Five Surprising Things Modern TVs Can Do

Manufacturers are always looking for new features to add to their TVs. I recently got a new 2021 Samsung 55" Q60T QLED TV to replace my thirteen-year-old Sony LCD TV (which is still going strong, by the way).

I was blown away at some of the features Samsung packed into it. Here are some surprising things that my Samsung (and many other manufacturer's modern TVs) can do.

1. Get more broadcast TV channels (using your antenna)

The first thing I did when I got my new TV set up was to see how many broadcast TV channels it could pick up compared to my old Sony when using my indoor antenna. To my surprise, it got more channels than my Sony, which previously had the best reception out of the tuners I had tested. After scanning four times each, my Sony averaged 119 channels while my new Samsung averaged 127 channels.

Sony Bravia LCD TV channel scan
Sony Bravia LCD TV channel scan
Samsung Q60T channel scan
Samsung Q60T channel scan

And more importantly, the marginal stations were more solid and watchable on my new Samsung than my old Sony.

I hadn't expected TV manufacturers to put much effort into improving broadcast TV tuners. I figured that they had already maxed out in reception quality, or that getting more broadcast channels wasn't a super high priority with TV manufacturers. I'm glad I was wrong!

This is actually great news for folks who are using an antenna to watch TV but have some marginal stations. A quality new TV might bring those in better than your old TV.

2. Mirror an iPhone screen (Airplay)

Samsung and Apple are huge competitors in mobile phones, so I was shocked to find out that my Samsung TV could do Airplay, that is, mirror my iPhone's screen to my TV. This is a killer feature, in my opinion.

Mirroring my iPhone's screen to my Samsung TV - no external Apple TV or Roku box required!

I use this to stream videos from my workout app to my TV. But, it's great for streaming almost any content that you can get on your phone.

Samsung is not the only brand that has TVs with AirPlay. Some Sony, LG, Vizio, Insignia, and Roku TVs also feature Airplay.

3. Integrate streaming channels with broadcast/cable TV channels

In the Samsung channel guide, when go past the last cable or broadcast TV channel, you'll go into the free streaming channels, which look just like regular TV channels. There's no real distinction between cable/broadcast channels and Internet streaming channels.

Samsung channel guide showing broadcast TV channels along with streaming channels
Samsung channel guide showing broadcast TV channels along with streaming channels

The above screenshot of the channel guide shows that once you get past the broadcast channels, you move seamlessly into "Samsung TV Plus" free streaming channels.

Another cool feature is that the TV will remember your place in a streaming app after you turn off the TV. So let's say you turn off the TV in the middle of a YouTube video. When you turn it on again, it will resume at the point in the video when you turned the TV off.

So streaming channels are given the same status as regular channels!

4. Obey voice commands using Alexa or Google Assistant

I was surprised to see both Alexa and Google Assistant integration on my Samsung TV. I thought that Amazon or Google would have insisted upon exclusive rights so that the TV would have one or the other but not both!

Samsung supports Bixby, Amazon Alex, and Google Assistant!

Samsung also supports Bixby, their proprietary voice assistant, but that isn't so surprising.

Other TV manufacturers also support Alexa and Google Assistant to varying degrees on some of their TV models.

5. Browse the web with keyboard and mouse

The Samsung TV has a full-on web browser. If you connect a keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth, you basically have a Chromebook with a massive screen hanging on your wall if you add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. This might seem of dubious value, but there are many households that do not have a desktop computer these days. A TV with a web browser could allow them to have a big screen when browsing online.

Samsung TV web browser
Samsung TV web browser

Some smart TVs made by Sony, LG, and other manufacturers also have web browsers built-in.

The Downside

Most of these items have been good surprises but here's one negative. With all of these features, the TV becomes a much more complex device; a computer connected to the Internet basically. So actually it shouldn't be that surprising that it's harder to set up and use than an older "dumb" TV.

This was really driven home to me during the setup process, where I had to go through lots of menu items, set up Wi-Fi, create an account on Samsung (to access all of the TV's features), update software, and so on. I also had a problem getting broadcast channels to work. Finally, I rebooted and that solved it. I was wondering how non-techy people would find this process.

The Samsung remote is much more minimalistic than old TV remotes. Buttons serve multiple functions and you use direction keys to cursor around on the screen. It actually does make sense but some folks might find it intimidating at first.

Samsung Q60 Remote Control
Samsung Q60 Remote Control (from 2021)

Conclusion

If you're happy with your current TV, I wouldn't upgrade for any of these features alone. Many of these you can get by purchasing a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or other set-top box. But, if you're looking for a new TV from a trusted brand and that has great picture quality, I'd recommend the Samsung Q60T series (also sold as the Q6D in big box stores).

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Should You Buy a New TV in 2021?

It seems like TVs are getting new features, better picture quality, and better specs every other week. There's 4K and now 8K resolution.  And 60Hz up to 120Hz refresh rates.  Not to mention QLED and OLED screens. And, they integrate with streaming apps and Alexa or Google Assistant. You might wonder if it's worth replacing your old TV to get these features, given that new flat-screen TVs seem like a great bargain.

I recently purchased a new 55" Samsung QLED TV (QN5Q60T) to replace my 13-year-old 46" Sony LCD TV. My Sony still worked great, but I gave it to my Mom to replace her 14-year-old LG which had finally started to die.

While I was initially pretty excited about my new TV, after a few months the excitement wore off and I have to say that aside from the larger size, the new TV doesn't really increase my enjoyment of watching TV that much. The bottom line is that if you're happy with your current TV, you probably shouldn't upgrade just for the sake of getting some new "feature of the week" or the latest type of display technology.

Let me first discuss some cases where you probably should upgrade your TV though.

When You Should Get a New TV

These are some cases when I believe you should replace your current TV if you are able:

1. You have a tube TV

The difference in picture quality between a tube TV and a modern flat-screen high-definition TV is so great that you should upgrade. The only exception to this, I would say, is if you are very technically challenged and hate learning how to use new gadgets. Then sticking with what you have might be best.

New TVs also use less energy than tube TVs, although if you get a massively bigger screen that might not be the case.

2. Your current TV doesn't have a built-in tuner and you want to watch broadcast TV

If you're using a separate converter box to pick up broadcast TV with an antenna, you can ditch that and plug your antenna straight into the majority of new TVs (except for some Vizio TVs which are sold as "displays"). You can then ditch the separate remote control.

I did some testing and my new Samsung tuner picks up more channels than my old Sony did!

3. Your current TV screen is too small

A bigger screen definitely makes a difference in your viewing experience, so if your current TV screen is too small, I believe that is a good reason to upgrade to a bigger one.

Modern TVs are ridiculously cheap now for a given screen size compared to the past. Thirteen years ago, I paid $1600 for my 46" Sony LCD TV.  My parents paid $2000 for their 42" LG LCD fourteen years ago. In 2021, I paid about $700 for a really nice 55" Samsung QLED TV.  You can get 55" TVs with regular LED screens for significantly less!

Going from a 42" or 46" TV to a 65" TV is a huge difference and can really improve your viewing experience.

4. Your current TV is broken in some way

Of course, if your current TV is broken in some way, you should replace it. My Mom's 14-year old LG LCD TV had a problem where it would take five minutes to warm up after turning it on before the picture and sound appeared. It also had an annoying hiss in the audio that seemed to be getting louder over time. It was time to upgrade.

5. You are a videophile

If you are a gear enthusiast who lusts after the latest features and specs, you're probably not looking for my permission to purchase a new TV!

When You Shouldn't Get a New TV

Here are some reasons you might be better off saving your money and keeping your existing TV

1. If your screen size is already big enough

If you have an LCD TV, you might want to hold on to it rather than upgrade to get the latest over-hyped screen technology.

Modern LED and OLED screens have better "dynamic range", meaning the black areas of the screen are blacker than on an LCD. If you watch an LCD TV next to an LED, the effect is noticeable, especially on an OLED TV. But when you're watching your favorite movie, the "blacker blacks" don't really make a difference.

After a few months of owning my new Samsung QLED TV, I appreciate the increased screen size, but the picture quality honestly doesn't make me enjoy shows any more than I did with my old LCD screen.

My new TV has 4K resolution, while my old LCD was "just" 1080p.  The images on my new TV look great.  But then again, they looked pretty awesome at 1080p as well. When I'm viewing my TV from my couch, I can't really notice the difference. And there's still a lot of content out there that is not 4K.

Definitely do not pay for an 8K TV at this point unless you really have money to burn. There's not that much 8K content out there yet.

While I spent a bit extra to get a higher-quality QLED display (about $700), I'm so glad I didn't spend twice that or even $2000 for a "better" quality screen at the same size. It just isn't worth it.

2. If you're not "tech-savvy"

Setting up a new TV these days resembles setting up a computer, with software updates, Wi-Fi connections, account creations, and tons of menus to go through.

Even I had some difficulty during the setup process to get my Samsung to scan for broadcast TV stations. After struggling with it for a while, the solution was to "re-boot" my TV and everything was fine after that. But you get the idea - it sounds like something you'd have to do on a computer.

If you are good with gadgets, this is not a problem. But, if you don't know how to set up a new device on your Wi-Fi network, you might need to get help to set up a new TV. I definitely would need to help my mom set up a smart TV, for example.

Because my new Samsung is so tightly integrated with the Internet and has so many features, the user interface is more complex than on TVs from, say 2010. The main thing is that the remote is now a 4-way keypad and you basically cursor around the screen to do things. If you're comfortable with that, it's fine, but it could be a turnoff for users who are accustomed to simply using the channel up and down buttons.

The new Samsung remote control has fewer buttons and looks simpler than my old Sony remote but it belies a lot of hidden complexity.

Sony Bravia KDL-46V4100 remote control
Sony Bravia KDL-46V4100 remote control (from 2008)
Samsung Q60 Remote Control
Samsung Q60 Remote Control (from 2021)

For example, the volume "button" is actually more like a two-direction joystick. Press it down to mute. Push it forward to raise the volume, and pull it back to lower. There are no longer dedicated buttons for volume up and down. Similarly, the channel button has three degrees of motion: press down for the guide, push forward to increment the channel, and back to decrement the channel.

A lot of other functionality requires cursoring around the screen and highlighting menu items.

Samsung Q60 Channel Guide
Samsung Q60 Channel Guide showing hidden remote features in upper right

There are still more hidden features that you access by pressing and holding buttons.

All of this is fine for most users but could be problematic for those who don't have great motor control or hand-eye coordination, such as the elderly.

3. If your current TV is reliable

New TVs are incredibly inexpensive these days but there may be a reason. There are tons of stories online of today's cheap TVs going bad after just a few years, especially the lesser-known brands. My old 46" Sony LCD TV, on the other hand, is still going strong after thirteen years!

If you do want to purchase a new TV, Consumer Reports says that Samsung, Sony, and LG brand TVs have the best reliability.

4. If you're concerned about privacy

While smart TVs don't have cameras, they could send back information about what shows you are watching. Furthermore, in order to get access to all of the features, I had to create an account with Samsung, giving my name and email address.

Of course, if you're really concerned about privacy you could choose to not register your TV online or not connect it to the Internet at all and just use your external Roku (or another box) for your streaming channels.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has helped you decide whether you should buy a new TV or not. At first, the low cost and dazzling features of new TVs might tempt you to want to replace your current TV. But, if you have a modern flat-screen TV that is working well and large enough for your room, then you might just want to hold on to it until it dies of natural causes, especially if you are not tech-savvy and don't want to learn how to use a new device.

If You're Spending More Than $20/Month on Your Mobile Phone Plan, You're Paying Too Much

I cut my cell phone bill by almost 70% and got a plan on the same network with more data!

On this site, I usually write about ways to get free and cheap TV without paying for cable or satellite. But today I want to talk about how to save money on the other big subscription cost in your life: your cell phone bill.

Are you paying $50, $60, or $70 a month on your mobile phone plan? You might be paying way more than you need to!

After years of spending $55/month on what I thought was a great cell phone deal from T-Mobile, I'm now paying $15/month for unlimited talk and text and 4GB of data (2GB more than I had before) on the same T-Mobile network! That's a savings of $480 per year!

Is This For Real?

In the old days, you'd get your cell phone plan from one of the Big Four: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile. This is now the big Three since Sprint and T-Mobile have merged.

Then came the MVNOs, or Mobile Virtual Network Operators. These carriers lease cell phone infrastructure from the Big Three or regional carriers like U.S. Cellular. In other words, they don't have their own cell phone towers.

When low-cost carriers like Metro PCS started offering cell phone plans at a fraction of the cost of the major brands, I thought they were scams. Or perhaps they had shoddy service, poor coverage, or some other catch. "How else could these insanely cheap rates be possible?", I thought. "My phone service is way too important to skimp on!"

Well, after switching myself and my mom to low-cost carriers, I can attest that they are totally legit! We have not noticed any difference in reliability or coverage compared to Sprint or T-Mobile.

I'm now hitting myself over the head when I think about how much money we could have saved over the years!

Why These Carriers Are Cheaper

Since these low-cost carriers are renting bandwidth from the Big Three, you would think their costs would be just as much or higher. But, the MVNOs costs are lower because of cell phone tower prioritization. In a crowded area, an MVNO user might experience lower speeds than a primary customer of one of the Big Three. That might sound scary, but I haven't noticed a difference in coverage since switching.

MVNOs also have lower marketing costs. You might not have heard of Mint Mobile or Republic Wireless, but everyone has seen TV commercials for Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

In addition, MVNOs generally have fewer retail locations or are online-only. That saves a ton of money.

MVNOs may not offer some features and perks like international roaming, free anti-spam app, or phone financing. Some plans don't offer mobile hotspot.

Finally, for a lot of these low-cost carriers, you have to pre-pay for up to a year at a time, to get their lowest rates.

These issues may or may not be important to you, so research before choosing. For me, most of these are not show-stoppers, and I'm super happy with the low-cost carriers that I have had experience with.

The Carrier I Chose

There dozens of MVNOs out there. I did some research and chose Mint Mobile because they offered an insane $15/month plan with 4GB of data ( 2GB more data than my $55/month plan from T-Mobile). You can get 10GB of data on their $20/month plan. Both require one-year pre-payment to get these rates, although there was a three-month introductory special when I signed up. They also have an unlimited data plan for $30/month with one-year pre-payment.

Mint Mobile also has great reviews online. And yes, one of the owners of Mint Mobile is actor Ryan Reynolds:

Mint Mobile also includes mobile hotspot capability. I don't use it very often, but it comes in handy in a pinch.

I pre-paid for three months in advance. In about three days I received a FedEx envelope containing my new SIM card.

Before switching though, I had to unlock my phone by calling up T-Mobile. They were happy to do it and didn't even ask why. But, I had to wait about four days for it to complete.

Will My Phone Work with Mint?

Mint uses the T-Mobile GSM network, so if you have T-Mobile now, your phone will work with Mint as long as it is unlocked.

AT&T also uses GSM, so those phones should work when unlocked.

Verizon and Sprint use a different system, CDMA. However, most modern iPhones have both GSM and CDMA chips in them.

If you want to be sure, use Mint Mobile's website and enter your phone's model.

The Activation Process

I'll admit, I was kind of nervous during the activation process. I rely on my phone for business, and I don't have a backup landline. If Mint Mobile was shoddy, it would be bad. Plus, they have no physical stores, so if something went wrong with my phone during the install, I could be left with a brick!

The installation requires swapping a SIM card, although some recent phones like the iPhone X use an e-SIM that doesn't require swapping. Mint Mobile provides a tool to do this. You slide out the old one, then insert the new one.

On Mint Mobile's website, you complete the activation by carefully entering a number from your SIM and your current carrier's account number and passcode. You definitely don't want to screw this up.

Mint Mobile says that after that, it could take up to a day for your service to be switched over, but for me, it was nearly instantaneous! I got an email from T-Mobile saying my plan had been canceled within minutes.

I started testing out Mint. I made a test call, then tested data as I walked the dog around our neighborhood. So far so good!

The only problem I had was that the next day, my Mac and iWatch were not receiving text messages. I solved that by simply logging out and back into Messages on my phone. Fixed! My wife had a similar problem that was solved by logging out of iCloud on her phone and logging back in.

Now I'm loving my Mint Mobile service and have not had any problems since! My only regret is not switching sooner!

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

If You Need Physical Stores

Although my Mint Mobile activation went smoothly, I would not recommend the process for folks (like my mom) who are not comfortable swapping a SIM card from their phone or entering long strings of numbers that need to be accurate.

Luckily, there are other low-cost carriers that have physical stores and staff who are happy to help. If you want a low-cost carrier with physical stores, I would recommend Metro by T-Mobile, also very highly rated online.

Conclusion

So, I'm here to say that these low-cost carriers are not scams! I have experience now with Mint Mobile and Metro, and both have been great!

There are caveats though. If you're a heavy phone user, like a traveling salesman, and you need the ultimate in reliability and plenty of physical stores in lots of locations, then these low-cost carriers might not be right for you. But for most people, these carriers are great, and can save you a ton of money! - Brian

Use AirPlay on Roku to Mirror Your iPhone, iPad, or Mac Screen on Your TV

Most Roku devices now support AirPlay. This lets you view your iPhone, iPad, or Mac screen on your Roku-connected TV screen, opening up a whole new world of content viewing possibilities. It's a real game-changer and in my mind, it makes the Apple TV box kind of pointless.

With AirPlay screen mirroring, you can view a website on your TV, for example. You can view an iOS app on your TV, even when there is no Roku app for it. I use it to view my workout videos from my iPhone to my TV.

Which Rokus Can Do AirPlay?

Before we proceed any further, here are the Roku models that for sure can do AirPlay mirroring:

Roku expanded the models that can do AirPlay with their OS 10. Here's how they describe the compatibility:

Most Roku devices will support Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit with the exception of Roku TV model numbers beginning with "6" (6XXXX), "5" (5XXXX), and Roku player model numbers 2700X, 2710X, 2720X, 3500X, 3700X, 3710X, and 4400X.

If you're not sure if your model can do it, update your Roku's software to the latest version, then go to Settings. Check to see if you have "Apple AirPlay and Homekit", and see if you can turn it on.

Setup

Make sure your Roku and iOS or Mac device are on the same Wi-Fi network. Also, make sure your iOS or Mac OS are up-to-date. Finally, make sure your Roku OS is at least version 10.

How to Use AirPlay on iPhone

On your iPhone, swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen to reveal the Control Center and tap on "Screen Mirroring".

Apple Control Center showing Screen Mirroring (AirPlay)
Apple Control Center showing Screen Mirroring (AirPlay)

Your Roku device should appear. Tap on it:

Screen Mirroring (AirPlay) screen on Control Panel
Screen Mirroring (AirPlay) screen on Control Panel

The first time you do this, you'll need to enter a 4-digit code from your Roku screen. After that is done, you should see your iPhone's screen on your TV!

AirPlay Passcode
AirPlay Passcode on TV Screen

How to Use AirPlay on iPad

On your iPad, swipe down from the upper right corner to reveal the Control Center, then click on Screen Mirroring and follow the same steps as above.

Airplay on iPad

How to Use AirPlay on Mac

On Macs with OS Catalina or older, there will be an Airplay icon in the top menu bar when an Airplay device is detected. Simply click that icon.

On Macs running Big Sur or newer, that icon is nowhere to be found! Instead, click the Control Center icon in the top menu bar, then click Screen Mirroring like you would on an iPhone or iPad.

How to enable Airplay on a Mac running Big Sur or newer
How to enable Airplay on a Mac running Big Sur or newer

In both cases, you will need to enter a 4-digit code from your screen on your Mac.

Debugging

A few caveats. One time when I did this it took a while (like 30 seconds) for the Roku to show up. Be patient the first time.

Also, when you first start out, the reaction time might be really laggy. It might take seven or eight seconds for a change on your iOS screen to register on the Roku. This should improve and the latency should be under a second after a minute or so.

If Airplay is still not working, or the icon isn't showing up, make sure your devices are on the same Wi-Fi network. Some routers have both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks going on at the same time. You might need to set your Roku and your device to the same band network.

I found that AirPlay requires a solid Wi-Fi connection. You might need to move your router closer to your TV. Also, 2.4GHz Wi-Fi tends to have better range compared to 5GHz, so you might want to switch to that band if you have it.

Note that very old Macs and iPhones do not have Airplay capability.

Conclusion

I love AirPlay and I've packed away my Apple TV, since AirPlay was the only reason I was keeping it around. Now, my Roku Ultra is the only box connected to my TV! - Brian

Why a TV Antenna Might Be Your Best Friend During the Next Disaster

The easiest way to get live local news in real-time during disasters is often from broadcast TV news coverage.

A TV antenna might seem like an anachronism; something no longer needed, especially with the plethora of streaming services available today. But, in the past year or so, I've been so glad to have access to free broadcast TV through my antenna.

The reason is this: Broadcast TV is the most reliable medium for getting real-time news in times of crisis, surpassed only by a battery-powered radio (because that will work even if the power goes out).

Cable and Internet Infrastructure is Vulnerable

Cable and Internet service can be pretty flaky, even when there isn't a disaster happening. How often does your Internet go down even when everything is normal? During a natural disaster such as a severe storm, earthquake, or flood, the Internet infrastructure is that much more vulnerable. All it takes is for the cable or optic fiber to be cut somewhere along the way to your home for you to lose Internet access. Telephone/internet poles go down all of the time during large storms.

And I haven't even mentioned the possibility of a large-scale cyber attack bringing down the Internet, something that is definitely possible.

Therefore, I think it's a good idea for those who have strong TV signals in their area to have a TV antenna, which you can use to get the latest news, as well as important information from the government during disasters via the Emergency Alert System (formerly the Emergency Broadcast System).

I know that not everyone can get broadcast TV, unfortunately. Many folks have weak TV signals which are pretty flaky. But if you live in or near a large city, you probably can get free broadcast TV pretty reliably.

My Story

I live in Santa Monica, or basically, Los Angeles, CA.  Last year we had brush fires so close that ash fell from the sky. This year we had riots and looters blocks away from our home and then more fires.  Then there was the pandemic of course.

In all of those cases, we relied on free broadcast TV to get the latest local and national news in real-time. Live local TV coverage was key for keeping us immediately informed of the situation.

How to Set Up Your Antenna

So, as part of good disaster preparedness, I'd recommend first visiting the Station Finder to see if there are broadcast strong TV signals in your area. If there are, you can get a low-cost indoor antenna. Set it up to make sure you can receive local stations. The next time your cable or Internet goes out during a crisis, you'll be glad you have broadcast TV as a backup! - Brian

What To Do If You Lost TV Channels After Re-Scanning

You've probably heard by now that you're supposed to re-scan for TV channels early and often to get the most channels in your area, especially during the "FCC Re-Pack".

While that is generally true, there are some circumstances where you could actually lose channels after re-scanning. I've gotten lots of comments and emails from readers who've lost channels after scanning. And it finally happened to me too!

Here are two scenarios where you could actually lose TV channels after a re-scan.

  1. The reception conditions changed from when you originally scanned to now
  2. The station's RF channel changed, and your TV is still looking at the old channel

Let's examine the reasons and the solutions.

The Reception Conditions Have Changed

It's possible that the TV signal for the channel you lost was stronger when you originally scanned than it is now. There can be many reasons for this, including time of day, atmospheric conditions, electrical interference, or a weaker signal due to obstacle or lower transmitter power. 

1. Manually Add Missing Channels Back

Some TVs let you manually add channels. My old Sony would let you add channels manually but my new Samsung does not. Consult your TV's manual.

2. Move Your Antenna to a Better Location Temporarily and Scan

If your TV doesn't let you manually add channels, AND you are using an indoor antenna, you might want to try this trick:

Let's say you are using a flat antenna hanging on your wall. Open the nearest window, and hang your antenna outside, pointing towards the TV towers in your area, then run the scan. You may need a longer coax cable.

That's an easy way to temporarily give your TV the best possible reception during the scan. When done, bring your antenna back inside. Once your antenna is back to its normal location, you may not be able to tune all of the channels, but at least they will be in your TV's memory so you can experiment with your antenna position.

The Station's RF Channel Changed and Your TV Can't Find It

A totally different scenario happened to me with my old Sony Bravia TV from 2008. 

One day, I suddenly lost my local NBC station due to the "FCC Re-Pack". Fine. I re-scanned like you're supposed to. But then, I lost a whole bunch of other channels, including my local CBS and NBC stations. What happened??

Well, I went on the Station Finder and noticed that my local CBS station, KCBS normally on channel 2.1 on my TV, had moved and had an RF channel of 34. Well, I know that modern TVs have the ability to map a channel's physical RF channel to a different tuner channel on your TV to make it so the channel number you know and love never changes, even if the physical frequency changes.

So, theoretically, I should have been able to see KCBS on channel 2.1, but for the heck of it, I tried tuning to its physical RF channel, 31.1, and voila!!  KCBS was there!!

I actually talked to the head of engineering at KCBS and he told me that some older Sony TVs don't have the ability to map the RF channel to a different displayed channel. So, on my TV I need to now find KCBS on channel 31.1 instead of channel 2.1.

1. Find the Real RF Channel

To figure out if this is happening in your case, go to the Station Finder and enter your zip code. Click the call letters of the station you lost and look for the RF channel.

The FCC Station Finder showing the actual channel

Try tuning your TV to that channel plus .1 or .3. or other tenths in that channel. So in this example, the RF channel is 31, so you should try tuning to 31.1, 31.3, and so forth (the the tenths are more often odd numbers).

If you go back to the original channel for that station (in my case 2.1), it's possible that your TV will be able to "connect" the new channel to the old displayed channel.  In my case, that didn't work, but I'm happy to get CBS again, even if I have tune it at channel 31.1 instead of 2.1.

2. Update Your TV's Firmware

Another thing you can try is to update your TV's firmware (i.e., the software that runs inside your TV), especially if it is an older TV.

Check your TV manufacturer's website for any updates. Sometimes you can download these to a USB stick, then plug it into your TV to update it.

Try re-scanning after that.  You might get the channels back.  Or, if your channels came in at odd different channels (like mine did), they might get mapped back to the correct channels after the update.

Did This Work For You?

Let me know if any of these tips helped you get channels that you lost after your re-scan! If you found a different solution, let us know about it! - Brian

Thirty Things You Could Accomplish If You Gave Up TV for Lent

While discovering free and cheap ways to watch TV is a good thing, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In 2017, the average American spent almost four hours a day watching television!

That's a HUGE amount of time to spend staring at a TV screen! What could you accomplish with that time? When you look back on your life, will you wish you did something else with that time?

Giving it Up for Lent

This year, Lent runs from Wednesday, February 26th to Thursday, April 9th, 2020. That's 44 days x 4 hours = 176 hours that you could be doing something besides watching TV. Why not consider doing something else with that time?

I'm not necessarily talking about any religious reasons here. But, just like New Year's Day is a time for folks to commit to new resolutions, Lent might the ideal time for folks to give something up, because other people are doing it too.

Or, if giving up TV completely is too much for you, how about giving up only on weekdays?  Or, just on weekends?  Or, just give up one of your streaming services, like Netflix?

Some Things You Could Do Instead of Watching TV

Here are some things to do if you decide to give up TV during Lent:

  1. Volunteer for a cause that you believe in
  2. Read all of those books that you bought but haven't had a chance to read yet
  3. Start learning a new language
  4. Practice playing (or start learning) a musical instrument
  5. Get in shape (walk around the block, ride a bike, do yoga, lift weights, go to the gym)
  6. Catch up with your parents, siblings, cousins, other family, and friends
  7. Play with your kids or help them with their homework
  8. Start a side business or create a source of passive income!
  9. Do those household repairs that you've been putting off.
  10. Take partner dance lessons
  11. Start a blog
  12. Plan a dream vacation
  13. Go to a church (or synagogue) group
  14. De-clutter your home!
  15. Paint your walls an exciting new color
  16. Redecorate your home; re-arrange your furniture
  17. Sell your unused items on eBay and make some extra cash
  18. Take an evening adult education class at your local college
  19. Create art/crafts, or do scrapbooking
  20. Scan all of your old photos so they'll be saved for posterity
  21. Become a mentor 
  22. Do photography
  23. Attend Meetup.com groups
  24. Clean out your garage, tool shed, or storage unit
  25. Take a cooking class
  26. Join a local sports league (soccer, volleyball, hockey)
  27. Do your taxes
  28. Take an online course
  29. Create a video to share on YouTube; a how-to video or something educational, funny, or otherwise entertaining.
  30. Help someone you know who is lonely or in need. Bring them a meal, or just offer companionship.

I'm sure you have plenty of things that you can think of!

So, do you think you could give up TV for Lent? What would you like to accomplish during that time? Please comment below! - Brian

How to Eliminate TV Interference from Your Amazon Fire TV Stick

One of my readers told me that his Amazon Fire TV Stick was causing interference with his broadcast TV channels. When he unplugged the stick, his reception improved and his TV could receive more channels.

I did a quick test with my own Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (purchased in 2019) and didn't find any difference in my TV reception with on or completely unplugged.

However, when I researched online, I found a ton of other users in various forums complaining of TV interference caused by their Amazon Fire TV Sticks. They all said the interference went away when they unplugged the Stick.

The problem seems to be more common with Amazon Fire TV Sticks as opposed to other streaming boxes like Roku, Apple TV, etc. The earliest post on this problem that I could find was in 2011, continuing all the way up to 2019. Unfortunately, no one mentioned exactly which Stick model they had.

How to Test Your Stick

If you want to check for this problem, first unplug your Stick and check your TV reception, especially the flaky channels. Then, plug your Stick in and watch a program on it to make sure it is running, then switch back to antenna. Compare your TV reception to the first run. If there is a channel you lost after you plugged in your Stick, unplug it (or put it in sleep mode) and verify the channel comes back. If it does, there's a good chance your Fire TV Stick is causing interference.

Three Solutions

If you've confirmed that your Fire TV Stick is indeed causing interference with your TV reception, there are three solutions that folks have confirmed solve the problem (other than just not using your Stick).

1. Wrap It In Foil

Multiple sources on the forums plus my reader confirm that wrapping the Amazon Fire TV Stick in tinfoil solves the interference problem!

The foil acts as an electromagnetic shield around the Stick, preventing the worst interference from escaping.

Theoretically, a perfect shield would also prevent your wireless remote and Wi-Fi from working with the Stick. But, no one has reported that problem. If you do have problems with your remote not working or Wi-Fi not connecting after you wrap the Stick, try leaving some gaps in the foil.

Some folks are also concerned about trapping heat. Well, foil conducts a lot better than plastic, so as long as there isn't an air gap between the plastic case and the foil, I don't think heat will be a problem (the foil might even act as a heatsink of sorts). But, it's another thing to keep an eye out for.

2. Use a Long Male-to-Female HDMI Extender Cable

A less "hack-y" solution is to get a long HDMI extender cable (like six or ten feet) and use that to plug your Stick into your TV. That will allow you to place it far away from your antenna. You will to experiment with position until the interference goes away.

Folks in the forums have reported that this works as well, and there's less chance of causing problems with your Wi-Fi or remote with this method.

Here are some cables that should work well:

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

3. Put it To Sleep

The third solution is to put your Fire TV Stick into sleep mode every time you want to switch to broadcast TV. You can do this by pressing and holding the Home button on the remote. You'll see this screen on your Stick:

Amazon Fire TV Stick screen after holding the Home button for five seconds

Choose "Sleep" and your interference should go away.

Of course, this can be a pain to do every time you switch from your Stick to Broadcast TV, but it does work.

Conclusion

So there you have it, three ways to stop your Amazon Fire TV Stick from interfering with your TV reception. Did any of these work for you? Please comment below! - Brian

Review: The Mediasonic HOMEWORX Digital Converter Box HW130STB

If you have an old tube TV or a flat-screen that does not have a digital TV tuner, then the only way you can watch free broadcast channels on that TV is to get a digital converter box, or tuner box, as it is sometimes called.

You plug your TV antenna into the box, then you connect your box to your TV. It converts the signal either to an analog signal that your old TV can use, or to a digital HDMI signal that you can plug into a more modern HDTV.

Many of these boxes today have a USB port where you can plug in a USB drive or stick. You can then record broadcast TV shows for viewing later.

My Recommended Converter Box: The Mediasonic HOMEWORX HW130STB

There are many converter boxes on the market today with almost the same feature set. At just $30, the Mediasonic HOMEWORX HW130STB is one of the lower-cost units out there, but it has pretty much the same features as more expensive boxes.

Setup and Channel Search

I found the setup for the Mediasonic HOMEWORX box to be very easy. I never consulted the manual. I plugged in an antenna, plugged in power, then plugged it into my flat-screen Sony TV using an HDMI cable. Note that if you're using it with an old tube TV, you'd use the included analog cables instead.

Rear panel of the Mediasonic HOMEWORX converter box
Rear Panel

After turning on my TV and selecting the appropriate HDMI input, I got the setup screen prompting me to do a channel search:

Mediasonic HOMEWORX converter box setup screen
Mediasonic HOMEWORX converter box setup screen

I kicked off the channel search by pressing the big OK button on the remote and it only took the unit a few minutes to do a complete channel scan:

Found channels on the HOMEWORX converter box
Found channels on the HOMEWORX converter box

After that, I could start watching live broadcast TV. Pretty simple!

Tuner Quality

The unit found 140 channels in its scan. For comparison, my excellent Sony HDTV found 154 channels.

So, the tuner is not quite as good as my Sony, but the vast majority of the channels it didn't find were ones I wouldn't watch anyway, i.e., foreign language, etc. It found all of the major networks and major local channels in my area (Los Angeles).

So, the tuner quality was more than sufficient for me.

Picture Quality and Channel Surfing

I was surprised that such a cheap unit could have such good picture quality. It was basically indistinguishable from my Sony TV's picture quality! HD channels looked crisp and colorful.

The unit was also pretty quick when changing channels. Time to change channels was about the same as my Sony.

The Weak Link: The Remote Control

The one annoying thing I noticed was that you have to point the remote control right at the unit. If you're off by a bit, it won't register. It's not the end of the world, but it would take some getting used to.

The remote control for the Mediasonic HOMEWORX HW130STB
The remote control

If you read the reviews for other low-cost converter boxes, the remote control seems to be the weak link in most of them. Other units have problems with buttons triggering adjacent buttons, cheap feel, or like this one, the need to aim precisely.

If (or when) your remote breaks or gets lost, the good news is that the remote for this model is available separately on Amazon for only ten bucks. If you have the HW-150PVR, this is the remote on Amazon. Mediasonic also told me that their unit works with the Logitec Harmony remote control (now discontinued, but you may be able to find them on Amazon).

Setting Up a USB Drive or Stick

There's a USB port right on the front of the box where you can plug in a USB drive or flash stick. I chose the latter since I had a bunch laying around.

I plugged it in, and the unit immediately recognized it, but I couldn't get it to work at first. I went into the menus and realized that I had to initialize it first. After I did that, it worked fine.

Formatting a USB drive on the HOMEWORX converter box
Formatting a USB drive

Pausing and Recording Live TV

Even if you don't plan to use your converter box as a DVR, it might be nice to plug in a USB drive anyway so that you can pause live TV.

After I formatted the drive, I tried searching backward while watching live TV, but it wouldn't let me. I had to first pause to enter recording mode, then resume play. Then, it would let me rewind to the point at which I hit the pause button, or forward to the current time. Not the end of the world.

You can also just hit the record button to start a recording that you want to save. Super easy!

If you go into the menu system, you can find a page with your recordings. They are stored with somewhat cryptic file names but at least they contain the station call letters.

Page showing recording I made with the HOMEWORX converter box
Page showing recording I made

It took me a while to figure out how to replay my recording. The key is to look at the hints at the bottom of the screen which tell you which buttons to use on this page. I was able to select my recording and play it using this "legend".

File Format

The unit stores your recordings in .mts file format. You don't see this format a lot on computers, but it is used to store HD video on AVCHD and Blu-ray discs.

In spite of that, I was able to plug the USB stick into my Windows PC and play the .mts file recordings using Windows Media Player! Nice!!

If you Google around, you'll find plenty of software that can convert this format to more common computer formats like MOV, MP4, AVI, MPG, etc.

Scheduled Recordings (DVR Functionality)

The fact that is box can do any kind of recording at all is pretty amazing at this price point. There is also the capability to do scheduled recording. You set up these recordings on this page:

How to set up scheduled recordings on the HOMEWORX DVR
How to set up scheduled recordings

This is very reminiscent of how we used to set up recordings on old-school VCRs. But to my surprise, there is actually also a channel guide available if you press the EPG button! Press "OK" to record any show.

The Program Guide

Granted, it's not as flashy the channel guides on some of the more expensive DVRs out there like the Tablo, Channel Master Stream+, or the Amazon Fire TV Recast. Those are much easier set up recordings on, or even record whole seasons (however they require Internet access to display the guide). The Homeworx unit only shows one channel's shows at a time.

And note, you can't record one show while watching another since the unit only has one tuner.

But, as I mentioned, at this low price, this box is worth it just for the converter functionality. I see the DVR as a bonus that you may or may not use.

Signal Strength Meter

One thing this box does that my Sony TV doesn't is provide a signal strength meter.

Manual channel search page showing signal strength meter ("Quality") on the Mediasonic HOMEWORX converter box
Manual channel search page showing signal strength meter ("Quality")

This can be VERY useful if you're trying to fine-tune your antenna placement.

Summary

This is an amazingly low-cost box that lets you use a broadcast TV antenna with your older TV with a basic but functional DVR as a bonus!

My only beef is that the remote control is pretty cheap and you have to aim the remote precisely at the unit in order for it to trigger. This was annoying but not a show-stopper for me.

The picture quality and functionality of this one are great. If you need to find a converter box for your tube TV or older flat screen, check this one out! You can find it on Amazon:

Hope this review was helpful to you. Let me know what you think of the Mediasonic HOMEWORX HW130STB in the comments below, or send me a question!

If you want a DVR that is easier to use, with more features, check out the Tablo! - Brian

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Amazon Fire TV Recast: a Slick DVR from Amazon with Alexa Integration

The Amazon Fire TV Recast is Amazon's broadcast TV DVR solution which lets you record live TV using your TV antenna.

Unlike the Tablo, the Recast has its mass storage included inside the box, making for a cleaner setup - no USB external hard drive to mess with! Recordings can be made or viewed from any TV in your home that is attached to an Amazon Fire TV stick or box. It's a great choice if you already own Amazon Fire TV players, or if you're really into Alexa.

The Package

Since the storage is included inside the box, the package is pretty simple. You get the Fire TV Recast box, which measures about 7" by 7" by 3" thick, a quick start guide, and a power adapter, that's it.

Amazon Fire TV Recast
Everything you get with the Amazon Fire TV Recast

Setup

Setup requires an iOS, Android, or Kindle device. You'll have to download the Amazon Fire TV app to set up the Recast.

Because the hard drive is internal, there's very little physical hookup required, other than plugging in power and connecting the antenna.

Because the Recast doesn't connect to your TV directly, you can put it anywhere in your home, ideally somewhere where your antenna strength is greatest, like upstairs, or even an attic!

The Fire TV app will guide you through the configuration process step by step. You'll have to temporarily switch to the Recast's Wi-Fi network on your device during the process, but the app does a good job of holding your hand as you go. It will even tell you which direction to point your antenna!

Amazon Fire TV app
The Amazon Fire TV app will even tell you which direction to point your antenna during the setup process.

Tuner Quality

One thing I always look at in a DVR is the quality of the tuner. So, I did a scan using my very good Sony TV tuner and got 117 channels here in Los Angeles.

I scanned with the Recast and got 116 channels! That's pretty much within the margin of error of being the same as my Sony. So, the Recast tuner is good!

The picture quality of the Recast is excellent. Hard to distinguish it from the picture when I run the antenna straight into my TV.

The User Interface

The Recast requires an Amazon Fire TV device to watch recordings on your TV. So, I started up my Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.

At the top row, there was a "DVR" option, so I selected that and got this screen:

Amazon Fire TV Recast home screen
Amazon Fire TV Recast home screen

This is where I got confused. I clicked down, and immediately started seeing live TV. OK. But I couldn't find a way to change channels, so I clicked the Back button to return, and clicked down one more level to take me to the line of channel previews below.

But strangely, there seemed to be some non-broadcast TV channels there. I explored the channel guide below that, and found Pluto TV channels. Where were my broadcast TV channels?

After doing a lot more scrolling, I finally found the section of the guide that had broadcast TV channels:

Amazon Fire TV Recast channel guide
Amazon Fire TV Recast channel guide

I question the decision to include live streaming channels from apps like Pluto TV in the Recast channel guide. I guess some people might like it, but felt a bit lost, like "what am I watching?" The feature would have been totally cool if you could actually record streaming shows, but when I tried to set up a Pluto TV show for recording, it wouldn't let me.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that no channel numbers are displayed. Only the station's logo is displayed, so it's hard to tell at a glance whether you're watching broadcast TV or an app. But, I guess some people won't care, as long as they are watching something they like.

The Recast works with your Fire TV player to respond to Alexa commands. I was able to push the microphone button on my Fire TV Stick remote and tell Alexa to watch NBC, and voila! The Recast tuned to my NBC broadcast TV channel (4.1 in my area). You can also ask Alexa to show your recordings, to delete recordings, to show the channel guide, and much more.

Fast Forward and Rewind

Another thing I look at when I evaluate DVRs is how rewind and fast forward work. As with the other DVR's I've reviewed, you can rewind and fast forward live TV (within the limits of when you started watching that show and the current time).

On the Recast, you can jump head in 30 second increments or back in 10 second increments using the directional buttons.

If you use the FF and Rewind buttons, you can seek. You'll see a small preview window that updates every second or so, along with a time counter showing the time stamp of where you're seeking to. So, you won't see the main image speed up or go in reverse when seeking, but the little preview window helps you figure out where you're jumping to.

Channel Surfing

One of the gripes of the Tablo recorders is that it takes 5-7 seconds to change channels, which makes channel surfing a chore. On the Recast, it took me between 4 and 5 seconds to change channels, which might seem like a small difference, but it was noticeable.

Recording

Recording on the Recast was a breeze. I simply selected a show in the guide to record and the Recast displayed options for recording just that show or all episodes.

Recording page on the Amazon Fire TV Recast
You have the option of recording just that episode or the whole series

With the Alexa integration, I was also able to just say "record Star Trek Deep Space Nine", and the Recast was set up to record the series. Great!!

Amazon Fire TV Recast scheduled recordings screen
Recordings I set up with the Recast. So easy!

So, setting up recordings on the Recast couldn't be easier!

No Subscription Required for the Channel Guide!

The Tablo requires a small monthly fee or one life time fee of $150 for the channel guide. The TiVo has a fee as well.

The great news here is that there's no fee for the channel guide. I was able to scroll out twelve days into the future in the guide before I stopped seeing results!

Two Tuner vs. Four Tuner

I bought the two-tuner version of the Fire TV Recast. That means I can record two programs at once, or watch one live channel while recording another. Or, two people in my home can be watching different live channels on separate TVs or devices.

The four-tuner Recast allows you to record up to four programs at once, but it still only allows you to watch two live programs at the same time. Be aware! This has bitten some folks who have more than two TVs in their homes.

Fire TV Devices Are Required

The Recast has a lot going for it. But, probably the biggest downside for some people will be the fact that it only works with the Amazon Fire TV streaming players. If you have Roku, Apple TV, or other streaming box, you'll have to purchase Fire TV Sticks for all of the TVs you want to watch recordings on. If you're already into the Amazon device ecosystem (as many folks are), this isn't a problem for you.

Note that you can watch and record shows on your iOS, Android, or Kindle device. However, on my iPhone 7 it took about 12 seconds to buffer up a live TV show before I could view it.

Also, there's no way (that I know of) to watch your recordings in a web browser. If you want to do that, check out Tablo.

Conclusion

After reading some mixed reviews on the Recast, I was actually pretty impressed after I used it myself. Having the hard drive included made setup easy. Sure, the user interface was not so intuitive to me at first, but I quickly got over that. The Alexa integration was super slick!

If you love using Alexa, you'll love the ability to change channels, schedule recordings, skip ahead, and so forth, using voice commands.

Amazon Fire TV Recast Pros:

Cons:

I would recommend the Recast as a whole-home broadcast TV DVR solution if you already own Fire TV sticks or boxes!

Get It Here

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Questions? What do you think of the Recast? Please comment below. - Brian

Should You Get the Amazon Fire TV Stick?

The Amazon Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick 4K are among the most popular streaming players out there. They're great because of their ease of use, excellent search functionality, Alexa integration, and plethora of streaming apps.

For this review, I purchased the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. The 4K Stick can display higher resolution (i.e., not just HD, but 4K resolution), and the 4K's remote has TV volume, mute, and power controls.

Since there is only a $10 difference between the 4K stick and regular stick, I would recommend the Fire Stick 4K even if you don't have a 4K TV. Getting the power and volume controls on the remote alone is worth $10. The Stick 4K also has a more powerful processor and is faster. And if you ever upgrade your TV to 4K, you'll be all set.

What You Get

The Amazon Fire TV Stick comes with a surprising amount of stuff: remote control with batteries, power adapter and USB cable, quick start guide, and short HDMI extender cable so you can mount the stick behind your TV easier.

Amazon Fire TV 4K and everything that comes with it
Amazon Fire TV 4K and everything that comes with it

Installation

Installing the Stick on your TV is pretty simple with a few caveats.

First, Amazon recommends using the HDMI extender for optimal Wi-Fi performance. If you can plug in your stick directly into the side of your TV, and it works fine (as it did with mine), then leave it. Otherwise, plug the stick into the extender, then plug the extender into your TV.

For power, Amazon recommends using the included power adapter rather than plugging the USB cable into your TV for power. In addition to being a better quality source of power, the power adapter allows your Fire TV Stick to get firmware updates when the TV is off.

I went with Amazon's recommendation and plugged the stick into a power strip.

The Fire TV Stick plugged directly into the side of my TV.
The Fire TV Stick plugged into the side of my TV with USB power coming from a power strip.

Note that the USB port on the Fire Stick can only be used for power. You can't, for example, hook a hard drive up to it and expect to play content from the drive like you can with Roku.

Setup

When I turned on my TV and selected the proper HDMI input, I saw the Fire was up and running. Using the direction keys, I selected English as my language, then found my Wi-Fi network and entered my Wi-Fi password using the letter-picker. This part is cumbersome, but common to all set-top boxes when using Wi-Fi and is unavoidable.

Amazon Fire TV Stick letter-picker
Amazon Fire TV Stick letter-picker

My unit went through a firmware upgrade and re-booted, then asked me again for my language.

If you purchased an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, you'll go through a brief setup process for your remote's volume controls.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K setup for volume controls
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K setup for volume controls

Now, the last time I bought an Amazon Fire TV, it came pre-programmed with my Amazon account information, which made setup a breeze!

Unfortunately, it seems that Amazon is no longer doing that (perhaps for security reasons, or cost). Now, you have to enter your email address and Amazon password using the cumbersome letter picker.

After starting up, there is a short introductory video which points out the main features of Fire TV. You can also select some commonly-used apps to install.

The Home Screen

Amazon re-vamped their home screen layout a while ago, and to me, it's not as straightforward as, say, the Roku home screen. I also didn't like having the Sprint ad right in the middle of my app grid!

Amazon Fire TV Stick home screen
Amazon Fire TV Stick home screen

But, that's not a showstopper and overall, it's simple to navigate around using the four-way directional buttons on the remote, once you get used to it.

Channels

There are all of the standard pay channels that you would expect, including Netflix, Hulu, and so forth. However, Amazon content always has priority on the Fire Stick, something which some folks have complained about.

I love free channels, so I found many of the ones I like such as Tubi TV, Crackle, and Pluto TV.

I'm also really into YouTube, but due to the feud between Amazon and Google, the YouTube app has been pulled off of the Amazon Fire TV store a few times. Currently, it's back on there, but the YouTube TV and YouTube Kids app are not available.

In any case, you can still watch YouTube on the Fire TV using Amazon's Silk browser. The experience is nearly the same as using a native YouTube app. There's even a shortcut to the YouTube site in the app store, so the lack of a native YouTube app is not really a problem.

Voice Search

The Fire TV was one of the first streaming media players to have voice search, which is really handy because it’s so cumbersome to enter anything using letter-picker. Just hold down the microphone button and say the name of the TV show or movie that you're searching for.

The voice recognition works well, as you would expect it to from the makers of the Echo.

In the original Fire TV, voice search would only give you results from Amazon. Now, it still gives Amazon results more prominently, but if you click "More Ways to Watch", it will show other sources, even free ones like Pluto TV, if available there!

Amazon Fire TV search results. Click on "More Ways to Watch" for non-Amazon sources
Amazon Fire TV search results. Click on "More Ways to Watch" for non-Amazon sources, including free sources.

Alexa Integration - Like Getting an Echo for Free

The integration with Alexa means that you can do even more than just search using your voice. You can give commands like "rewind five minutes" or "fast forward 30 seconds" if you hold the microphone button on the remote.

But even better, the Alexa integration means it's like having an Amazon Echo included. I was able to tell Alexa to play my music and it started playing my Amazon songs. You can ask for the weather or dinner recipes or nearby Mexican restaurants, just like you could with an Echo. Cool!

Web Browser - A Real Bonus!

Fire TV comes installed with Amazon's Silk browser. This allows you to watch videos embedded on some websites (some are blocked when watching on streaming players).

Navigation using the remote works, but is nowhere near as easy as using a mouse or touch screen. It's fine for light browsing duties.

I personally was glad to have a web browser so I could watch embedded videos on my local PBS station's website!

Roku does not have a native browser. There are third-party ones, but they either require monthly subscription or have low ratings. So, the native web browser on Fire TV Stick is a really nice distinguishing feature!

My Overall Recommendation

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is a great player, no question. The picture quality is great, and the user interface is snappy. If you're into Alexa, this player is for you. Even if you don't own a 4K TV, I would get this over the regular Fire TV Stick.

If you're not so much into Alexa or the Amazon ecosystem, I would recommend the Roku because it has more apps, more 4K content, supports Apple AirPlay, and is perhaps a tad easier to use.

Where to Get It

Click the link below to get Amazon Fire TV Stick on Amazon:

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What was your experience with Amazon Fire like? Please leave a comment below. - Brian

Should You Upgrade Your Roku?

Roku is one of the most popular streaming media players. If you're a cord-cutter, there's a good chance you own one. But, if you have an older Roku, should you upgrade it to a newer one?

I compared the features of three generations of Roku players and performed some basic performance tests on each one. From this information, I'll give you some advice about whether you should update your Roku or not.

The Contenders

In this test, I'm comparing the Roku 2XD, the Roku 3, and the latest top-of-the-line unit, the Roku Ultra.

Each unit accomplishes its basic mission: streaming media from the Internet via Roku channels. But, each subsequent generation has more features and improved performance.

1. Roku 2 XD

Roku 2 XD
Roku 2 XD

The Roku 2 XD was introduced in July 2011 and is among the second generation of Roku players. It can output up to 1080p resolution, so it's still usable today in most TVs today.

Roku has announced that it is no longer supporting the Roku 1 and 2. Some apps won't work on it, which could be a huge problem.

Another annoying problem with the 2XD is its slow user interface speed. Switching between apps is SLOW compared to more modern Rokus, as you will see later.

The feature I would miss the most in the 2XD is voice search. In later models, you can hold the search button and simply say the name of the show or movie you want to find. You can still search using the letter picker in the 2XD, but it's painful.

The Roku 2 XD also doesn't have a USB port, but playing video from a USB drive is probably a much lesser-used feature.

The Wi-Fi on the 2 XD only supports 802.11 b/g/n and not the more modern higher-speed standards.

2. Roku 3

Roku 3
Roku 3

The Roku 3 was introduced in March 2013 and is among the third generation of Roku players.

It has a faster processor and the wonderful voice search remote that you'll love if you hate using the letter picker.

The remote also has a headphone jack for silent viewing, and TV volume control, which I think is another great feature (since my TV remote always seems to be just out of reach when a jarringly-loud part of a movie comes on).

It also lets you stream video stored on your smartphone to your TV!

3. Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra 2018

The Ultra is Roku's current top-of-the-line model. The first Ultra was introduced in 2016, but has been updated in 2017, 2018, and 2020.

It has everything the Roku 3 has but with a more powerful ARM Cortex processor. Feature-wise, there are just a few small additions like the power button on the remote, so you can shut off your TV without searching for your TV remote, and the "lost remote" button on the unit. When pressed, the remote makes a beeping noise so you can find it - handy!

Performance

As you can see, the basic features of the second, third, and current (seventh) generation of Roku players, haven't changed that much. Yes, there are more bells and whistles, but at its core, the Roku is still primarily a streaming video player, and even the old 2XD still accomplishes that task.

But, there's a huge difference in UI reaction time between the second and third generation Rokus.

I tested the time required by each Roku to do basic some basic tasks and charted them here:

Roku speed comparison chart
Roku 2 XDRoku 3Ultra 2018
Boot Up84 sec36 sec28 sec
Launch YouTube40 sec11 sec7 sec
Launch Roku Channel41 sec9 sec6 sec
Launch Amazon Prime Video15 sec15 sec9 sec
Launch Tubi TV54 sec16 sec10 sec
Speed comparison of various Roku devices

As you can see, the Roku 2 XD can be painfully slow to switch channels. If you include the time to exit a channel, it can take over a minute to switch from one channel to another! If you're doing this many times per day, that can add up to hours of wasted time per week!

The Roku 3 offers a vast improvement in speed, and the Roku Ultra is just a tad faster over that.

Roku has continually improved the remotes with small but useful features like headphone output, voice search, volume buttons, and now, TV power button, though none of those features are "must haves" for most people.

Should You Upgrade?

Based on my measurements, I would recommend upgrading if you are using a generation two or older Roku device. These include the following players (introduced in 2012 or earlier):

These all use the same or slower processor as the Roku 2 XD which I tested for this article, meaning that these will have the super slow user interface. They also might not work with the latest apps (Roku channels). You'll be better off upgrading if you have any of these.

Based on the processor, I would also upgrade if you have these third generation Roku players introduced in 2013: Roku 1, Roku SE.

If you want AirPlay (the ability to mirror your iPhone or iPad's screen to your TV), you should upgrade to the Roku Ultra or Streaming Stick+.

What to Get

Check out the latest Roku players if you have an older Roku and want to replace it. I recommend the Roku Streaming Stick+ or Roku Ultra.

If you have a tube TV, I recommend the Roku Express+ 2018 edition. The newer version won't work with a tube TV.

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

I Recommend Keeping These

If you have a different Roku that was introduced in 2013 or later that is not in the list above (like the Roku 3), and you're happy with the feature set, my advice would be to stick with it unless you want to shave a few seconds off the time it takes to switch channels.

So, the models I recommend keeping are:

Of course, if there is a feature, like 4K output, that you want and don't have, then of course you'd have to upgrade. But, based on usability and speed, I'd recommend sticking with the devices above if you're OK with the feature set.

Hope this helps! Let me know which Roku model you have and how you like it in the comments below! - Brian

Note, I got the information on the Roku models from this great Wikipedia article.