- Honest-to-goodness live HDTV over the internet
- Works on web, iOS and Roku
- Attractive interface
- Cloud DVR that can accessed across multiple devices
- Weak channel selection
- No Android support or native mobile app
- Can be choppy for those without a steady internet connection
- Some clumsy design decisions
Aereo is great for those who can get by with basic TV stations and want to watch them on the go. It's ahead of its time, and could make a great companion to a Netflix subscription. But its lack of channel variety and Android support, combined with a handful of design hindrances, keep it from reaching its full potential.
Television isn’t dead. People still like their shows. They still gather around the office to talk about American Idol. They still find, build and maintain relationships due to their common knowledge of Seinfeld in-jokes. They still fall asleep with David Letterman hamming away in the background. For all the proclamations of television’s impending doom, most people are still here, staring at some screen until their eyes burn out for the night.
No, television isn’t dead. But it is changing. It’s because it’s old. The tech industry dictates that the modern man is one who is on the move, mobile, and wanting of entertainment to suit his roaming needs. Where is he going? Who knows. Maybe to work, maybe to his mom’s house, maybe to a coffee shop. But wherever he is, his need for TV and an always-at-the-ready flow of entertainment hasn’t died, because the technology to facilitate said entertainment is there and waiting to be implemented. We built the capability to take TV out of our living rooms, now it has to come.
Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus have made major headway in satisfying that need. But although they offer much of the same content, they haven’t been able to fully replace old TV. Instead, the search has begun for a service that will allow the modern television viewer’s dream to become a reality, the kind that will allow him to take his television and crunch it onto his smartphone or tablet or laptop on the go, with no compromises. Oh, and cheap. It has to be cheap too.
Enter Aereo, a rising New York-based startup that has earned the backing of billionaire media mogul Barry Diller and the ire of just about every major television broadcaster in America. When things like that happen to a company, it usually means that it’s onto something.
In Aereo’s case, that something is housing thousands of tiny remote antennas that transmit broadcast TV signals back to a user’s PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Roku device. Because Aereo uses antennas, the courts say it doesn’t have to pay any retransmission fees to those angry TV companies.
And because it doesn’t have to pay any fees, Aereo charges its subscribers as low as $8 per month to let them watch live, local over-the-air TV from their various devices. It even lets them record 20 hours of programs in the cloud too. Alternatively, a $12 per month plan gives them up to 60 hours of cloud DVR storage.
Aereo is a service that doesn’t just cut the cord — it takes the cord out of the equation entirely. It isn’t quite the same as the a la carte fantasy that consumers have desired for years, but if successful, it could pave the way for something more than comparable. It sounds like a dream, but in practice, does it live up to its promise? TechnologyGuide has been playing around with Aereo since it expanded to Boston last month, so here’s what we think.
Setup and Interface
Aereo works. It does exactly what it promises to do, and that’s probably the best thing it has going for it. Users who live in the Boston, New York City or Atlanta area — or, eventually, one of the 21 other regions to which Aereo plans on expanding in the coming months — need only go through a quick sign-up process before being able to watch their local TV stations from their non-TV devices. (Note: unless specifically noted, assume all details in this review apply to the desktop version of the service.)
Signing up is relatively painless, but is subject to some small caveats. Aereo doesn’t let users access their accounts from an unlimited number of devices, instead limiting to users to five. These devices need to be registered with Aereo before they can be used.
The service weirdly considers each separate desktop internet browser to be a different device, so if a user wants to watch Aereo on both Chrome and Internet Explorer, two of the five available registrations get used up. Thankfully, users can remove registered devices and replace them with other ones at any time.
Once users log into their accounts, they’re greeted with Aereo’s understated yet attractive interface, which itself is split into three tabs: Featured, Guide, and Recordings. Featured is the default page, and displays a rotating list of notable upcoming programs. Each show gets its own high-def profile photo, and users are given options to watch or record them right from the home screen.
The Guide tab is, well, the program guide. Like the rest of Aereo, it’s presented with a clean, teal and white color motif that looks sleek with its big text. It displays seven channels and two hours’ worth of programming at a time, and also has quick tabs at the top of the page for viewing the next 10 days of content.
The Guide is easy enough to navigate, but unfortunately is not very customizable. Users can remove certain channels from being listed altogether (TG never watched Cozi TV anyway), but that’s it. There’s no way to, say, rearrange the order of channels or the size of particular listings. That being said, the design is far from obtuse, and users can get to their shows without much hassle.
When those users do click on a program, they’ll see a nifty info card that lists that show’s title, episode description, runtime, and original airdate. The card also has options to share the show on Facebook or Twitter, which is a recurring theme throughout the service — users can link their Aereo account with the two social media sites, and one settings menu at the top of the page is dedicated solely to inviting friends to the service.
Watching TV Online
But whether it’s a social experience or not, actually watching television on Aereo works as advertised. After a couple of seconds of initial buffering, almost every live program TG streamed moved along without any noticeable hiccups. Across every device TG used, Aereo’s performance was consistent and commendable.
It’s a little strange to see at first, but being able to log in and watch the morning news, live, from the office, after just a couple of clicks is the kind of experience that makes one believe in what Aereo’s selling. It’s a simple idea, but it feels futuristic in action. This simple execution is where Aereo shines brightest.
Aereo is a cloud service, which makes it so programs can be started on one device and finished on another. This isn’t necessarily new, but it’s still wonderful. TG started up a rerun of Seinfeld on Chrome on one night, recorded the rest of it, continued it on its iPhone on the train into work the next morning, paused it again, and then finished it on an iPad in the office later that day. Magic.
But the service’s online nature also means that the quality of Aereo’s streams will be dependent on one’s internet connection. Those with slower speeds are naturally going to get more turbulent performance, but for its part Aereo offers separate Low, Medium, and High video quality settings. Aereo recommends connection speeds of 550 Kbps, 1.4 Mbps and 2.4 Mbps, respectively, to handle these, though it also offers an Auto quality option that determines the best fit for a particular user.
Either way, users who keep a keen eye on their bandwidth will want to remember that this is a persistent, online, HD streaming service. As such, it can eat up data quickly for subscribers who aren’t careful.
The High quality stream maxes out at 720p resolution. That’s just fine for mobile and most laptop owners, but subscribers should be warned that Aereo can’t provide full HD by default. This is especially the case for those who plan on using Roku or Apple TV on larger television sets.
A given program’s display is accompanied by a range of basic on-screen buttons. Stop and Record do what they sound like, Replay and Skip rewind and fast forward the program 10 seconds at a time, and Tweet and Share let users proclaim what they’re watching on Twitter and Facebook. Again, the idea is simplicity. Minimal controls on the display itself let users pause, play, enter fullscreen mode, and navigate to a specific point in the program as well. This is all self-evident after a few moments with the service.
Page 2 of the Aereo review covers the cloud DVR and mobile platform, in addition to the conclusion.
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