Cut the cord and free your TV

cut_cable_TV_smallCable TV costs too much, wastes time with commercials and fails to offer channel packages I want. Who needs cable when we have the Internet?

So I cut the cord this week, which will save me money and focus my viewing on the content that I want to see. Without cable, I’m left with MLB.tv for baseball, Netflix for movies and TV, and an antenna on my windowsill to pick up over-the-air HD broadcasts.

I had enough of steep monthly cable bills when I didn’t even watch it that often — mostly for live sporting events or DVR’d movies that are also available through Netflix.

I was paying a promotional rate of $95 a month for 6 megabit Internet and AT&T’s U-verse 200 cable package, which didn’t even include MLB Network. Without the discount, full price for this package would have been about $135 a month, which seemed crazy to me. Now with 12 megabit Internet alone, my monthly bill will be about $51 each month.

For Internet content (Netflix at $8/month and MLB.tv at $50 for the remainder of the season), I use a Roku media player so I can watch shows on my TV. I’m also considering Hulu Plus ($8/month), but I’m not sure I need it.

For network and local channels, the over-the-air antenna ($10-$20) might seem old-fashioned, but the picture is fantastic and I don’t have to pay for the content.

I’ll miss out on some college football games under this setup because I won’t get ESPN and other sports channels. But I can instead see games over the air, at friends’ houses or sports bars. Even if I pay for food and drink at a restaurant while watching a game, I’ll still be spending less money.

Saving money may have been the primary reason for getting rid of cable, but it wasn’t the only one. I now have the freedom to choose the channels I want and watch them on demand.

How to avoid MLB.tv blackouts

Unblock-UsBaseball blackouts, be gone!

A service called Unblock-Us allows customers to get around MLB.tv’s blackouts of local games, which have long been an obstacle for fans who want to pay for online or TV viewing of their home teams but can’t.

MLB.tv allows viewers to watch any baseball game, with the catch that you can’t watch your team within its coverage area. This restriction limits the promise of MLB.tv, rendering it useless to fans who live in the same cities as their favorite teams.

MLB.tv

Unblock-Us avoids blackouts by routing an MLB.tv subscriber’s Internet connection through remote servers, making it appear that the subscriber is located outside of the blackout area. It works on desktop computers as well as media players such as Roku and Apple TV.

Being able to watch baseball through the Internet instead of on cable TV is a major benefit to fans who want to avoid paying for cable, watch game replays, view games across the league or listen to broadcasters different from those in their home market. In the Atlanta area, being able to switch to the visiting team’s broadcast is a great relief from the Braves’ regular crew in the booth.

Setup of Unblock-Us should be easy for most users. I had a harder time setting it up because of how my Internet service provider wired my home. A previous post titled “Make AT&T Uverse i38HG access point behave” explains how to address the same technical problem I had.

Fortunately, Unblock-Us comes with a seven-day free trial, and it costs $4.99 per month afterward. Unlike some VPN or proxy services, Unblock-Us does have any monthly data usage limits or require additional software.

I was surprised I hadn’t heard of Unblock-Us before now. If more baseball fans knew about it, they’d swarm to this kind of solution and MLB.tv would profit from new subscriptions.

Make AT&T Uverse i38HG access point behave

i38HGWhen AT&T hooks up residential Uverse Internet, it sometimes puts the actual router in a box outside the house, and the box inside the house is just an access point. This can prove problematic to customers who want to install their own routers for purposes such as setting up Unblock-Us.

Because the AT&T Uverse 2Wire i38HG access point and its i3812v router provide only limited settings options at their 192.168.1.254 address, a third-party router may be required. Unlike other home Internet configurations that allow customers to plug their wall cable directly into a router, the AT&T router’s outside-the-home location makes it difficult for customers to use their own routers to manage Internet traffic.

This post will explain how to make the i38HG access point and i3812v router behave more like they’re in bridged mode.

The best way to do so is to follow the instructions found here:

1. Set your router’s WAN interface to get an IP address via DHCP.  This is required at first so that the 2Wire recognizes your router. (On my router, it was configured to get IP addresses via DHCP by default, so I didn’t have to change any settings.)

2. Plug your router’s WAN interface to one of the 2Wire’s LAN interfaces. (The WAN interface is the one that’s labeled “Internet” on some routers.)

3. Restart your router, let it get an IP address via DHCP.

4. Log into the 2Wire router’s interface (by visiting 192.168.1.254 in your browser).  Go to Settings -> Firewall -> Applications, Pinholes, and DMZ

5. Select your router under section (1). (Select your router by finding its MAC address. On a Linksys router, find your MAC address by navigating to 192.168.1.1 in a new browser window, clicking on “Setup” and then “MAC Address Clone.” A MAC address may also be found by looking at the label on the bottom of the router.)

6. Click the DMZPlus button under section (2).

7. Click the Save button.

8. Restart your router, when it gets an address via DHCP again, it will be the public outside IP address.  At this point, you can leave your router in DHCP mode (make sure the firewall on your router allows the DHCP renewal packets, which will occur every 10 minutes), or you can change your router’s IP address assignment on the WAN interface to static, and use the same settings it received via DHCP.

9. On the 2Wire router, go to Settings -> Firewall -> Advanced Configuration

10. Uncheck the following: Stealth Mode, Block Ping, Strict UDP Session Control.

11. Check everything under Outbound Protocol Control except NetBIOS.

12. Uncheck NetBIOS under Inbound Protocol Control.

13. Uncheck all the Attack Detection checkboxes (7 of them).

14. Click Save.

That should do it. Your router will now handle your Internet traffic and settings after it passes through your AT&T equipment largely uninterrupted. For wireless access, connect to your new router instead of the 2Wire access point. I took the extra step of turning off wireless in the 2Wire’s settings, but I’m not sure whether that’s necessary.