Week 35, 2015: Using an app to watch TV and program your home DVR


Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 35, 2015

Q. We keep background music going all waking hours. We use dedicated boxes for both DirecTV (SONICTAP) and Comcast (Music Choice) and send the signals from the boxes to an amplifier for a whole-house audio system. The problem is the most recent tuner boxes no longer display the tuned channels, assuming they’ll be hooked to a TV that will display the channel. Do you know of any kind of app or add-on that will display the selected channel?

-Dick Erlin, Santa Cruz, CA

A. As you have noticed, displays on the front of cable and satellite boxes are largely a thing of the past now. They has been omitted to cut hardware costs, of course, and in most cases they are redundant anyway since if the box is on, the TV is usually on as well.

There are no add-ons I know off that can provide a second small display with the channel number. Fortunately both DirecTV and Comcast offers apps on both the iTunes Store and the Android Market. These apps can work as a remote control and will display the selected channel on your phone or tablet’s display. These apps can also be used to program your DVR remotely and search for content, and best of all, to watch live TV and content from your DVR.

Most pay TV companies have similar apps now. I personally am a Dish subscriber and I use their app all the time, for many different reasons. When I see an interesting TV show mentioned on the Internet, I pull out my phone and use the app to program my DVR so I can watch it. I also often use it to access live TV or check the news channels. It’s like taking a TV everywhere with you, or having a portable TV for every room of the house. I was going to buy a TV for my kitchen and mount it on the wall, then I remembered my app. Now I just set up my iPad, pair it to a small Bluetooth speaker (lately I have been using the Braven Balance, which I will be writing about soon) and place them both on the counter.

There are limitations. When I am overseas I can’t access my DVR content or live TV due to area restrictions. For example, I just got back from a long vacation in Russia and could not watch my Dish content there. This did provide the impetus for me to watch Star Wars movies in Russian at my hotel, on their version of the Disney Channel. Fans will not be surprised to learn that Jar Jar Binks is just as annoying in any language!

You should also be aware of the danger of driving up your phone bill. If you have unlimited data, it’s not a problem to stream live TV and DVR content wherever you are. Otherwise it is best to limit TV watching to places where you have Wi-Fi connection. It is no problem using the app with your cell data to program your DVR, search for content or check TV schedules.

Though I answer a specific problem about television hardware in this column, the overlying message for all readers is that if you have a tablet or smartphone, locate and download your TV service provider’s app and use it. It gives you even more control of your content and viewing experience, and it’s like taking a TV with you everywhere you go.