For all the talk about people who only watch downloaded television shows and movies on their computers and iPads, sometimes there’s nothing like live TV.
This week I tested a new product called Aereo, which may be an ideal fit for people who want on-the-go entertainment and don’t want to give up watching live TV shows or the ability to record and time-shift while watching.
Aereo has been available by invitation only in New York City since March. Last week, Aereo Inc. beat back a court challenge brought by TV broadcast companies, and the company expects to expand to other major cities over the next year. People based in New York City can get an invitation to Aereo within 24 hours by going to Aereo.com and clicking Request Invite.
The technology platform currently is only usable on Apple’s iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. It also doesn’t carry all channels, only those broadcast over the air.
Aereo couldn’t be simpler: It runs in the browser of your smartphone or tablet and shows you a TV program guide like you were sitting at home in front of the big screen. It requires no additional hardware at your house or on your devices. Instead of the stuttering, choppy footage we’ve come to expect from Web videos, Aereo uses a technology in the background that streams content to your device in HD quality with only an occasional blip as you first start watching a show. You can watch live TV or recorded shows, and it works like you’re sitting home with your DVR, letting you pause a show, rewind or skip ahead through commercials.
A group of Aereo antennae are located remotely and send local TV broadcast signals over the Web to subscribers. The technology streams content in HD quality to your device.
You don’t need a cable-TV subscription to use Aereo. One account currently costs $12 monthly, and this enables up to five devices; Apple TV (via AirPlay) or Roku can be used to beam this content onto your home TV. Aereo compatibility with PC Web browsers and additional mobile devices is expected later this year. Each account can record two shows simultaneously, storing up to 40 hours of programming.
Aereo will soon be releasing a new, flexible pricing structure that would give consumers access to the technology at a variety of prices, the company says.
I got a special Aereo account that allowed me to test it as if I lived in New York City, even though I live in Washington, D.C. On the iPad, I tested it in Apple’s Safari browser as well as Google’s Chrome browser. And I tried it on the iPhone in Safari.
Two big factors stood out as I used Aereo. It has a thoughtful, clean user interface that works well on the iPad, where I tested it most. And its video quality is startlingly good. On more than one occasion, I completely forgot I was streaming video rather than watching a file stored on my iPad.
Chaitanya Kanojia, Aereo’s chief executive, said Aereo’s smooth play is due in part to the company building its own transcoding system, and there’s no buffering or caching of content.
Aereo has a few intuitive features. For example, shows can be watched in one of four video-quality levels (low, medium, high or auto), but people might not know what their network is capable of playing. By tapping the words “check speed,” a built-in speed test gets results for your network and tells you what speed would work best. In my house’s Wi-Fi network, the results said, “Your current network speed is about 2.44Mbs. That’s fast enough for high-quality video.”
While I was watching live or recorded shows on the iPad, I could tap anywhere else on the screen and the show that was playing automatically shrank and dropped down into the bottom right corner of the screen. This meant I never had to cover up the window where video was playing or pause a show to navigate around the app.
Fans of regular TV will find comfort in Aereo’s Guide, which includes all the trappings of a TV program guide with channels listed on the left and days and times running across the top of the screen.
On a touch screen, I found this guide much easier to navigate than with a traditional TV remote. I slid my finger along the top of the guide, instantly skipping ahead from Monday to Sunday, tapping on individual programs to see more details about them. Within each show description, a large, red Record dot appeared, and I could tap on this to record a show. If a show was live, I tapped a Watch button to immediately start watching it.
Once I selected the button to record a show, a small pop-up window appeared from the bottom of the screen asking, “How often would you like to record ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon?’ ” Options included Just this Once, Every New Episode or All Episodes.
You can connect your Aereo account with Facebook or Twitter to share your recording options with friends.
There are currently 28 channels available over-the-air in New York City, including major networks, subchannels and specialty channels like NYCTV and iON.
I found CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, CW, PBS, PBS Kids and HSN, but not Bravo, HGTV, Food Network, TNT or VH1, as these are cable channels, not over-the-air.
If you’re a fan of TV and want a better way to watch it on the go, Aereo is a pleasure.
Write to Katherine Boehret at firstname.lastname@example.org