Cutting the Cord, Over-the-Air TV, and DRM

This weekend, I set up an over-the-air antenna and tuner at home. It wasn’t because of the Super Bowl, but because of Jeopardy!.

First Solution at Streaming Jeopardy!: YouTube TV

I canceled cable last year, but Jeopardy! is the one broadcast show that I want—my family watches it every evening. That led me down a path of evaluating streaming options. As a long-time, happy YouTube Premium user, I settled on YouTube TV, a paid subscription service that charges $72.99(!) for what is essentially a cable package of channels with an online DVR. For that steep price, I got a base package that doesn’t even include 4K resolution when it’s available. To add further insult to injury, the interface is truly terrible—I thought it would have the benefit of building on the well-known paradigm used on YouTube itself, but no—it’s nothing like YouTube. So, I got motivated to look for alternatives again. Unfortunately, it seems that YouTube TV is one of the better streaming options that includes the local channel that carries Jeopardy!. Time for extreme measures: I decided to try out an antenna.

Second Attempt: HDHomeRun, Antenna, and Plex

I bought an ATSC 3.0 HDHomeRun Flex 4K tuner and an antenna. The HDHomeRun is a small box that takes a coax cable from your antenna as input and provides a method for turning over-the-air (OTA) signal into digital streams on your home network—connected by Ethernet—that you can watch live or record for later viewing. I’m using Plex for scheduling and recording the channel that carries Jeopardy! on network-attached storage. Plex also provides a player app on Apple TV.

So far, so good. Plex recorded two episodes of Celebrity Jeopardy!, and is poised to get the regular series’ episodes this week. Plex offers some interesting features, like commercial marking and skipping, and its DVR seems to have all the standard features one would expect. The playback interface seems basic, but serviceable. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be a good long-term solution, and I can kick YouTube TV, and its terrible interface and high price, to the curb.

This wasn’t a particularly cheap option: the HDHomeRun cost $199, the antenna another $199, and I already had a lifetime Plex pass, but that’s another $120 (or $5/month) if you don’t. (Plex isn’t required, but the software that comes with the HDHomeRun is pretty barebones.) Still, to get rid of a $73/month subscription, I’m willing to plunk down; it’ll pay for itself in a handful of months.

Gloomy Epilogue: “NextGen TV” and the Spectre of DRM

While perusing the online channel guide, I noticed some channels—including our local CBS affiliate—were marked as DRM-encumbered. A quick search revealed an article by Jared Newman at TechHive:

It’s been more than five years since I first asked whether ATSC 3.0, aka NextGen TV, would spell doom for over-the-air DVR. The answers are coming in now, and they’re not encouraging.

Unfortunately, even OTA broadcasts are starting to be DRM-encumbered. The HDHomeRun I bought is ATSC 3.0 compliant, so I should be fine, but man, it seems that there’s no stopping the march of DRM. I pay quite a lot for my content, and don’t pirate. But I’m frequently bitten by the annoyances of DRM. Just in the last week, I got an HDCP error on a TV, and my new Vision Pro blacked out the screen on a screenshot that I wanted to share with a friend to illustrate what the theater-like experience is like. No piracy was going to happen with a still frame of me watching Avengers: Endgame, I assure you; but a black screen certainly ruined the point I was trying to make.

Anyway, it seems that OTA is safe for at least four years from the time of the article, but it sucks nonetheless.