The Markel home has been free of traditional pay TV for about a year-and-a-half now, and we’re hoping not to go back anytime soon. Historically, we have bounced between having it and not having it, but I’m hoping that we’re at least close to done with it now.

We have some basic family desires for paid TV service. They are:

  • Baseball. ((The Cardinals.))
  • Hockey. ((The Red Wings, and increasingly the Blues.))
  • The Olympics when they come around.
  • A couple of shows here and there. ((Right now, this is mostly Castle.))
  • Access in both rooms where we have TVs.

Right now, we’re able to manage all of this. I wanted to take a bit and break this down to show what we are paying, why we’re using each service, and show some of the frustrations with cutting the cord and dealing with new ways of watching content that are still constrained by antiquated business practices.

Pricing Pay TV

Point to make first: I do not care about home phone service. I am not interested in home phone service. Triple Play bundles are stupid and I do not want them.

OK, so to get the service for two televisions in my home (assuming that DVR service and HD are necessary), here’s what I need to spend with Charter, who is my internet provider:

  • $19.99/mo for DVR service
  • $13.98/mo for the second set top box
  • $59.99/mo for the actual channel package, that covers the things listed above

So to get what I want, I’m paying $93.96/mo, and I’m pretty sure that price is a promo for twelve months. The total cost for a year would be $1,127.52, and I would guess there will be taxes and franchise fees and whatnot adding to that as well.


I try to cover the above bases with a set of streaming services. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting there. Here’s what we’re using:

  • $5/mo for Unblock Us, which is a service that allows me to evade geolocation blocks on content by using their DNS network. This solves the problem of blackouts on sports streaming sources and gives me access to things like BBC streams, which enables me to watch things like Olympics coverage.
  • $129.99/yr for, which when combined with the aforementioned blackout dodging allows me to watch every baseball game of the season.
  • $149.99/yr for NHL GameCenter, giving me access to hockey (blackouts nonsense applies as well).
  • $7.99/mo for Hulu Plus, which covers the ABC and Fox shows I’m interested in, with some added bonus stuff, like the best available streaming library of classic Doctor Who and some other British oddities that they bring over.
  • $7.99/mo for Netflix, which we hadn’t had for around a year until last week, when they made their announcement regarding Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Netflix also has a few TV shows that aren’t covered by Hulu.
  • $59.99/mo semi-annually for (at least for six months) the WWE Network, which I’m choosing to support because they are actually trying to disrupt the existing pay TV model by pricing themselves in direct competition with cable providers for PPVs. Their streaming offering is also being assisted technologically by MLB Advanced Media, which is a weird but very interesting alignment. ((I hope to say more about the WWE Network in a later post, but it’s a very interesting offering.))
  • Absolutely nothing for the aerial antenna I have in my attic, which gives me OTA HD for my local networks. This covers news and weather.

My grand total for this setup is $651.72 per year, which is still a decent chunk of change but around half what I would be paying for traditional pay TV through Charter, and has the added bonus of putting more things in an on-demand relationship rather than needing to manage DVR space, which is almost always a fruitless effort.

Most devices that are out there can manage these streams, but admittedly, I have to do some gymnastics to get everything where I want it. Let’s talk about actually watching these things.


I have two televisions in my house: one in the main family room and another upstairs in our bedroom. The device layout is as such:

  • Family room
    • Apple TV
    • Mac mini
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    • PlayStation 3 (currently unhooked)
    • PlayStation 4 (currently unhooked)
  • Bedroom
    • Apple TV
    • Xbox 360
    • PlayStation 3

The sad thing is that even with all this, I don’t yet have the perfect media device, which I find personally pretty annoying. In reality, in end up using the Xbox 360 units and the Apple TVs about even amounts of time. With a little more work, the Xbox One is going to end up being the device I use the most. Here are some thoughts on devices:

Apple TV

Super-simple to use. Covers all the services that I subscribe to; if I ever switch to using Amazon Video, then it won’t be the device of choice anymore because it doesn’t have a client for that. It has clients that work for everything, but they tend to be the least fully-featured versions available.

My music and a lot of TV and movies are in my mammoth iTunes library, so I would be using this anyway because Home Sharing is boss.

Mac mini

My best friend during the olympics coverage; hook it up to an HDTV using HDMI, then full screen video you want to watch. Can watch anything with a web interface; navigation is done using VNC. Otherwise, a giant pain in the neck to use because it takes longer than the rest of the stuff to use.

Xbox 360

Currently the best option. Good apps for NHL and MLB (with one-touch scoreboards no matter what you are watching), and a Netflix app that’s been upped to the newest experience. Hulu Plus app is still the crappy “let’s make everything work with Kinect” version (read: awful), the Twitch app is similarly horrendous, and the NHL app has a habit of not liking you logging in on more than one Xbox 360, even if you aren’t using them at the same time (I have to keep putting my password in).

Xbox One

Will be the best option once more apps have been released. No apps for NHL, MLB, or WWE (though I’m assuming there will be an MLB app coming this spring). Better app for Twitch than 360, updated Hulu and Netflix experiences. Better dashboard UI than Xbox 360 as pins are on the front rather than hidden behind an option.

PlayStation 3

Good apps; can’t be controlled by IR. Non-starter.

PlayStation 4

Ditto. They couldn’t have spent $2 on an IR receiver?


I’ve been staying current with it, but in my opinion cord-cutting for the masses is still a ways off. Geoblocks, content provider exclusivities, and traditional blackout-causing TV contracts cause enough problems for most people that it’s more pain than is worth it to do such a thing.

To top it off, there isn’t currently a device that is an obvious go-to hub for this kind of digital entertainment. Right now, it’s a dead heat for me between the Apple TV and the Xbox 360, and neither of those is the perfect solution. The Xbox One has a good shot at being the best available set top solution, but it’s still missing some key apps and is still a $500 investment.

I like my setup, but I know it won’t work for everyone. I’m probably using more of these things than the average person. Do you have any questions about my setup or about these services? Feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them either here or in follow-up posts.

So, yeah:

Sony has announced that over one million PlayStation 4 consoles were sold to consumers in the first 24 hours of availability. It’s important to put some context around that number in order to drive home the power of that number.

Context number one: Amazon.

In case you have forgotten, here’s what looked like in 2005, when the Xbox 360 launched.

Context number two: Supply shortages.

Every other system quoted in the article for comparison was a supply-constrained launch. There weren’t any Xbox 360s to go around for weeks after launch. The same with the PS2 (to a lesser extent) and I remember waiting for months to be able to buy a Wii.

If you want to talk about sell-through, let’s talk sell-through after two dates:

  1. This Friday.
  2. The end of the year.

Those will be the meaningful comparisons.

I’m fairly certain this is targeted specifically at me.

I’m also fairly certain I will end up buying it.

This is a great idea—something that differentiates the 360 version of the game and does something fun with it. I can only hope it will also end up on One.

Keith Burgun for Gamasutra:

What’s so bad about achievements? The mother-problem with any “achievement” system can be stated like this: at their best, they do nothing at all. At their worst, they influence player behavior.

I’ve been debating turning off Achievements for a while on Xbox 360. I’ve been thinking for a while that they are more distracting than they are good, and they can sometimes even get in the way of my enjoying a game for just being a good experience. After I read this, I decided that I would go ahead and do so.

Imagine my disappointment when I learned that you can’t turn them off without also disabling Friend, invite, and messaging notifications, which makes it a much harder decision.

This is a pretty horrid launch trailer, but (microtransaction nonsense aside), I’m looking forward to this one next week; Dead Space is one of my favorite franchises of this console generation.

If you’re going to be playing it, let me know as I’ll be looking for a co-op partner at some point. I’ll be playing on 360.

Fantastic piece of writing and history of a game genre by Ben Kuchera for The PA Report, arguing that the Rock Band series is a good example for video games as art:

The game leverages every strength of the medium in order to share a very specific feeling, and the final product re-creates that emotion with great skill. When people bring up games as art they often talk about games that look like art, as if recreating a certain aesthetic is enough to be effective. Other people point to a game’s writing, which may be done artfully, but it still doesn’t make the game itself art.

The power of Rock Band comes from the ability to bring people together, teach them a skill, and then as they get better at the interaction it rewards them with a feeling that few have experienced before.

Rock Band is something that I have spent a large amount of time and money investing in and getting better at. It’s a shame that it appears based on retail listings that the entire series is now apparently completely done—even the manufacturer of the plastic instruments doesn’t appear to be stocking them anymore, and as we transition to a new console generation next year I will not be surprised when the DLC releases are stopped.

In any case, it’s been a fun ride while it’s lasted and I’m sure I’ll be playing it for a long time to come.

I’ll completely agree that the series is art and is a fantastic way to experience music with your friends. A lot of late Friday nights happened at the Markel house with good friends, good music, and plastic instruments.

I loved this, too:

Another important bit of testing was described by Dan Teasdale, and proved prophetic: the team would grab people coming out of clubs and bars to make sure the game was playable even after you’ve had a number of alcoholic beverages. Teasdale bluntly called it “drunk testing,” and stated the importance of a user interface that was easy to navigate even while inebriated. After the game was launched and became a success, many bars actually began hosting Rock Band nights where you could drink while taking turns playing your favorite songs on the stage while your friends belted out the lyrics into a beer-drenched microphone. The drunk testing paid off.

Maybe we should be drunk-testing WordPress. :)

Saw this just now:

Let’s focus on the important thing here: WHO are these people and WHY do they have the game? If street’s broken on this bad boy, start handing it out, retailers!

From Polygon, which just launched and you should add to your RSS reader of choice:

I’m looking forward to the music we’ll be making in Halo 4 Infinity multiplayer in a couple of weeks.

For some time now I’ve wanted to have a gadget that would allow me to grab footage from games I’m playing and either stream that content to a service like or post it to YouTube or VideoPress. Over the last two weeks I’ve purchased a couple of solutions to try them out and after some testing I think I’ve found the winner, at least for now.

The one I won’t be returning is the Elgato Game Capture HD, and for most people who would like to capture gameplay, I can recommend it as a starting point for capturing gameplay video. I’ve done some tests with the device and will insert them throughout the review; all YouTube videos in this post were captured in my living room using the Game Capture HD.

What’s in the Box?

The Game Capture HD is a pretty simple package. You get:

  • The Game Capture device
  • A 1-meter HDMI cable
  • A 2-meter mini-USB cable
  • A 1-meter PS2/PS3-to-DIN cable
  • A very short DIN-to component/RCA stereo breakout cable

In short, everything you need to use the device comes with it, which is very handy. As far as the computer hardware you need, it’s best to look this up on Elgato’s site, but it works with USB 2 (something its competitors sometimes don’t), is completely external, and works with both PCs and Macs. (I did my testing on a Mac.)

The device itself is not much larger than a deck of standard playing cards:

DualShock 3 and a 360 controller for comparison.

As you can see, there isn’t much to it. On one end, there is an HDMI out, which is a passthrough to your TV or other monitor, and the mini-USB connector that goes to your computer:

And on the other end, there is the HDMI in and the DIN in, which can accept either the Ps2/Ps3 cable or the component breakout:

That’s the extent of what you get when you buy it. You’re not left without anything, which considering the price of the unit, is quite nice. All the cables you need to hook it up come with it. You will need to download the software from the Game Capture site, which is a small (<100 MB) download and consists of only one application that is installed to your computer. It’s as minimalist as I think a capture box can be.

What About the Software?

The software itself is pretty simple and easy to grasp. When you start it up it will wait for you to connect the device if you are in the Capture screen.

Your input to the capture device is shown on the left. To the right, you can set options for the GCHD, check sound levels if input is running, give title information for the video before you start, and start the recording. The options that are available are pretty easy to figure out as well:

“Input Device” will tell the GCHD what to expect, from a choice of Xbox 360, PS3, and iPad, though as long as you have the input source selected properly, I found that it was pretty good at adjusting to whatever I had hooked up to it. You can adjust the bit rate of the compression used as the device sends the video to your computer for storage, and if you want you can also make some image adjustments – though those adjustments will also be reflected on your display, so I didn’t use them.

On the Capture screen, there is a short timeline in the corner near the big giant record button:

This acts as a buffering interface, much like a DVR. If you are running your game through the GCHD, it will automatically buffer the last hour of gameplay for you. If you want to begin recording, the default option is just to start with the current live point of the video, but if you would rather back that up to catch something awesome you did before starting the record, you can scrub the marker back on the timeline and adjust the starting point.

This is a nice feature and if you are cool with running your game through the GCHD all the time, can save a moment here and there that you might not otherwise have caught.

When you want to work with the video you have already collected, you use the Edit screen.

Your already-recorded videos are arranged based on the game title you entered when recording each video. There is a timeline view that has rudimentary razor and delete tools, and you can review the video as you please. There are also built-in exporting options in the lower-right. You can configure GCHD to use each of those services and it will appropriately compress the video for you and then upload the video as you need. You can see that it will also create local files for you optimized for your devices—or if you would rather move to something like Final Cut you can just dump a ProRes version and carry on.

What Makes the Game Capture HD Awesome?

The one-touch record and export are definitely the best parts of the package. Hooking up the GCHD is dead simple and using the software is even easier. It’s game recording at the push of a button, and you don’t have to know the slightest thing about video codecs, compression, or editing to get your footage shared to a bunch of services. In that way, if you are just looking to show people some games, and you don’t want to drop a serious amount of cash, it’s a great device. I never had a problem with it doing exactly what it advertised, and never had a hardware freeze or a software crash in all the time I tested it.

The video management is pretty good and keeps things organized and easy to find. File sizes and types are manageable, and you don’t need a high-performance computer, hard disk array, or data transport to use it. Having it run on USB 2 must not have been simple, but it works and means that a lot more people will be able to use it.

It will also record video from an iPad 2 or later, or an iPhone 4 or later, as you can see:

This is really neat, because I figured it wouldn’t be this simple. With the GCHD it’s just plug-and-go. If you are a software developer and you would like to give demos of iOS applications using video, this would be a great tool to have.

That said, there are a few hangups, depending on what you really want to do.

Where Does It Fall Short?

You shouldn’t buy the GCHD if any of the following are really important to you out of the box:

  • You want to stream your gameplay to instead of record it.
  • You want to record your voice while you play the game and have that be part of the video.
  • You want to play the game on your computer monitor or don’t have a TV handy.

Let’s talk a bit more about those.

The main problem that gets in the way of those is that the device itself is doing a lot of the encoding before the video even makes it to your computer. Because of this, there is a delay (depending on the bit rate you are using) that is a few seconds between what you are doing and what appears in the GCHD software. (This delay doesn’t affect the passthrough, which works flawlessly.)

The GCHD software doesn’t have any method available to mix in additional sound sources such as a microphone to your video. I hope this is something they are looking into adding in a future update because I know the lack of commentary ability will turn off a lot of people, like Minecraft players for example. If you wanted to you could record audio at the same time and then mix it in using an app like Premiere after the fact; you would just need to deal with the timecode difference—but it’s a lot of work to do all that.

Similarly, you can’t stream the video directly from the device. It doesn’t function unless the matching software is running on your computer, and it doesn’t appear as a capture device in any other applications. I did some gymnastics with my computer using CamTwist and recording the GCHD software window to pipe that into Flash Media Encoder, but that just made my MacBook sound like it was going to take off and the footage didn’t look all that awesome. I think it’s too much work for most mortals. As with the commentary thing above, I hope this is in mind at Elgato for a future update. It’s definitely on my wish list.

Other limitations that might give you pause but are far from stowstoppers:

  • You can’t record or passthrough at 1080p, but not much other than super-pro gear can. You’re limited to 720p or 1080i. And the GCHD can’t capture older SD sources.
  • The GCHD won’t passthrough Dolby Digital audio, or at least it didn’t in my testing. You’ll need to run an optical from a 360 direct to the receiver, and if you are trying with the PS3 you are pretty much out of luck. You’ll get Pro Logic II (matrixed surround) and that’s it.
  • If you leave it hooked up all the time, the passthrough won’t work unless you have the GCHD hooked up to your computer and the software running. It’s both or nothing.
  • You can’t record any HDCP-protected content via the HDMI connection. This includes PS3 games, which for some inexplicable reason, have their video output copy protected.

Some of the stuff that’s listed above can be alleviated with a software update or two (or so I would guess), but there are some things that are just limitations of how the device is made and intended to be used.

What Else Did I Test?

For purposes of making a wise decision, I also tested a Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle Pro. I was originally going to keep it, but after some additional testing I decided against it. Without getting into that device too much, my comparisons:

What it does better: is a capture device and so can stream directly: theoretically no audio lag: can be mixed with other audio sources; can capture from SD sources; more powerful overall.

What it does worse: definitely not plug-and-play; requires USB 3 or Thunderbolt (depending on model); much more CPU-intensive to use; doesn’t compress on the fly; had an audio lag I couldn’t resolve in practice; brought my computer to its knees; streaming was promising but ended up muddy and choppy in the end.

In the end, I kept the option that was simpler mostly because I can’t afford a new computer right now. I really want to stream gameplay, but I think I am going to have to look into building a PC specifically to do that at some point and use an internal card solution from AVerMedia.

Conclusions: Should You Buy One?

If you are looking for a low-cost ($180 on Amazon) and easy-to-configure way to capture your gameplay footage and post it to YouTube or share it on your blog, it’s a winner. It’s quick to set up, portable, simple to use and figure out, and gets the basics right. With some additions to the software in the future, it could be the only piece of hardware you would ever need for capturing footage from the current crop of consoles.

It works with lower-spec computers than many of the other options out there, is pretty much the best solution I have seen for the Mac, and can ever grab stuff like iOS footage without needing to goof around with settings and video formats.

It’s a winner.

If you have questions about my review or the GCHD, drop a comment below. Otherwise, watch 10 minutes of Pai and don’t forget to tip on your way out: