“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Remember this quote from the 1976 movie Network? It sums up my feelings about the present state of pay-TV providers and forced me to do something about the ever increasing fees and poor customer service. Thanks to Aereo, I’ve been able to dump the TV portion of my cable bill and now have a much better level of service and a reduced cost. While this service may not be for everyone, it does merit a look, so let’s do it.So what is Aereo? It’s a service that allows TV viewers to rent miniature TV antennas, at the Aereo offices, to capture local over the air (OTA) TV broadcasts, which are then streamed to the user via the Internet. This programming can be displayed on a TV using a Roku (or through AirPlay using a supported iOS device and an Apple TV box) or viewed on a PC, iPad, or iPod. The rented antenna can be used for live viewing, or the program can be recorded at the Aereo facility for later streaming, just like a DVR. The Aereo service at present is only available in limited areas; New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Houston, and Salt Lake City, but is on a fast expansion track. Potential customers must live in the greater viewing area of those cities to receive the service. I live in Southern New Hampshire, which is 70 miles from Boston, but is considered part of the Boston viewing area.
Before I get into the technical details, I’ll share how I decided to make the switch from the local monopoly’s TV offering to Aereo.
Ten years ago we moved into Southern NH and signed up for something called extended basic cable TV service. I think it cost us about $20/month. After several years, the bill had more than doubled, so I discovered that there was something called limited basic service, which only had the local stations in the package. This was fine by me because I wasn’t much of a TV watcher, and the locals kept us up to date on what was happening in the area. The price was a reasonable $12-$14 per month, and the signal wasn’t encrypted, so I could plug the cable directly into the 3 TVs I had around the house. It was even better when I finally subscribed to internet service from the cable company, because the limited basic was essentially free when packaged with the internet. After a while, the price crept up to $24/month, but I didn’t complain, because now the limited basic was broadcast in HD using QAM. Over time I replaced my analog TVs with flat screens that had QAM tuners, so life was good.
Then on July 23rd of this year the limited basic service was encrypted, after the FCC reversed itself on requiring that cable providers must keep local channels un-encrypted. I was looking at a major price increase. Yes, the cable company would supply up to 3 set-top boxes to decrypt the signal, and they would be free for a year or so. Oh, but if I wanted the signal in HD, which I was getting before encryption, then I’d have to pay an additional $4.99/month for each of 3 boxes for 3 TVs. Enough was enough, so I did something about it. I cancelled the TV portion of my cable service and signed up for Aereo. If I could, I would have put up an antenna, but because of my location, there is no reception either OTA or via satellite.
The only change I made to my viewing hardware, was an upgrade of my Roku player to the Roku 3. I already had the Roku HD, but to ensure the best possible viewing experience for my spouse, I figured an upgrade was worth it.
If you’re not familiar with the Roku, it’s a device the allows streaming video from the internet to be displayed on a regular TV set. It’s a very simple piece of hardware and consists of the box itself and a remote.
Because I would be streaming video over my local area network, I was concerned that streaming over WiFi might not be fast nor reliable enough. The Roku 3 is the only device in their line that has an Ethernet port, making it a better choice for connection via my power-line network. Also, the Roku 3 has an RF remote, so it’s not direction sensitive.
The main reason for getting Aereo was to replace the cable feeds for local channels. Here’s what you see on the Roku after you subscribe. The Aereo app is free, and there is a small authorizing step needed before you’re ready to go.
This is the main or home screen for the Roku app and the jump-off point for accessing the features of Aereo. The search feature is rather powerful for searching both recorded content and future broadcasts from the guide.
The programming guide can be accessed by either time…
or channel. This photo only shows part of the channels available.
When a program is selected, there are options to watch or record. When you watch a program, it begins recording so that you can pause, rewind or fast forward.
If you’ve recorded programs previously, you can select them from the above screen.
There are other devices that support watching with Aereo, including an iPad app and a PC using a browser.
When using the PC and browser, the graphical interface is much different. I find it much easier to navigate, so if I want to record a program, I either do it using the PC or iPad.
Recorded programs display more completely in the browser. They can then be played on the PC.
When displayed using the browser, the image can either be small or extended to full screen.
There is also a native iPad app with all the features and a much better GUI than the Roku app. To take advantage of the features of the iPad app, you can enter two-screen mode when using the Roku, and control the stream with the iPad, but display the results on the TV. The best of both worlds!
There are some adjustments that need to be made to your TV viewing habits when using Aereo. Before I jumped in full-time ,I took advantage of their 30-day trial to test it out. This made it much easier to sell the service to my spouse. I’d suggest you do the same to minimize any hate and discontent from your significant other, especially if they’re technophobes.
If you’re a channel surfer or the type of person that turns the TV on in the morning and lets it run all day, you’re in for a different experience with Aereo. That’s because Aereo is not channel centric, but program centric. When you select a live program to watch, it will be streamed for the time shown in the guide and then stop at the end. You will then need to select a different program to watch. This action is analogous to watching recorded programs on a DVR. Also, there’ll be many button pushes on the Roku remote before a program starts streaming.
The quality of the picture on my HD TV via the Roku is excellent, but things aren’t perfect. Sometimes there is network congestion, and the stream buffers. This can be lessened by adjusting the picture quality, but obviously it’s a trade-off. I can live with the occasional buffering, and even when it gets excessive, I can have the live program recorded for later viewing.
After using Aereo for about a month, I upgraded from their $8/month plan to the $12/month plan. Under the cheaper plan I would rent one antenna and have recording capacity of 20 hours and either record or watch one program. Under the $12 plan I get 2 antennas and up to 60 hours of recording storage. It also allows me to watch two programs or record two programs or watch one and record one program. Neither of the plans require any long-term commitment. They are month to month.
I’ve been extremely satisfied with the Aereo experience. Their customer service is amazing. Although communication is limited to email, when I experienced a problem, they responded in 4 hours and were able to fix the issue in 2 more.
My only concern is their survival. The major networks haven’t taken too kindly to Aereo providing OTA signals to users over the Internet, because the networks generate a large amount of their revenue by selling these free signals to the cable providers. So, rather than try to compete, the networks are trying to sue Aereo out of existence. To date, Aereo has prevailed in several lawsuits, but the networks have decided to push the issue to the US Supreme Court rather than compete.
If you live in a serviced area, why not give Aereo a try? They still have the 30 day free trial.