Review: Aereo Makes it Tempting to Cut Cable TV
Broadcast networks make many of their shows available on the Internet, but you usually have to wait at least a day after an episode airs on television. A subscription service called Aereo breaks those shackles and makes network programs available right away.
That sounds too good to be true, and in a sense it is. First, it works only in New York City for now, though Aereo said Tuesday that it will expand to 22 more U.S. cities this spring. Its channel selection is limited to 29 over-the-air channels and Bloomberg TV. It doesn’t include the other cable networks I frequently watch.
The biggest caveat is the fact that broadcast networks are suing to shut it down. More on that later.
Aereo is no fly-by-night pirate operation. The startup is backed by big money and a big name - media billionaire Barry Diller. Aereo believes what it is doing is legal. It has created tiny antennas, each the size of a dime. The company stuffs thousands of them into small boxes at its data center in Brooklyn.
When you’re ready to watch a show, you are assigned one of those antennas, as if you had your own antenna on your roof. You get a second one, too, if you want to record something to watch later. You can also record both shows for later. Shows you watch live or record for later viewing are streamed over the Internet to a Web browser.
A day pass costs $1 and gives you 10 days to watch up to three hours of recorded shows. You can pay $8 a month for unlimited live viewing and 20 hours of storage, or $12 for 40 hours. Or you can pay $80 for a full year and 40 hours. That annual price is less than what I pay my cable company for TV each and every month. It’s a great deal for people who mostly watch broadcast television and not a lot of sports. (Regular-season games are typically on cable channels these days.)
I’ve been trying out Aereo since September to record and watch all sorts of programs on Aereo - both highbrow shows such as "Downton Abbey" and guilty-pleasure ones such as "Revenge."
Service is now available on Mac and Windows computers, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV and Roku’s set-top box. The company says access on Android devices should come this year. You can watch on up to five devices, meaning you can start watching on your desktop at home and continue where you left off on an iPhone while waiting for the bus. Two people can watch different shows at once, but not the same show on different devices.
To get started, simply flip through an interactive program guide, similar to the kind you’d see on TiVo or a digital video recorder from your cable or satellite TV company. You can also search for specific shows or keywords. Typing in "Giants" pulled up shows on the football team and giant animals.
Once you come across a show you’re interested in, simply choose "Watch" or "Record." Watching "live" is actually delayed by several seconds because of the time it takes to convert signals into Internet data and send to you, so don’t make any impromptu sports bets. If you choose to record a show, you can do it for just that one episode, for new episodes only or for everything including reruns. Keep in mind that "everything" means everything. I managed to record some PBS shows multiple times - filling up my 40-hour allotment - because of repeats overnight.
To watch a recorded show, simply choose it from a list. Like most video players, Aereo lets you jump to any portion of a show, so you can watch just the ending or go back a third of the way in. Depending on whether you watch in a small window or the full screen, you can replay the past 10 or 30 seconds or jump 30 seconds ahead - perfect to skip over one commercial.
Aereo isn’t an on-demand service. So if you hadn’t recorded a show, you can’t go back to watch it. That’s where Hulu comes in. It typically offers the past five episodes of shows from NBC, ABC, Fox and the CW. Where Aereo is particularly useful is in filling the gaps - CBS and PBS, plus local programs such as the news.
Aereo also lets you start watching even before a show ends, just like a regular DVR. Most shows on Hulu aren’t available until the next day, and those on Fox take more than a week unless you pay for a subscription. You get the same commercials that are shown over the air, and you can skip them. Hulu has different ads, which you can’t skip. Shows are available on Aereo until you delete them or run out of space, while Hulu drops the oldest episodes as new ones appear.