When you “watch TV” on your iPhone or iPad, you’re probably watching premium TV content you’ve purchased or rented from a service like iTunes, Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.
What I’ve been testing over the past week is different from that. It’s called Dyle, and it’s a mobile TV service from a group of broadcasters that include the Fox, NBC, Telemundo and ION networks. (Fox, one of the broadcasters in the Dyle group, is owned by News Corp., which is also a parent company of this Web site.)
Dyle turns some mobile devices into mini TVs, ones with an actual TV tuner, so that you can watch local news and a few basic channels on the go the same way you would watch television at home. This TV content is free, and you don’t need a cable subscription for it, though you will need to pay for the hardware that lets you watch it. Unlike streaming video from Web services, Dyle doesn’t use up your cellular data or even require Wi-Fi.
Live TV on mobile has been attempted before — and has received a fuzzy reception in the U.S., figuratively speaking. Qualcomm tried and failed with MediaFLO. A company called Aereo currently offers live TV directly on mobile devices and PCs for a small monthly fee, but it only works in New York City and is currently caught up in a legal battle with TV networks.
In fact, the group behind Dyle has been pushing live mobile TV for a few years now, though its hardware options have been pretty limited.
But, based on my experience with Dyle, I’m still not enthused about this kind of live mobile television.
Dyle doesn’t broadcast in HD, and doesn’t include DVR options. I didn’t have access to more than five channels, and the service was spotty. While Apple mobile users can access Dyle through a $100 accessory made by Elgato, Android users have fewer options. With the exception of the $459 Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G phone through MetroPCS, which has a TV tuner built in, Dyle currently isn’t running on Android devices. Dyle says the group is planning more Android devices with Dyle capabilities in the new year.
While it’s notable that there is now a solution for Apple devices, Dyle just wasn’t compelling enough for me to carry around the Elgato dongle and continue to use the TV service on a regular basis.
I tested Dyle in both New York City and San Francisco, two of the 35 U.S. markets in which it’s currently available. There are a couple of different ways to access Dyle, and the app names can get confusing.
First, there’s the Samsung phone from MetroPCS that I mentioned earlier. It has an extendable TV antenna built into the phone, and a Dyle-branded app comes preinstalled.
Then there’s the accessory from Elgato that works with the iPhone and iPad -– this app is called EyeTV, not Dyle. The dongle, which also has an antenna, plugs directly into the bottom of Apple devices with 30-pin ports. If you have the new iPhone 5 or the iPad mini, you’ll have to use an adapter.
After fully extending the antenna on the Samsung phone or the Elgato dongle, I was ready to watch TV. In New York, I had access to five channels, including NBC, Fox and Telemundo. The programming is framed by a very basic channel guide, which doesn’t offer much additional information beyond the show name. I watched local news in bed one night, and part of an NFL game on EyeTV using my iPhone 4.
In case you’re wondering, you will have to sit through commercials, just as you would with “regular” TV — and, nope, you can’t fast-forward through them.
The picture looked a little bit scrambled at times, and when I changed the size of the video to fit my screen, the audio would sometimes cut out. And the video didn’t fully extend to fit the screen of the regular iPad or iPad mini. Still, compared with my experience in San Francisco, Dyle worked pretty well for me in New York.
On the West Coast, the service was inconsistent. I tested Dyle on the same three devices. On the Samsung phone, I was initially able to pull in five channels: NBC, Fox, My 36, Telemundo and Qubo, a cartoon network. I tuned in to the evening news on Fox, and placed the phone next to my laptop so I could listen to the local news while I was doing work.
At one point, as I was changing channels, the signal cut out for me on the Samsung phone. It later came back, and Dyle TV says there may have been a service outage at that time. But after that I was never able to successfully access all five channels.
On the iPad mini with the Elgato dongle, I was only able to watch the Qubo channel. This was especially disappointing when I woke up one morning and wanted to check out the news on the iPad instead of turning on the TV. All I could watch were cartoons.
Another drawback about Dyle is that you can’t record or store content. So, when I was preparing for a couple flights this week, Dyle wasn’t part of the equation. If I wanted to watch a TV show or movie on my iPad during the flights, I’d have to download the content in advance from another service.
Dyle says that it’s working with more hardware makers to bring the service to all kinds of devices, including more mobile phones, tablets, and even screens in the back seats of cars. The company envisions that it could work as a cable-authentication service, providing a way to let you access your cable service from your mobile phone if you’re paying for a cable subscription.
But, for now, Dyle is just a niche thing for consumers who really like to watch local TV on their phones, and its content is still too limited to make it appealing.