Chromecast, Slingbox, and Optimum App

The goal

I'm on a dual path of both reducing our cable boxes and reducing our dependence upon cable. We're not ready to give up cable yet, but we don't need five cable boxes any more. Maybe we never did, but that's water under the proverbial bridge.

We have five televisions in our home, yet we now only need two cable boxes. In the last half year, we've ceremoniously returned the other three, one at a time. This post explains some additions I've made to our home technology, toward meeting our goals mentioned above.

We do have some old Windows laptops lying around, which helps.

1. Chromecast -- Sends any supported chrome app or anything running in the Chrome browser to any television in your home that has a Chromecast device plugged into its HDMI port. Your computer does not have to be hooked up to your television, and can be in a different room from your television. Chromecast lets you watch all those streaming TV apps offered by Chromecast, without needing any cable at all. This is the device that could ultimately allow us to let go entirely of cable, except we still want sports. And now, we're even experimenting with doing without the sports channels -- we've just downgraded our cable service, just to see.

2. Slingbox -- Brings cable to any computer anywhere, and attached external displays are allowed. We use our two Slingboxes to sling cable to from our remaining two cable boxes to anywhere in the house where it is desired. That allows two different people to be watching two different programs at the same time.

3. Optimum App -- Brings cable to any computer anywhere within your network, but no external displays hooked up to your computer are allowed. Optimum App will work in your  home as long as you have at least one cable box, and it does not dominate any one cable box. In other words, it's as though you have an additional cable box.

A few more things to know:

Chromecast 

 1. Chrome apps supported by Chromecast can be resized with no effect on your computer. But if you're running something else in Chrome, resizing to full screen could prevent you from using your computer. Instead, I have a dedicated laptop hooked up to the television with a VGA cable. Broken laptops are great for this. The one I have has a broken display. You could also use a laptop that no longer holds a charge, and always stays plugged in.
2. I got my Chromecast for $35.
3. I have found Chromecast not to work for viewing movies on a hard drive, external drive, or NAS device. Part of the problem is I had mp4's that seemed not to play well with RealPlayer Cloud (required if you're casting from a laptop), and part is degraded quality. Instead, I use my busted laptop, hooked to my television with a VGA cable, to show movies on the big screen.

Slingbox 

1. Slingbox is hooked up to a cable box. A slight drawback of a Slingbox is that you have to regress from HDMI back to component cables plus audio cables. That's because HDMI connections enable copy protection, thus disallowing Slingbox. If Slingbox could use HDMI, then you'd use two cables -- one into the Slingbox, and one out. But because we're stuck with component plus audio, that's five cables in and five cables out. That's ten cables to collect dust. That's what led us to put the sling boxes in the basement.
2. I got a Slingbox for $40, through a promotional. It's refurbished, which amounts to the same thing as new, but with a shorter warranty. Look for promotionals or refurbished.
3. Some online discussions claim you can use your Slingbox without a cable box (by hooking it directly to the coax running from the wall) but that would only be true of a service which does not scramble the signal. That wouldn't work for us.
4. For each Slingbox we own, we can sling the signal to one device. 

Optimum App

1. Optimum App is free, requires no additional hardware, and works for anyone who has cable. It lets us extend the number of people in the house who can use cable at the same time. I use Optimum App on my Kindle Fire.
2. Optimum App disallows any external display, so you can't watch cable on your big TV hooked to your laptop. But it's nice for portability -- for myself, it means I can clean the house, room by room, and bring my Kindle Fire with me for continuous television viewing.

In another recent post, I described what happened when I tried to use Slingbox and Chromecast at the same time. It worked, but wasn't pretty.

4 comments:

  1. I have had no problem streaming (casting) any downloaded movies to my big screen TV using Chromecast, but have had problems with Apple TV 3 as it has only streamed movies that are DVDSCR H264 or Blueray x264 format.

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  2. I can't know for sure, Alex, because I dropped cable entirely. Back when I wrote this, the answer would have been no because Optimum app does not run in a Chrome tab. However, now Chromecast has some hidden beta function built in that I suspect could do the job because it allows you to cast your entire desktop instead of a Chrome tab. Click on the chromecast icon, and you will see "beta" in tiny letters. Click on the even tinier arrow, then click on the last option.Then select the location of your house where you want to cast to, and then choose "entire screen." It might work, but I'm not sure the audio would be good. I'd try it myself, but as I said, I no longer have a cable connection. I traded it in for a Mohu Leaf. If you experiment, I'd appreciate hearing back about the results.

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  3. You cannot chromecast from the optimum app. I hate it. Optimum blocks it and says " no external displaying". I hate it because i had verizon at my old apartment and it worked just fine. Optimum is a bunch of crooks that nickel and dime their customers.

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Positive comments, corrections and clarification welcome.