES was their new deal with Sling TV. While the DVR+ has had a reputation for being low on apps, the addition of Sling TV gives users the ability to get a wide array of linear, live tv content.

Sling TV

While Sling TV didn’t announce some of the major updates many of us were hoping for (DVR function, multiple streams, etc.) they did unveil a completely overhauled interface. The new user interface is designed to get away from the feel of traditional cable and create a more personalized experience for viewers.

Interestingly enough, in one talk I sat in on with Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch, he discussed how much on-demand content users are watching on Sling TV, as opposed to live TV. This is evident in the new interface, which seeks to blend the live TV and video-on-demand (VOD) experience. The change makes VOD content much easier to discover, which fixes a common gripe I’d hear about the Sling TV product (on-demand content used to be buried and extremely difficult to navigate, many people didn’t even know there’s select on-demand content for channels like AMC).

The new interface includes a screen called “MY TV.” The object is to bring your favorite content to you in one screen, so you don’t have to dig. The screen pulls together favorites, recommended, and trending content. And perhaps most notably, it offers a “continue watching” feature that lets you get right back where you were in whatever programs you were watching.

Sling TV also announced ESPN3 will join ESPN and ESPN2 to their Best of Live TV package. No more need to log-in to the WatchESPN app to gain access to all the ESPN3 content. It will now be integrated right into the guide. That means way more access to live and on-demand sports for viewers (this is especially handy for viewing sporting events broadcast on ABC, as ESPN3 simulcasts them)

VIDGO

Could Sling TV be getting a legitimate competitor in the live streaming space? That’s what the folks at VIDGO are suggesting. The new service was announced at CES, and while they’re still keeping a lot of the details under wraps, the little we do know is very compelling.

Like Sling TV (and the less accessible PlayStation Vue), VIDGO promises to offer a skinny bundles of live channels streaming directly to all your devices. What makes VIDGO interesting is they hope to offer both cable and local channels in their platform. The latter is something nobody else has been able to fully accomplish to date. Negotiating deals for streaming rights with local market stations and their affiliates across the country is an enormous undertaking, but if VIDGO is able to get it done, their service could be truly groundbreaking.

So far, VIDGO hasn’t announced exactly which channels they plan to offer, only saying that programming will include “premium, sports, movies, music, local and international content.” The service is set to launch in 15 markets in the first half of 2016 with full coverage across the U.S. by the end of the year. No word if Houston will be one of the initial markets to get VIDGO.

Check out the VIDGO press release for more details.

Select TV

FreeCast unveiled its new set top box that they claim will “revolutionize the online pay TV industry.” The company behind Rabbit TV hopes their new streaming box will compete with the likes of Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV.

Like Rabbit TV, the new streaming device will aggregate a ton of free online video content, but additionally, users will be able to enjoy all of their other OTT services, like Netflix, Hulu and the other usual suspects. FreeCast says their device will give access to more than 350,000 TV episodes, 200,000 movies, 1,000 web channels, local over-the-air networks, live events and concerts, tens of thousands of streaming radio stations, games, and more.

One of the things that makes Select TV different from other streaming players is it offers an advanced DVR, something you can’t get with Roku, Apple TV and the others. It also includes features like screen casting, multiplayer gaming and even word processing and email capabilities powered by Microsoft Office. William Mobley, FreeCast CEO, said, “It’s beyond a simple app manager or set top box, It’s a full PC running Windows 10, so it really takes the entertainment lifestyle experience to the next level.”

CES 2016 has shown that cord cutting is here to stay. So if you’re looking to save money by ditching cable, there’s no better time than now!

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Kevin Speedy

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