Want to watch live or recorded TV no matter where you are (provided you have an Internet connection)? Then you’ll want to check out Aereo. Aereo is a new web service (pronounced Air-Ree-oh) that lets you watch TV on your computer, iPhone, iPad, and even on your TV provided you have an Apple TV or Roku device. Aereo recently launched in the tri-state area and the company is planning to expand into 22 new U.S. cities in 2013 including Boston, Miami, Austin, Atlanta, Chicago, and more (you can find the full list of cities Aereo will be launching in at the bottom of the post). We decided put Aereo to the test, so without further ado here’s our Aereo review.
Who’s Aereo For?
When I spoke with Aereo, they told me that the company’s goal is to build a business, while bringing more competition, choice, and rational pricing into the marketplace for consumers, which they believe are three key things that consumers don’t have today. I’d have to agree. Right now, cable companies charge a small fortune to consumers every month for things they don’t necessarily need, but opt-in for because it makes sense financially. For example, not everyone needs phone service or thousands of TV channels from the cable company, but buying one of their packages helps reduce the cost of your bill so most people do.
However, that being said, Aereo notes that their service isn’t for everyone due to the limited amount of channels they offer. They told me that Aereo is not an ideal solution for the diehard ESPN fan or for the consumer that likes the option of 500 channels. But, rather for those consumers who have a handful of shows they follow and like having access to live local news and sports. However, with that said, you could definitely pair Aereo with other services such as Netflix and the iTunes store and still end up saving money when compared to your traditional cable bill.
As of right now, in the tri-state area Aereo offers approximately 30 channels, with a handful of them being spanish language channels, but they do offer every major broadcast channel (CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC), meaning you’ll still have access to many of your favorite TV shows. Plus, they recently partnered with Bloomberg to offer the Bloomberg TV network on Aereo, something I expect Aereo to continue to try and do, in order to provide more content to their customers.
How Does Aereo Work?
Aereo has developed a super tiny antenna, equivalent to those old rabbit ears that used to sit on top of TV set top boxes many years ago. The super tiny antennas sit in data centers, which are connected to transcoding servers that broadcast the signal out to your device. And because the antenna’s are so tiny, they can fit hundreds of thousands of them in one data center.
One of the major keys to the service is that every customer gets their own antenna (or two — we’ll discuss why you may get two in a minute), which keeps the service legal. In essence, it’s no different than having your own TV with rabbit ears.
Now because Aereo works in the way we just described, in order for the company to expand, it requires them to setup their antenna and servers systems in the local market. This also means every city will have a slightly different lineup of channels. The channels that each city will receive will reflect that of their available local over-the-air channels.
Currently, there aren’t any apps for Aereo. The way you access it is by visiting Aereo.com, logging in, and then you can just start watching TV. This is great since it allows it to work on many devices, but it also presented some frustrations such as not being able to fast forward through commercials (with recorded content) consistently on various devices. On the computer, they have a “skip” button which does a pretty good job, however, on the iPhone or iPad you can manually scrub through the commercials using the timeline and that can be very inaccurate.
Aereo offers a few key features, the ability to watch live TV, record TV using its DVR technology, stream TV content to your Apple TV (requires the use of AirPlay), and link your Aereo account with your Roku box (if you have one).
Just like any regular TV, Aereo has a channel guide that you can browse through and pick something to watch. Simply select the show you want, and hit “Watch” — it’ll start playing the show in just a few seconds. And just like if you had a DVR from your cable company, you can easily pause live TV and then pick-up watching at a later point. Additionally, if you’ve paused your live TV, and you want to get back to what’s currently happening, you can fast forward. The same applies for rewinding, you can easily rewind a show you’re watching if you miss something.
If you purchase a paid subscription to Aereo, you will receive DVR capabilities. Every plan has a different amount of storage capacity, it starts at 3 hours for a day pass and goes up to 40 hours of storage for a monthly or yearly subscription to Aereo.
You can preset things to record, just as you can with a DVR from a cable company. It’s completely configurable, so for example, you can have it start recording one minute early and finish recording one minute late. You can also protect shows from being deleted, if you want to keep them indefinitely. And just like a regular DVR, you can start recording shows mid-way through, just hit the record button under the live TV feed.
As you can see, I was able to record Castle and the pilot episode of Golden Boy (which is pretty good, worth checking out). In my experience, playback was flawless and looked great. I did however notice that if you watch live or recorded TV on your iPhone or iPad, the quality can degrade significantly if you’re on a bad connection. If for some reason you’re on a good connection and are still experiencing degraded quality, check the connection speed settings and make sure you set it to high (or have it check your connection and set it appropriately). This should fix any quality issues.
As I mentioned before, if you have a paid subscription to Aereo, you have access to two of their antenna’s — the reason for that is so you can watch live TV and also record a show at the same time. One antenna will let you watch live TV, while the other will record the show.
You can stream content from your iPhone and/or iPad to your TV via Apple TV, which currently requires the use of AirPlay. However, if you have a Roku box, you can connect it to your Aereo account and setup a Aereo channel which you can watch directly on TV. That’s pretty cool, too.
Aereo Plans & Pricing
Aereo offers a few different plan options, all of which are very affordable (including a free to try option). You can find the complete plan details below.
Complete list of cities Aereo will launch in during 2013
Boston, Miami, Austin, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Cleveland, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham (NC), Salt Lake City, Birmingham (AL), Providence (RI), and Madison (WI).