Technology Tuesday: Streaming TV with Aereo

You may have heard of the shitstorm that Aereo has stirred up with the big networks and cable providers. Established media never likes technological changes or advances and has a difficult time wrapping their feeble minds around the march of progress. A slew of lawsuits to shut the service down has brought much attention to that company. By now, you may have heard that Aereo is a streaming solution that allows you to watch network TV on a variety of devices – even when you are away from home. You may have also heard that Aereo is your own personal DVR in the cloud.

If you have been curious what Aereo is all about or never heard of it before, this week’s Technology Tuesday is for you. We’ll tell you what makes this service unique, what some of the limitations are and most importantly, help you figure out if it makes sense for you. As more and more people are “cutting the cord” and ditching cable TV, Aereo comes at a perfect time. As a complement to Netflix, Hulu, Roku and other similar services and devices that people utilize to get content, Aereo is definitely worth considering.

What exactly is Aereo? A service that allows you to stream broadcast TV to your computer, tablet or smartphone. Additionally, it allows you to record programs and stores them in the cloud negating the need for your own hard drives or constantly connected devices. Like any DVR, you can pause, rewind and replay live TV without having had the program recorded in advance. Aereo is able to do this by providing each one of their subscribers a miniature antenna (about the size of a dime) that is located in their data center. So when I record or watch a program – it is being streamed to me from “my” antenna. This is how they are able to operate within the letter of the law. There’s nothing to install, nothing to download and nothing that you need except for a browser and an account which starts at $8/month.

Who can subscribe and what channels are available? Currently the service is only available in the New York metropolitan area as well as in limited beta in the Boston metropolitan area. A slew of other cities in major markets are expected to roll out shortly and include Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston and about 20 others. You can view everything you can get “over the air” in your market which always includes the major networks of ABC, NBC, CBS, CW, PBS and Fox.  There’s a bunch of other lesser known networks that include Ion, ThisTV, World, Create, HSN and a handful of others. A full list of available channels is available on the Aereo website. More are expected to be added as well.

Interface and Supported Devices Aereo is only accessed via the web. You can access the web app with most popular browsers including Chrome, Firefox and Opera. On the mobile side, Aereo is also accessed via your browser and not an app. Unfortunately, the only mobile devices currently supported are iPhones and iPads. If you use a mobile browser that allows you to change your “user agent” like Dolphin Browser on Android, you can always access the site that way by spoofing an iPhone. You can watch Aereo on your TV through a Roku channel as well as Apple TV via airplay. You are allowed five authorized devices at a time which allows for use on laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone and Roku or Apple TV without having to de-authorize one.

The interface itself is beautifully designed and slick, modern, clean and intuitive. It is very reminiscent of Android’s “Holo” design scheme with highlighted underlines, plenty of whitespace and pleasing fonts. Tabs along the top are easy to navigate and display “featured shows”, past recordings, program guide (which has a week’s worth of information), settings, search utility and some social elements.

Once you start watching a show, the previously mostly white page dims to black to highlight the player.You can watch full-screen or browse the guide concurrently. It is a terrific design and has lots of nice touches. For example, when watching a program and clicking the “recordings” tab, your program will pop into a small “picture-in-picture” type display allowing to continue watching and listening.

[Aereo Interface]

DVR In addition to streaming live TV, Aereo also functions as a fully featured DVR. You can pause, rewind and fast-forward live programs. You can also select programs to record as “one time only”, all new episodes (no repeats), or all instances of a program. The recordings are kept on Aereo’s servers and can be played back anytime. The basic membership ($8/mo) allows you 20 hours of recording space while $4 more allows 60 hours. Just like TiVO, you can view your upcoming recordings and set priority levels for each show in case there is overlap. Likewise, when setting up a recording you can schedule additional minutes in the beginning or end (particularly helpful for live sports or other such events).

Does it work? Quality? Not only does it work- it works phenomenally well. Assuming half-decent bandwidth- the video quality is extraordinarily high. There’s nothing resembling video quality of yesteryear coming over rabbit ears. The picture is high-def (up to 720p), crisp and vibrant with audio quality to match. The video loads extremely quickly when selecting either a live show or a recorded one even with the little bit of buffer built in to help with stability. There are three video quality settings that you can chose from or simply leave on “auto-detect”. Just like on the laptop or desktop, the video quality remains high as does the experience on an iPad or iPhone.

[Aereo Recorded Programs]

Drawbacks and Limitations As previously mentioned, there are currently no apps and Aereo is not officially supported on anything other than Apple devices. While you can pin the web shortcut to your homescreen and have it act sort of like an app, it is still a web interface which some people do not prefer verse a full blown app. Also, as previously mentioned this is only available in New York and Boston at the moment. Speaking of markets: you also need to watch Aereo within your designated metropolitan area. In other words, I can watch my local news or sports program while I am at my office but not if I am on vacation in Hawaii. The “Boston” market consists of Eastern MA through Worcester county as well as all of Southern New Hampshire and some of Vermont. New York’s market area is also huge but again, limits you to playback within the confines of that predefined area.

Bottom Line Aereo works amazingly well offering a great design, high quality streaming video and fantastic DVR functionality. It is a very reasonably priced solution at $8/month for those wanting to watch live network TV (and a handful of other stations) and don’t have the need for cable networks. Even with digital antennas, some areas just have a difficult time receiving all the network channels so this might be an option. Likewise, for those who are just light TV users and want the ability to easily watch such things as breaking news stories, Aereo may make sense. Even for those with a full cable package at home, Aereo could be useful for people who would like the ability to watch TV away from home. I’ve really enjoyed using Aereo over the past week and have been impressed with it overall. However, since I already have a Slingbox and TiVO that allows for streaming and watching recorded programs when away from home, I will likely not subscribe once my 30-day trial is up. However, I do love the speed with which I can start streaming (much quicker and more responsive than Slingbox) and the fact that it doesn’t interrupt anyone’s viewing at home like Slingbox does.

Aereo will make sense for many people and like TiVO before it, has the ability to really disrupt the TV industry. It will be interesting to see how this service continues to develop and if it will encounter any future legal roadblocks. If you are in a market that Aereo serves- might as well check out a Free 30-day period to see if this might work for you. If you are not in a currently served market, keep your eye out- Aereo might be there soon!


(Paging reader “Tallboycan”….did you read last week’s column about Google Music…may want to check it out!)


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