Cutting the Cord on Live Sports

If you’re a cord-cutter you probably already understand the frustration of trying to stream live sporting events or other live events like awards shows, press conferences, or concerts. The streaming world, even in 2022, is still not friendly to live events. Some organizations, like the NFL, have been really good about streaming games or selling streaming rights. If you’re a baseball or hockey fan, it’s a barren landscape. Sure you can buy the leaugue’s streaming package and watch probably every game but the one you actually want to watch. Why is this the case? Local sports teams make exclusive deals with local TV broadcasters which means the national streaming packages black out the team(s) in your local area. If you’re a fan of your local sports team, you have to watch that team on the TV network they signed the deal with, and that network only.

My favorite sport is professional ice hockey and my preferred team is the Pittsburgh Penguins and because I live close enough to Pittsburgh, streaming through the NHL’s provided streaming service will result in a blackout of all Pittsburgh Penguins games. In this scenario I have three options to watch a live Pittsburgh Penguins game.

Option 1 – Cable Subscription

The easiest and most straight forward option is to subscribe to traditional cable. This requires contacting one of the local cable companies (Verizon or Comcast in my area). The Penguins games are on AT&T SportsNet which could be a higher package than a basic cable setup. A package that let’s your select AT&T SportsNet through Verizon costs about $70/month, on top of my existing internet service. In addition to the monthly cost some cable packages require long-term agreements and equipment rentals, so this isn’t the preferred solution for something looking to cut that cord.

Option 2 – OTT TV Subscription

An over-the-top or OTT TV subscription is similar to a normal cable subscription, but it’s all internet-based. Instead of a set top box connected to cable, you can stream live TV to your streaming device of choice, including smartphones and tablets simultaneously. Every market is different with the OTT options and local sports stations, but luckily AT&T Sports Pittsburgh has partnered with FuboTV to bring their content to OTT streaming. This option is good for families that want to watch different programming on different screens at the same time. AT&T SportsNet is available on the base Fubo package, which is about $65/month, with no commitment. This is the perfect option for sports fans that may not want to commit to a year or multi-year cable subscription. It’s easy enough to cancel when you don’t need it and start it back up during the sports season.

Option 3 – Bypass the Blackout

Disclaimer: this option has a few more moving parts, is not for the non-tech-savvy person, and could violate the terms of agreements with your streaming and/or internet provider.

There are two parts to getting around blacked out sporting events. I’m going to speak specifically to my situation where Pittsburgh Penguins games are blacked out in my home region. The first part is getting a streaming service where you can watch the games. NHL hockey on ESPN+ is new for the 2021-2022 season, whereas before NHL.tv was the streaming provider. Thankfully, ESPN+ is a cheaper service than NHL.tv and can even be bundled with Disney+ and Hulu. You’ll need an ESPN+ subscription to watch Pittsburgh Penguins games in any market, but it also gives you access to stream almost every other NHL game as well as a large variety of other sporting events.

Once you have the ESPN+ streaming service and try to watch a Penguins game near Pittsburgh, you’ll get a notice that the game is blacked out in your area. Here’s where part two comes in.

Fire TV’s DNS entry interface

The easiest method I’ve found to bypassing these blackouts is using a DNS proxy service. This is another subscription you must pay for in order to use it, but it’s relatively inexpensive. You also need a device to stream the games on. Any device with a built-in GPS, such as smartphones and tablets. will not work with a DNS proxy as the ESPN+ app will use the GPS to determine your location. After signing up for a DNS proxy service like smartdnsproxy, you’ll be given one or two DNS IP addresses to input on your device. Most of the DNS proxy services provide per-device instructions that can show you specifics to your device. I use an Amazon Fire TV Stick to achieve this. When setting typing in the Wi-Fi password for my home network, there is an advanced button at the button of the on-screen keyboard. This will allow you to manually enter the IP details instead of automatically pulling it from your router. Entering the provided address from the DNS proxy and a reboot is all it takes to get it configured. The streaming apps will then see your location as the DNS proxy thus allowing you to watch blacked-out games.

Let’s see how cost effective this solution actually is:

ESPN+ = $70/yr
SmartDNSProxy = $48/yr
Total 1 year = $118
vs
Cable/Fubo 1 year = $840

That may sound simple and a no-brainer, but it’s not the whole story.
The new NHL TV/streaming rights are weird, so not every game is on ESPN+.
Here are the number of games per network for the 21-22 Penguins season:

  • 69 – televised on AT&T SportsNet and streamed on ESPN+
    • Games on AT&T SportsNet and ESPN+ can work with options 1, 2, and 3 above.
  • 5 – televised on TNT only
    • Games on TNT only work with option 1 provided you have TNT in your cable package.
      TNT is not included in any Fubo package.
  • 4 – streamed on ESPN+ and Hulu
    • Games on ESPN+ and Hulu only work with option 3 as you need a streaming subscription to watch these games.
  • 3 – televised on ABC only
    • Games on ABC only work with option 1 as even the ABC streaming app requires a cable subscription.
  • 1 – televised on ESPN only
    • Games on ESPN only work with option 1 as the base ESPN channel and ESPN+ do not overlap.
      You need an active cable subscription to watch ESPN.

As you can see, there is no one option that can make all games watchable. If you’re concerned with watching every single game, a combination of option 1 and 2 is the best bet.

Devices

Using a DNS proxy to bypass a blacked out sporting event works on most streaming devices that do not have a built-in GPS, like I mentioned above, with the one giant exception being Roku devices. Roku does not allow you to change the DNS server on your device as they use their own DNS servers and give you no way to change it. You could set the DNS server at your router/gateway level, but then every device on your network would be pointing to that DNS proxy. This is not recommended. I recommend using an Apple TV or Amazon Fire streaming box for best compatibility. It also works on Playstation and Xbox consoles, but be aware that changing your DNS on game consoles could impact online gaming.

I suspect that all of this confusion is somewhat intentional to make you just order that cable subscription and be done with it. If you’re an avid watcher of all local sports, I’d say a traditional cable subscription is best since you’ll be able to watch the most amount of games no matter what sport is in season.

The Best of 2020: TV Series

Unlike movies of the past year, TV shows or series, have become our primary form of entertainment. Personally, I’ve been favoring a series over a movie because they seem to be better written and produced these days. There was a lot, past and present, content to watch while we were all stuck at home this past year. TV helped us pass the time of being quarantined, but also helped us connect with others by sharing common interests in content. I enjoyed a lot of TV shows this year, but I whittled my list down to just three. These three are new shows for 2020. There were a lot of great shows (The Mandalorian, The Boys, Big Mouth, The Crown, and Ozark) that gave us new seasons to enjoy. Today I’m focusing on shows that debuted in 2020.

In no particular order, here are my picks for best new TV show of 2020:

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness – March 20 | Netflix

An international phenomenon and the only thing a lot of us talked about during the earlier outbreak of COVID-19. Joe Exotic, the Tiger King won us all over with his crazy story and footage at his entertainment park. If you haven’t seen this by now, stop what you’re doing and give it a watch. You’ll thank me later. Hopefully someday we’ll get more from this crew, but for the rest of history, Joe Exotic will be what helped us get through our first ever pandemic shut down.

Ted Lasso – August 14 | Apple TV+

A comedy about an English soccer team coached by an American doesn’t really sound like something most people would be interested in. Before I started watching Ted Lasso it was not something I would have watched based on the synopsis, or cover if you will. After the first episode I was hooked. It’s a kind hearted, well written story about overcoming the various hurdles in your life for a bigger purpose. When you watch Ted Lasso you’ll find yourself laughing, crying, and on the edge of your seat, all in the same episode. Don’t worry about the premise, give it a shot and if you’re like me, you’ll be counting down the hours until you can watch more of Ted.

The Queen’s Gambit – October 23 | Netflix

A series about a chess prodigy… is this going to be another Ted Lasso where we don’t want to judge a book by its cover? Well, in short, yes. The Queen’s Gambit follows a young girl through the child welfare system where she discovers her natural ability to play chess. I can’t explain really what draws me to this show, but I think it’s primarily the story telling and the acting. The lead actress shines through her ups and downs as we see what it’s like to be a chess cehampion in the mid-20th century. The Queen’s gambit is another show that you should ignore what you think it might be about and just watch it. Again, trust me.

Honorable mention:

Dave – March 4 | Hulu


Check out more of my ‘Best of 2020’ —> Here

Want Next-Gen Gaming? You Need a New TV!

Thinking about getting a Sony PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S|X this holiday season, or any point in the future? If so, the odds are your current TV won’t be good enough to get everything out of these next-gen1 consoles. Here’s why…

What’s Special About the Next-Gen Consoles

The next generation of console gaming is here and with it brings a variety of new technology that will make gaming exponentially better than previous generations. For starters, both new consoles come with solid state storage (finally!) that will make loading times 100 times faster than older systems. Another significant change is how similar the two major systems (PS5 & Xbox) compare in performance. In years past we could see an easy winner of performance on paper, but this generation, it’s much closer. The PS5 and Xbox Series X both make claims of achieving 120 frames per second2 at 4K resolution3 , which was previously only possible on very high-end computer rigs.

So Why Do I Need a New TV?

Let’s say for a moment you got a nice shiny new 4K TV a year or two ago and think that your new gaming system will look great on it. Yes it will display at 4K, but you won’t get the new features that allow 120fps gaming or advanced HDR4 for gaming. Keep in mind, if you’re TV isn’t updated, you’re better off waiting to get a new PlayStation or Xbox until you get a new TV or there is a specific game you want to play on the next-gen consoles. If you currently have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One or One S, you’re not even currently getting above 1080P5 gaming. You need a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X6 to get the higher resolutions. If you’re fine with not getting the most out of your new system and just want the next-gen consoles, then you’re good to go and don’t need to keep reading.

What Do I Look for in a New TV?

There are three major keys to look for in a new TV for your next-gen console. I would make sure the TV you’re selecting has all of these features to make your experience the best it can be.

  1. HDMI version 2.1
    This is the latest spec of HDMI that allows 3x more data to go through the cable. Both systems have HDMI 2.1 ports, so your TV needs to as well.
  2. 120hz refresh rate
    This is how fast a TV refreshes the picture. Most TVs operate at 60hz. The 120hz refresh rate is needed to hit that 120fps mark.
  3. HDR10+ or Dolby Vision support
    These are competing HDR standards. This will allow you to get the most 4K/HDR content out of your new TV. I personally prefer Dolby Vision, but if you buy a Samsung, it will have HDR10+.

Bonus features to look for: VRR (Variable Refresh Rate), G-SYNC, FreeSync, HGiG, and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode)

Just Tell Me What TV to Buy

If you don’t want to look for a TV that has everything you could need to enjoy next-gen gaming, I have some recommendations for you.

  • Top Pick: LG CX OLED 55”, 65” or 77”
    • Has all the bells and whistles plus it’s OLED so it looks incredible
    • Supports Dolby Vision
  • Samsung Q80T LCD 55”, 65” or 75”
    • Great alternative to the high-priced OLED, also has everything you need
    • Supports HDR10+
  • Budget Pick: Vizio P Series Quantum X LCD 65”, 75”, or 85”
    • Great pick if you want a super-large TV
    • Supports both HDR10+ & Dolby Vision

If you’re interested in getting into the minute specifics of these details, it’s a great rabbit hole to go down, check out my favorite site, RTings, here: https://www.rtings.com/tv/reviews/best/by-usage/video-gaming

Personally I chose the LG CX OLED 65” for my home theater and gaming TV. The TV was discounted heavily for the holidays and met all my requirements. Now all I have to do is wait for my Xbox Series X to show up.