Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Steve's Guide to Cutting Cable



Last fall I finally pulled the plug on cable service.  Between sports packages, HBO, and whatever else we "needed", our Direct TV bill was over $220 a month.  When I first brought this up to Lori, she responded, "I better be able to watch all my shows".  The bigger question wasn't the ability but on how.  Is "live" good enough or do you need it on-demand?

So I went off and started researching how to cut cable.  One of the best guides I found was Tom's Guide to cutting cable TV. Another great video to watch is from Modern Dad, who is a tech blogger.  You can check out his cord cutting video here.  But it really opened a bigger conversation on needs, wants, ecosystems, technology and whatever else you can think of.

To begin this discussion, I need to start that the Lambert family hasn't owned a DVD player for a few years.  We had been using a Chromecast to cast movies to our TV.  Basically, all our movies were purchased digitally.  So we needed to have Google Play access to whatever hardware we decided to choose from.  Then we needed to pick what services (for old school people, what channels) we wanted. 

I decided to write down my thoughts on all the options you can choose from.  So here it is.


Hardware

Hardware also known as "ecosystem" is probably the most important conversation you need to have.  How to watch movies currently?  What app do you listen to music on?  What type of phone do you have?  Does your kid use an Amazon Fire Tablet?

For us, it was simple, it needed to be Google Play friendly.  So this instantly took us out of the Apple TV device.  For people who aren't big nerds.  The Big Three aka Google, Apple, and Amazon, do not play nicely with each other.  Amazon Prime Video can't be played on Chromecast, Google Play movies can't be watched on Apple TVs and all don't play nice on Amazon Fire Sticks. You get my point.  

So our best options was a Roku player.  Roku is nice because they are probably the easiest and most compatible company.    We can watch all our Google Play Movies on it, can rent from other services, and can watch any of the basic cable service type apps on it (more on this later).  

I chose the Roku Ultra because it is the best player they make, can watch in 4K or UHD, if available and also has the fastest processor and all the fancy stuff.  The other cool part with the Roku Ultra is that it allows you to voice search via the remote for anything you want.  If it is a movie, it will show your options available and the cost.

I did research the Apple TV and NVIDIA Shield TV  but ultimately decided on the Roku Ultra.  But these two are both top quality players.  I also researched the Chromecast Ultra but like I mentioned previously, Google has doesn't play nice with others.  It also isn't as much as a player but instead is just a casting device (which means it just casts whatever you are watching from your device to your TV).  I don't recommend this as an option for the average user unless you have used a Chromecast before.  PlayStation 4 can also be used as a player but since we didn't have one, it wasn't really worth $399.  

I also highly recommend buying an HD antenna for the local channels.  If all you need is to be able to watch the local channels live, this will basically cost you $30 and no service charge.  All your live football games and shows you can watch.  

Services

So here is where it gets tricky and depends on personal preferences.  The three major "cable" services as I like to call them are Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, and now YouTube TV (which recently just entered Hampton Roads and Roku).  We tested all of these over the course of six months.  more discussion below.

Other than these "services", I highly recommended getting the following paid services.

Netflix: This is obvious unless you are not a big movie fan or binge show watcher.  Netflix has tremendous original programming and an amazing collection of movies on demand.  Definitely worth the $15.

Amazon Prime Video: If you don't have Amazon Prime, get it, it is worth it's weight in gold just for the kids shows.  This is free with Amazon Prime membership.  This was also an app we had to have on our TV for our daughter.

Now onto the cable services....

Sling TV:  We initially chose Sling TV because they gave you free Roku players with sign-up.  So, the initial two months of signing up pays for itself with just that.  They have two packages, orange and blue.  If you are like any normal family, you basically need both for the select channels you need.  Another downfall was they charged an extra $5 for DVR service (and only up to 50 recorded shows).  That cost us $40 (plus $5) a month.  We paid for two months ($80) and received a $60 Roku in return.  The $40 package had way too many channels.  I do recommend this as an option to get yourself a free Roku player if need be. 

Out of all the services, this was our least favorite.  One the main reasons is that it did not have any of our three local channels in Hampton Roads and only two of the major networks on-demand services.  What does this mean?  We still needed an HD antenna to watch local channels (most importantly FOOTBALL) and we had to watch certain shows live (who has time for that in 2018).  Our second beef with Sling was its operation system or OS.  It was very boring and circa 1998 cable-ish.

Hulu with Live TV:  Next we switched to Hulu with Live TV (not to get confused with the basic Hulu which is much cheaper).  Hulu with Live TV gives you basically all the major networks on-demand services plus only one of the local channels live.   The downfall of Hulu is that it did not have AMC in its channel selection.  The one thing Hulu did have was an amazingly beautiful operation system.  Hulu does have several original content shows on it.  You could also tell that they are competing with Netflix for most visually appealing apps.  The cost of Hulu was $35.

YouTube TV:  in January, right before the Super Bowl, YouTube TV announced that they finally released a Roku app for its cable service.  Since its inception, this was the best service to me.  They had two out of the three local channels (but all the major networks on-demand), AMC, BRAVO and even added the NFL network, MLB network, and NBA network in the past few months.  They are also allowing subscribers to purchase your favorite baseball team's complete season to watch for a price.  YouTube TV also was nice because it had unlimited DVR storage.  It also has the biggest selection of sports channels.  YouTube TV costs around $35.

Another service you can look into is Direct TV Now.  We didn't because we had just left Direct TV. But it is another option.

Other Things I Learned

Movies Anywhere:  I highly recommend you sign up for Movies Anywhere.  Almost all the major movie companies have banded together to allow for your ownership of movies be transferred from one app, ecosystem or program to another.  So all our Disney movies transfer over from Google Play to Amazon to Apple, etc.  All it takes is a quick and easy sign up.This is the future.  The future is being able to store all your digital movies in the same place or be able to watch them no matter what you own or use.  

VUDU:  This is my preferred movie app where we rent and buy movies now.  They have better deals most the time and also better OS.  You can also transfer all your hard copies of movies for $2 to digital via this app.  Which is nice if that is your thing.  Sadly, I threw out my entire collection of over 300 DVDs a long time ago.  

Google Play:  Google does not like to play very nice with others.  One thing I learned is that they do not allow for UHD or 4K playing on Roku devices.  Instead, they prefer for you to purchase a Chromecast Ultra as a second streaming device to do so (like I mentioned previously, you can't watch movies on Amazon on it).  This was also the second reason I stopped purchasing from them and went to VUDU.  When Star Wars: Last Jedi came out, I could only purchase in HD and not in 4K.  

Remote:  I tried to standardize our household with one remote.  This was a very difficult task.  I wish my TV and/or the original Roku remote would allow to control the functions of the other device.  Instead, we purchased a Logitech Harmony 665 remote.  It does everything you want but it probably has the hugest (its a word) learning curve than anything else I have just mentioned in this post.  I am still modifying its settings and buttons weekly.  And there are some limitations to the device.

Upgrade your internet:  If you can, upgrade your internet to the fastest speeds.  I live in Pungo and I was actually able to upgrade my WiFi to the highest possible speeds.  This is huge since all of this technology runs of the internet.  The nice part was that when I upgraded my internet, they gave me free HBO GO with it.  So we get our HBO for free basically. 

Apple TV and iTunes:  If you are fully supplanted into the Apple ecosystem, both the Apple TV and buying movies on iTunes is highly recommended.  One thing Apple has promised is that all movies purchased via iTunes will be automatically upgraded to the newest and highest format available (basically means when it gets upgraded to 4K, you don't have to purchase a new version like I have with Lord of the Rings [Theatrical Release DVD, Extended Version DVD, Blu-Ray Extended Version, Digital Version]).    I do see this as a future trend for all movie services. 

HBO Go, HBO Now, and Showtime Anytime and Starz:  These movie channels have their own specific apps and subscription services ranging from $10-15.  I highly recommend purchasing these separately instead of purchasing as part of one of the cable service options.  Just my preference.

Final Thoughts

When I decided to do this, my family wasn't so keen on it.  But after a while, everyone has gotten used to it and enjoy it.  For a huge monthly savings, we still have all the channels and shows we want and need.  The future of television is going this way anyways.  Hulu, which has original content is owned by the major television stations.  Amazon Prime members were also able to watch NFL Sunday Nights via Roku or other devices.  Almost all sporting events are looking into ways to get more eyes from more devices on their content.  

My biggest recommendation to anyone is trying it out.  Spend the little bit of money that it would cost for the hardware and "cable service" and try it out.  Worst case scenario is that Cox will give you a good deal to comeback to them.  Best case scenario, you saved a bundle on TV.  Another positive too is that all of the "cable services" give users a week or so to try out their services.  

Like I mentioned, all of my recommendations may or may not be for you.  You may have a PS4 that you can use for your hardware, you may be all-in on Apple.  But at the end, it matters to you what you want.

And for a breakdown on our savings, here you go.  Good luck and godspeed!
Note: I am taking out Netflix out of this equation because I think most people already have it even though we didn't.
Before Cutting:
Cable-$220
Internet-$69.99
Total-289.99

After:
Cable- $35 (YouTube TV)
Internet- $84.99*
Total- 119.99

Savings of $170 a month

*includes HBO Go.



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My Plan for 2018

This weekend the family headed down to South Carolina to visit my grandma and aunt and uncle.  I had a lot of time to reflect on everything.

So I thought about my goals for 2018.  Instead of doing the traditional 18 for 2018 or whatever.  I decided to pick three simple goals.

Get Healthy

For the past few years I have struggled to stay healthy physically.  Partly because I put some weight back on (very hard to admit) and partly because I was worrying about others before me not taking care of me.  My goal is this.  Drop the weight I put back on.  Get stronger via strength training so that my body can handle the rigors of running, training or anything else life throws at you.  Having major glute/hip issues for over a year has taken a toll.  By doing all of these things, I should be back stronger.  My other goal is to get back to eating healthy.  Everyone tells you its easy to lose it but its hard to maintain.  This was my problem from the beginning and has taken me two years to finally realize it.  

Read More


Last year I actually read two books, and almost finished a third.  Which for some is a drop in the bucket.  but for me, this is huge.  I hated reading as a kid and I hated it more after grad school.  But I enjoy it.  It keeps my brain more active.  I know this is a boring goal but it is something that I think will help me be a better person.

Adventure More

I have noticed since I have put weight back on, I haven't tried as much to do new things.  I need to adventure more with my family.  Do things we haven't tried before.  I don't want to miss out on adventures nor do I want my kids to.

Enjoy the Now

My biggest goal for 2018 is to take a deep breathe and enjoy the present.  Quit worrying about the past.  Quit worrying about the future.  But enjoy what we have in front of us.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Guide to Running the Perfect New York Marathon

Here is my essential guide to running the perfect New York Marathon ever.  I have seven helpful tips for you to run your perfect New York City Marathon (Steve Lambert style).

1.  Raise Money for a Good Cause: The amount of people cheering us on this weekend because of our Team in Training race shirt was insane.  The funny part was not everyone even knew who Team in Training was (more weird than funny but still).  These were our top three team cheers: Go Purple Team, Go Team 30, and last but not least, Go Team!!!! 


2.  Run with Friends: Best decision I ever made was to run with Kristy and Karen (added Ryan Hatcher the day before race).  Ultimately running with your friends for 26.2 is way more enjoyable than running by yourself or pushing for a PR in New York.  New York is such a huge race that you don't really want to miss any of the sights and sounds (read next tip).  Between meeting famous people on course or the conversations we had, it was such a blast.  Marathons are never easy.  But after finishing the race the way we did, I actually would do it again in a heartbeat.  


3.  Check out the Sights and Sounds:  You run through all five boroughs, through millions of peoples and, well, why not.  Three helpful hints:  Follow the Ryan Hatcher guide to Marathoning and get super pumped at every puppy you see. Dance like no one is looking at every chance you get (New York had by far the best band and music support I've ever seen.  I highly recommend the Boogie Down Bronx when you cross into the borough and the Funk music in Harlem). And last but not least, take amazing pictures along the way (I mean, why not?).


4.  When you have a chance, high five as many of the crowd as possible.  They get louder and louder and way more fun the more you interact.  

5.  When nearing the race photographer always get ready for an epic photo opportunity.



6.  When getting ready for the finish line, line up with your teammates like you are synchronized swimmers.



7.  Last but not least.  Sign up for the race poncho over the dry bag.  Its amazing and it protects you from whatever weather is at the finish.  


New York was such an amazing experience.  I highly recommend it to anyone from wanting to run your first marathon to your last.  

As their motto says, "IT WILL CHANGE YOU".

More blogs to come about the whole New York Experience.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Bumps in the Road

Sometimes the world catches up to you.  And this week it finally did.  I woke up Friday morning feeling alright but by the time I got to work, I was groggy, stuffed up and had a headache.  I toughed through it, thinking it was just allergies.  Friday was also our five year anniversary.  I wasn't going to let a little cold ruin Lori and I's anniversary dinner.  Instead, Lori, myself and Avery went and got Sushi.  It was the perfect example of what our lives are made up of right now.  A cranky three year old, one sick parent, and exhaustion from a long week for all three of us.  It was a perfect anniversary meal.  Lori and I actually joked about how real it actually was.  Nothing special, just us, our family.  And it was perfect.

Saturday, I decided to call sick for probably one of the only times I have in six seasons as a pacer.  I hated myself but the reality was that there was no way I was going to get through 12 miles (or even my scheduled 20) on a cold in humid warm temperatures.  Instead, I would probably have to drop out and be sicker than I was originally for trying to push.  I didn't like missing it.  But I knew it was the best thing for myself.  The other part of me was pissed for missing the 20 miler.  For runners, this is a huge hurdle.  But its okay because I have another one in a few weeks.  

Sunday, Lori and I took the kids to Busch Gardens to enjoy some time together as a family.  We wanted to get their early so Avery could enjoy the park one last time before it got dark and scary for kids.  We had a blast.  We ran into the Mautes and hung out.  Avery and Chet played, rode together, and won stuffed animals.  Watching through their eyes of imagination is a lot of fun.  We also got to ride a few rides for us adults too.  The day was just what our family needed, some time way from work, school, and running.  Just us four enjoying the amazing weather and Busch Gardens.  

Lesson learned this week:  Listen to your body.  

Monday, September 11, 2017

Halftime

The school year has begun, the temps have dropped (at least right now), and life is getting busier.  It must be September.

Friday, Lori and I dropped off our daughter to her first day of preschool.  The cliche that is how time flies is so true.  But I remember every little moment since she was born.  But she is excited and so are we.  We look forward to her learning, adapting, socializing, and growing.

At the same time, our son started his junior year in high school.

I think it's funny when people talk about running like it's every story or blog or conversation you have.  But the reality is that running is just my therapy.

The past two weeks have been insane.

My ATV needed to be worked on.

My son's truck broke down (aka the world is ending).

my car brakes went out.

So sometimes you punt, you buy a new car, you spend evenings fixing shit and you keep trucking.

But thank God for running and Evofit.  They keep me sane.

The cool part is that Cancer Better Run is halfway through our training cycle.  We definitely have some big hills to climb before we taper but we are closer than ever to our goal of running the New York Marathon for such a great cause.

I will be honest.  I am not excited to run a marathon.  But I am excited to run for this cause.  I am excited to run with three friends that are amazing people.  I am excited to see that hopefully our money we have raised will help save one person's life.

As we completed the first half of our training, we actually all got to run with each other on Saturday.  We haven't all run together in 8 weeks.

Onto next week.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Love Will Always Win

I was typing an update to my marathon training this weekend when I read the headlines on TV.  As much as I am excited to be done with the first quarter of my training, it all seemed very irrelevant with the headlines in our country.

I knew during this last presidential election that there would be mass chaos in this country.  I called out five years ago that the pendulum of politics was swinging ever further from the middle.  And it has.  It doesn't matter who I voted for or who you voted for.  But the truth is what matters is how we act.  How we treat each other as fellow citizens.

Technology has changed the way people educate themselves.  The term "Fake News" has masked the truth with a ton of what we read.  Our children get their news from Social Media.  Our own president terms every news channel or site that has been said anything negative about him as "Fake News".

Recently, I deleted Facebook from my phone.  I did this for many reasons.  The first is that Facebook was occupying way too much of my time.  Another reason is I couldn't stand reading the biased and rude comments people post on Social Media.  The last reason is that I couldn't stand the anger, hatred and bitterness in posts from everyone in the world today.  Today, it seems as though people have no filters, hiding behind social media comments as if they have a giant wall protecting them from reality.  But that is further then the truth.  You can't hide behind your comments.  They are forever etched into the world.

I will keep Facebook off my phone for now.

Last night I cried while watching Vice News on HBO.  They followed the Alt-Right "protest" in Charlottesville.  I cried for fear of the future for my children and every friend I have who is not a white male.  I was saddened by hearing these people spewing such anger and hatred to others.

This is what I saw in the videos for thirty minutes.......

Riot Gear

Automatic Rifles

Bats

Weapons to fight the opposition

Those items are not for protests.  Those items are for chaos.  They are for destruction.  They are to inflict pain.  They are for anger.

These people will not win with ANGER.

These people will not with HATRED.

Love will win.  Love will conquer all.  Because I will keep raising my children to be kind, educated, and tolerant for all people.

I will teach my children to love.

I will teach my kids to be open to all opinions.  Even if they don't agree upon them, they will learn to listen to others.

What happened in Charlottesville is just the beginning.  My heart goes out to the parents of the girl who was killed.  My heart also goes out to the parents of the guy who murdered this girl.  Both sets of parents have lost their child to anger and hatred.

So in honor of Heather Heyer, I will raise my children to love, be kind, and tolerant.  And hopefully, you all do too.

LOVE will conquer hatred.

LOVE will always win.


Monday, July 31, 2017

New York Marathon, J&A Training Team, and everything in between.....

Since I am back in the training cycle, I promised myself I would write more.  Sometimes I don't have much to write about and sometimes I have too much.

This is the first time in 3 years that I have started a training cycle with a blank slate.  I always had a goal in mind.  I had always been running non stop.  But after back to back marathons and too much running, my body and mind couldn't keep up.  As I wrote in one of my last posts, my goal is to run happy and run healthy.  So far into week 3, I have been able to accomplish this.  I have backed off the running 5 days a week but am concentrating on better runs and getting stronger doing EvoFit.

Monday kicked off the J&A Training Team.  This will be my sixth time pacing.  I think I now firmly hold the lead on that.  But more exciting is that we have over 50 new team members and a few old members coming back who haven't signed up in a while.  The dynamics and energy will completely be different but I have a feeling this will be the best training team yet and we will have the most amazing positive energy that we have ever had.  From top down, I think we have the best pacers and team leaders we have had yet.

Summer has been super busy.  Having a teenager driving, working and playing baseball and having a three year old to chase down has kept Lori and I busy.  We have enjoyed a few days at the beach here and there, Water Country USA once, and have traveled twice to Pittsburgh since June for family events.

Running, being a dad, and husband are always tough to juggle.  But I am very thankful I have a supportive wife in helping me stay healthy physically and mentally.  Part of my personal goals this fall is to be happy.  I never ran because I wanted to be fast.  I ran to be healthy and happy.  I may never BQ (Boston Qualify for you non-runners) but I know I will enjoy my life.  Between my amazing wife, two beautiful kids and amazing friends who surround me each and everyday, I don't need much more.

As each week approaches to the New York Marathon, I have to remind myself what the feeling was like when I got to first see my wife and daughter in Detroit when I was running my first marathon.  It was the greatest high I have ever had.  Just like it was when I finished Shamrock in 2016.  Finishing and being able to hug my family is what it is all about.  My time didn't matter.  It matter knowing who is around you.  I look forward standing side by side with my friends in New York when we finish.  I have never run a race with friends but I am pretty excited to have these three beside me finishing.

This past week hit the 100 day mark until the race.  100 days feels so close but 100 days feels so far away.  Time will creep up fast.  But for right now, I am going to enjoy the rest of the summer with my wife, my kids, and close friends.  Cheers!