Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Watch Cyclocross, Please

This is my view from the turbo trainer.

At   the end of October, Trek announced that its website would host live video for 10 of this season’s top European cyclocross races. American fans welcomed the news: Trek says it had more than 10,000 viewers for the first webcast on November 1. That was last Tuesday; weekend and holiday numbers should be higher. This Friday, for instance. As we observe Veterans Day, Belgium will observe Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I. Even if you have to work, I encourage you to dedicate a browser window to the webcast of Jaarmarktcross. Even if you turn off the speakers to stay out of trouble with your boss (you’ll get ambient race sounds, but no commentary … and it wouldn’t be in English anyway), even if you aren’t actually watching, tune in. Lots of website hits will encourage Trek to keep providing the coverage beyond the 2016-17 season. And it costs you nothing.

Well, probably nothing. If your Internet access comes from a cable TV company, then you may be familiar with data caps. Those are the bandwidth thresholds at which the cable company says you have had enough fun for one month … unless you don’t mind paying a premium for more. The data cap system is a money grab that has nothing to do with network congestion or fairness, and its primary targets are people like me.

In January I told you about my early experiences with cord cutting—i.e., getting rid of a wasteful, expensive bundle of Internet, home telephone, and cable TV services. Almost a year later, my family and I are very happy with the new arrangement. Thanks to mobile phones, we haven’t missed our land line at all, and our Internet connection is our connection to television programming. We have been experimenting with Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix, watching about 80 percent of our shows “on demand” and about 20 percent live, over-the-air. So far, we haven’t had any data cap issues. That’s probably because my kids weren’t big TV watchers in the first place; your household’s experience might be different.

Smart TVs in the living room and master bedroom made the transition easier than it would have been otherwise. They have built-in apps for the on-demand services and they connect easily to my ChromeBox or to my laptop if I want to watch streaming coverage of a bike race on a screen bigger than the 22-inch monitor in my home office. But down in the home gym, the TV is an older high-definition model with no Internet connection, no way to connect to my laptop, and an NTSC tuner that can’t interpret the new digital broadcasts. The solution there was a $37 converter box with an ATSC tuner and a USB port to which I can attach an external hard drive. That allows the box to function as a DVR, but so far I’m using it only for over-the-air TV and to play back bike races. YouTube has countless hours of racing coverage. Using an online converter to change the format from FLV to MP4, I can download to my external hard drive and then play through the box to keep myself entertained when I’m on the turbo trainer or lifting weights. The setup isn’t as slick as the YouTube app, but I have a workable solution until one of those smart TVs ages into the home gym, its upstairs replacement funded by all the money I’m not paying for cable anymore.

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