We spent the past weekend testing out Aereo.com, a service that for a fee, enables you to watch local TV stations in HD without the need for an OTA antenna. The service is compatible with your iOS device, computer web browser, and both Roku and AppleTV. Currently the service is only available in the New York City metropolitan area, but the company intends on rolling it out nationwide in the coming months and years, and has recently announced pre-registration for 22 new cities: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City (MO), Madison (WI), Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, Raleigh-Durham, Salt Lake City, Tampa and Washington D.C.
Here’s how it works. Aereo has their own antennas set up to receive local, over-the-air HD antennas. They collect those broadcasts, and re-broadcast them over the internet to subscribers. The benefits of Aereo versus owning your own antenna are:
- No antenna hardware to buy or maintain.
- Ability to pause, rewind and record TV without any hardware or software purchase.
- Ability to watch your local programs anywhere in the world with an internet connection, on a PC/MAC/iOS Device.
Simply goto www.Aereo.com and sign up for an account. Doing so will give you four free hours to test out the service on either your Mac/PC or iOS device (Roku and AppleTV are not enabled for the free trial). After your initial free trial, you will get a limited access one-hour daily trial (only on Mac/PC or iOS device, not on Roku). Signup should be straight forward, although we ran into a couple of problems. For one, be sure your privacy settings in your browser are turned OFF. Not doing so caused numerous problems, including the service not being able to find my location (required for sign up), as well as not recognizing that I had signed up for the service, requiring a log out/log in to re-orient the service. That said, I emailed customer service – on a Sunday – regarding the issue and received an email back within 5 minutes, quite impressive.
Overall we were impressed with the quality of the service. We tested the service on a Mac on both Safari and Chrome, as well as on an iPhone and a Roku Box (XS model both wired and wifi). While in general we were pleased with the quality, we did find a number of shortcomings:
- The Roku Aereo channel is a private channel, as such its not official and must be installed from your Roku account settings at www.roku.com
- The AppleTV – There is no Aereo channel for ATV, instead, Aereo relies on native AirPlay functionality to send the feed from your iOS device to your ATV, results of which were mixed.
- The Roku (and ATV) require control be accomplished through either a PC/Mac or iOS device. There is no guide on either device. Aereo on AppleTV relies entirely on Apples AirPlay service, while in order to get the service on your Roku box, the user must first goto the Aereo channel, then on either a Mac/PC or iOS device, use the browser or webapp to select the desired channel, and then select the Roku device, which has to be ‘added’ to your account in a similar fashion as adding a new Roku Box to one’s Roku account. This means you must be sitting in front of your Roku-enabled TV with either an iOS device or Mac/PC at all times…not a deal breaker, but it would be preferable to have the channel guide and full functionality on the Roku itself.
This, in my opinion, is the biggest hurdle Aereo has to overcome. At $80/year, the service is greatly more expensive, over the longer term, than simply buying an antenna yourself. Yes, you get the cloud-based DVR, pause, rewind and control functions, as well as the ability to watch your programs live or recorded anywhere you have internet access, even outside your home, but for less than years of the service, you could own an antenna, get an HDHomeRun and use EyeTV software and get the exact same functionality for a one-time price. In particularly bad weather, Aereo isn’t impacted, like your own antenna might be, but its still a steep price.
And that’s exactly where I intend to use Aereo, on those rare, bad weather days when my antenna signal is shoddy, I’ll simply buy a day pass for $1 and regain access to my local, live programming.
Overall we found the picture quality to be quite good. Tested mainly within my home’s network, iPhone, iPad and Mac-based playback was good, as or almost as good as the signal I get from EyeTV. However, the big screen is where we found the picture quality to not be quite up to par. Using my numerous wired Roku 2 XS, we found that despite my Optimum 25mpbs internet connection, and setting Aereo’s quality to the highest setting, the picture quality was fine, but not near the same quality as my OTA antenna. This was especially true on my 60″ Pioneer Kuro TV, although less so on smaller TVs throughout the house. The picture floated in and out of getting pixelated static to a relatively good HD channel, but again, nothing close to a clean OTA signal.
Aereo is a pretty good service at a decent price. For mobile viewing, other than owning your own antenna, and purchasing software such as EyeTV, there is no competition. Having restricted, cloud-based DVR storage is a bit of a bummer, although setup and maintenance is hard to beat. As we see it there are two key issues – quality on the big screen and price. While price isn’t a huge hurdle – its under $8/month or just $1 per day if you choose to go the route I will be going, quality is the big factor, and most importantly for cord cutters, quality on the big screen. My home is completely wired with Cat6 cable, and every Roku in the house is the newest gen 2 XS model. Whether the inferior quality as compared to my OTA antenna is Roku hardware, Aereo service, or my network I cannot determine, but odds are its not the network or my download speeds. While watching football on my big screen through Aereo’s Roku channel wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t great – too much pixelation interruption and too many buffers to really enjoy. We are sure the service will get better with time, and for the price, its a pretty good way to help cut the cord. For now, I’ll stick with my OTA antenna, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on Aereo. Happy cutting…