Live broadcast TV on my dad’s Roku? It’s more likely than you think!
August 30, 2019 10:14 AM   Subscribe

My father, who lives in a very rural area with poor digital TV reception and almost no broadband access, just got a Roku and a WISP data connection, so he and my stepmom can watch movies. I talked him into Netflix and he already had Prime for shipping, but I didn’t realize how much he would care about live TV, and he didn’t realize I didn’t realize, so I never thought to check into it.

I talked with him this morning and he was quite out-of-sorts that all this new hardware wouldn’t let him easily watch football or local news. I don’t do these things, so I hadn’t even thought that it would be a concern — when he talked with me before his interest was in getting movies without eg driving into town for RedBox. I guess he thought if he could get any of hundreds of movies whenever he wanted them, of course there would be live sports and the evening news.

He doesn’t want a cable subscription — he’s not paid for TV over the air in 80 years and he doesn’t want to start now (though if there’s something I can quietly buy him that will make his life easier, I’ll hold my nose and pay. His interests are entirely in Maryland TV stations (can’t remember all the call letters but I know when I was a kid we (barely) got ABC from Baltimore and DC, NBC and CBS from DC, and whatever UPN and WB are now, if they even exist. We were right on the edge of “fuzzy signal” with a big aerial on the roof, but when things went all digital the signal apparently wasn’t strong enough to tune in anything other than PBS and FOX (and he hates FOX, so that’s not a battle we need to fight).

So any thoughts on where to start looking? I get almost all of my news online so don’t even really know how local news works, which is a bit embarrassing to say but here we are. I know many stations do live-streaming through their websites but I’m not sure how one would connect that with a Roku. It looks like some of the local stations have Roku apps, but they’re mostly in the mold of “watch clips later,” not live TV.
posted by Alterscape to Technology (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you want live TV that's broadcast-like you're going to have to pay for a subscription of some sort. Hulu and YouTube TV both have locals but you're looking at ~ $50 monthly to get those online. Most local sites only have what you describe, clips and previous broadcasts.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 AM on August 30, 2019

Best answer: Streaming is a challenge for many people, but especially older people (including myself). I try to keep track of these things so I can advice neighbors who are finally seeing real broadband. If he wants live TV then he will likely be confined to YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV. The former -- IIRC -- has all the major local channel networks, and the latter I think has all but CBS.

Then the next issue is the interface. In my experience both personally and advising others is that the interface is the larger issue. Older people really like a TV grid. And each provider (Hulu, etc) can look different depending on the device (again, as I hear it). For example, I can see a grid display in Live mode of Hulu with Live TV on my Apple TV, but a friend who has an older Roku says she has no such view.

This is going to be a challenge. Good luck.

I did grow up in Rockville, MD, and I can't remember any of the local channel names. I live in Vermont now and I have no clue which channel is which network's affiliate. *shrug*
posted by terrapin at 10:23 AM on August 30, 2019

Best answer: The easiest method (though one that does require payment, $45/month) is probably Hulu with Live TV. Sling has some local programming in some places, and is cheaper (packages start at $15/month), but my understanding is that the local offerings are not as good.

I strongly suspect that you're unlikely to find an option that gets you NFL football games without any payment.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:24 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sling (which works fine on Roku) is the cheapest but has the most limited local offerings. You can check here for what they have in your dad's area.
posted by praemunire at 10:29 AM on August 30, 2019

Best answer: Many options listed on Watching live TV on the Roku platform
posted by ShooBoo at 10:30 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sling's local offering is primarily sending you an antenna and telling you local channels are free.
posted by GuyZero at 10:31 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Check
posted by AugustWest at 10:35 AM on August 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

Some cable companies offer really basic subscriptions to network channels (but via cable) for a low price, like $10. It's pretty outrageous for most people since the channels are free, but handy for people with poor reception.
posted by acidic at 10:38 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: LoCast looks really good. Thanks AugustWest!

Unfortunately there is no cable available in his area — it’s literally not laid down his street. Satellite and cellular were the only options until this month, when a WISP set up an antenna with line of sight to his roof.
posted by Alterscape at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2019

OTA TV might still be an option. It's likely that he can still receive signals, but that the roof-mounted antenna he was using to watch analog OTA broadcasts isn't cutting it for digital. Of course that would require mounting a new antenna on the roof, not the easiest job.

Keep in mind the pretty much absolute limit for digital signals is about 70 miles because of the curvature of the earth, so disregard if he's just at or over that.
posted by Automocar at 11:10 AM on August 30, 2019

We've tried YouTube TV, DirectTV Now (AT&T), and Hulu. I thought YouTubeTV was the best of the three, but there were some cable networks only Hulu had that my wife was interested in, so that's what we're currently using. Don't know if maybe local TV coverage is market-by-market, but here in the Boston area we get all the local channels except PBS.
posted by briank at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2019

I use a SiliconDust HD HomeRun Dual tuner to view over-the-air TV signals. It's connected to Windows Media Center running on a Windows 7 PC, which is connected with an HDMI cable to the TV/monitor. Note that Windows Media Center isn't available on Windows 10, but there are alternatives. There is no monthly charge involved, though you have to pay the initial cost of the hardware. The original setup wasn't overly difficult, but I'm a techie.

I should also say that I'm located pretty close to the broadcast antennas for the local TV stations, and I still had to fiddle with the antenna to get good quality signals. If your father is in a rural area, he may not be able to pick up the signals.
posted by JD Sockinger at 11:37 AM on August 30, 2019 doesn’t have local stations, but he might want to check it out anyway - it’s 100% free “live” tv, and it has more stations than any other service I’m aware of, including a bunch of news stations and sports stations. They have a Roku app. They have a ton of niche stations, and seem to add more every month.

Also, each of the big networks has their own news app on the Roku, and they have live news streams as well as “on demand” stories. For instance, we watch CBS Sunday Morning live this way every week, and if we oversleep and miss a story, it’s still available directly underneath the live stream.

I know this doesn’t solve your actual problem, but I wanted to mention it because these are ways to increase their choices without spending any money.

(As far as OTA, I live much closer to El Paso than Albuquerque, but I end up with Albuquerque local stations on my antenna because the Albuquerque stations have repeaters located in my area. It’s frustrating, because El Paso news is much more relevant to my area.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:26 AM on August 31, 2019

Locast is pretty good but doesn't cover many markets. On a computer or phone you can fake your location to make Locast think you're in one of the markets it has but I don't have a Roku to see if it can fake a location.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:32 AM on August 31, 2019

Back in the old, analog days everything you mention would have been broadcast in the VHF band, which requires a different sort of antenna than the UHF broadcasts that became more common during the digital transition. That said, some of the local broadcast channels in Baltimore and DC switched back to their original VHF frequencies when the transition completed and the old analog signals completely went away.

What I'm saying is, it's probably worth looking again into antennas because things have changed a couple times since the digital transition first started, and also there are some better UHF antennas available now that might be able to pick out the signals he wants from the networks that are broadcasting in UHF. Also TVs got better at locking onto noisy signals than they used to be.

NB: things are still moving around due to spectrum repacking, so the "best" antenna now might not still be the best antenna when the repacking is done. With digital TV the best thing to do is have your TV do a rescan whenever anything changes (new antenna, new antenna orientation, new TV, a channel disappears, etc). It's tedious but you may be able to find a combination of antenna and positioning that gets you an optimal combination of quality signals on "important" channels. (Have I sat on my roof with my laptop connected to a TV tuner, while tweaking antenna orientation? Yes. Yes, I have.)
posted by fedward at 3:31 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

YouTubeTV does what you want. I cut the cord at my parents house last year and this was the best solution (via roku, fwiw). Here's my reasoning:
-Google allows you to do 'family sharing', so I get the benefit of youtube tv as well (although I don't use it as much).
-Live TV *and* recording like a DVR. Plus the DVR works off of 'shows you like' and not pick and record. So they never have to go through and pick the shows they want to record like they used to... they're automatically stored for them
-Recording limited by date, not by 'size'. So there's very little library management.

once I setup family sharing, there were other areas of overlap (youtube premium, storage, etc...) that they got the benefits of.
posted by kookywon at 3:24 PM on September 3, 2019

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