Cape Codders got their first look at the Aereo TV service last week as service for the Boston market went live for those who pre-registered in April. The system will be open to all as of June 1st.
Quite simply, Aereo is a service that delivers broadcast television over the Internet. For $8 a month users receive access to their very own digital antenna with the signal delivered over their broadband connection. The service includes broadcast channels available in our market area and a “virtual DVR” service to compliment the TV content. Aereo operates a “farm” of antennae in the Boston area – one or two for each subscribe –serving a digital stream to each antenna’s subscriber.
Sign up is a simple process. Choose the subscription option you want, set up a username/password, verify location and start watching TV on Aereo. It really is that simple!
Aereo offers two plans. The entry plan is $8/month and includes the broadcast channel suite, 20 hours of DVR storage and the ability to watch TV and also record a program on another channel at the same time. The $12/month plan includes 60 hours of DVR storage and the ability to record two programs at once. We believe most users will start with the $8/month plan.
Aereo delivers TV to users via three different media: desktop/laptop computer, tablet/smart phone or via a “TV connected” device like Roku or Apple TV. The service allows users to authorize five different devices that can receive the Aereo stream.
How Aereo Works
How does Aereo work? In a word: excellent! We tested Aereo with desktop PCs and two different models of Roku boxes. The system performs well in all venues.
The PC interface is smooth, uncluttered and intuitive. Aereo for Roku is slick and behaves as other Roku channel apps. The system maintains a steady, unbroken stream most of the time with a minimum of re-buffering. Helpful hint: Set picture quality to “automatic” to allow Aereo to optimize your experience for the Internet connection and network speed at your location.
Aereo has an interactive channel guide so users can either choose to watch something “live” or schedule future recordings of a show on the excellent “virtual DVR”. When watching the live stream Aereo behaves much like a traditional DVR – you can pause live TV, then un-pause and finish watching the show. If you can’t finish the show, you can tell Aereo to record that program so you can watch the rest of it later.
For the geeks in the audience, our testing was done on a Comcast home network connection that read 25 MBPS down and 11 MBPS up. We tested on a Wireless G, Wireless N and wired Ethernet connection.
In addition to maintaining a steady audio/video stream, both of our reviewers mentioned the exceptional picture quality delivered on a desktop PC. Both of them ran Aereo and Netflix side by side for comparison. Both reviewers found that Aereo’s picture was always of equal or higher quality than the Netflix picture.
One reviewer tried the system on an old, flat-screen CRT television in a back bedroom and remarked how much better the Aereo picture looked on that set than a regular digital cable picture.
What Channels Do You Get?
In the Boston market, which includes Cape Cod, Aereo subscribers get the following channels:
Aereo’s user interface allows parents to block channels and individual programs.
We found two hiccups in Aereo’s program. The first is that Aereo only supports tablets and smart phones made by Apple. With Android the de facto leader in tablets and smart phones, Aereo needs to publish an Android app – and quickly.
The other snafu we encountered was when testing the service on a Comcast Business connection. Aereo only authorizes access if the user is in the geographical area covered by the local TV market. Comcast Business accounts on Cape Cod often have IP addresses that map to someplace in New Hampshire. This is not a problem for desktops and laptops, as there is a forced override available. However, if you’ve got a Roku at your office you are out of luck. Aereo does not have a location-override available for Roku.
On the plus side, when we emailed Aereo tech support about this problem at 1:35 p.m. on Saturday we received a response in exactly 15 minutes.
Is Aereo Worth It?
Absolutely! For starters, you can access your DVR content wherever you are – watch it on your PC while eating lunch, on your iPhone while waiting for a doctor appointment or even start watching a recorded movie in the living room and then pick up where you left off watching when you move to another room.
If you have an extra cable box in a guest room, office or some other area where you don’t watch much TV you can replace the rented box with a Roku box ($49-$99) and have access to local broadcast TV and the virtual DVR.
The Future of TV is Here Today
Aereo is a service that works well and is available right now. It does what the company promises and at a highly affordable price. Aereo provides a rich channel selection and a free virtual DVR service – far more than “basic cable” offers.
With cable companies consistently showing on the “most hated companies” lists and Senator McCain peddling a bill that will force cable to permit unbundled, a-la-carte channel subscriptions, television over the Internet may have arrived at just the right time. Over the next few years, many people expect to see HBO and other premium services begin to offer individual, retail subscriptions to folks who don’t subscribe to cable television but use cable broadband as a dumb pipeline. Aereo is an important piece of that puzzle, as it delivers all local broadcast content to users who already purchase their premium services elsewhere.
Aereo shows us the future of television and we like what we see.
Editor’s Note: Virginia Lam, Aereo’s VP of Communications & Government Relations, wrote this morning to report that her company is working on an Android app and hopes “to have it out later this year”.