27
Oct
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Why would you want to watch TV shows on a TV? That’s so 2005. The options for live streaming your favorite TV shows on various devices abound. But until now, the options for live streaming on Android were hard to come by. None of the popular apps (Hulu, Netflix, Crackle, etc.) have this feature. This is why Aereo is different. It has been available for a while on iOS, although curiously not through an app, but via the browser. Now it’s available for Android in the Google Play store. This is great news for cord cutters. You no longer need to walk around with your fingers in your ears to avoid those Glee spoilers, while awaiting its availability on Hulu. Well, it’s great for those in seven cities, anyway. Oh, and those with Android 4.2 or higher. However, for that small subset of people, you’ll love Aereo, even with the slight beta glitches.

As Jeremiah posted few days ago, Aereo is a live TV streaming service that uses a tiny TV antenna located in a data center. It stores your recordings on a cloud based DVR. Aereo is available on Android 4.2 or higher in these cities: New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Salt Lake City, Houston, and Dallas. (More cities coming soon.) There are two account options:

  • $8/mo for 20 hours of cloud based storage and 1 antenna. Record 1 show at a time. (You can watch something already stored and record at the same time.)
  • $12/mo for 60 hours of cloud based storage and 2 antennas. Record 2 shows at a time. (You can watch something already stored and record two shows at the same time.) This plan advertises simultaneous watching on multiple devices, but I was able to simultaneously watch three shows on the $8/mo plan.

Either plan allows for up to 5 registered devices at a time (PC/mobile). Your recorded shows can be seen on any of your 5 devices. Roku is also supported for up to 5 additional devices.

Recording and Watching Your Favorite Shows

Aereo comes with a handy guide, just like those big cable/satellite providers. When you open the app, it takes you to a “Featured Programs” page. Unless what you’re looking to watch happens to be on that page, you’ll most likely want to tap the menu to open the slide out navigation. The menu gives you the guide, your recordings, and the antenna. The guide is easy to use, maybe easier than some complicated cable company guides.

Screenshot_2013-10-23-20-26-15 Screenshot_2013-10-23-21-21-34 Screenshot_2013-10-23-21-20-57

You can tap on a show a get a description, what season/episode it is and if it's new, as well as the button to hit "record." You can scroll ahead about two weeks on the guide, which is handy.

Screenshot_2013-10-26-13-19-49 Screenshot_2013-10-26-13-06-51 Screenshot_2013-10-25-17-30-54

Your channel options include the major ones: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, PBS, as well as various religious, children's, and Spanish language channels, plus a few channels that I don’t recognize from my Directv guide, but could be hidden in there somewhere amongst the hundreds of channels. Those last few oddball channels show old (I mean really old) shows like All in the Family and Gidget.

In the slide out menu, in addition to the guide, you can view your recordings by date or by title. You can also "Manage Recordings," which simply means you can rank your series in order of importance, in case there is a conflict. The final item in the menu is the antenna, where you can view what's currently being recorded, as well as your space available. There is also a search menu present throughout the app to easily locate shows. If you pause a show, you get a handy widget in your notification shade to resume playback.

 Screenshot_2013-10-26-13-14-17 Screenshot_2013-10-26-13-17-53 Screenshot_2013-10-24-21-27-52

Playback went surprisingly smooth. The picture is crisp and clear – if you're watching something newer. I suppose I can't complain about a 40 year old show like the Six Million Dollar Man being less than fresh. In fact, those really old ones weren’t even filmed in the same aspect ratio as today's shows, so there are black bars framing the picture. But I'm getting off topic. You're going to want Aereo for the shows currently airing. Most of the shows from this decade look great. The newest shows look spectacular, particularly on my 2013 Nexus 7. Playback also looks beautiful on my Nexus 4. Ditto on my laptop. Screen quality and internet speed will cause experiences to vary, I'm sure. Within the settings menu, you'll find Aereo's "Video Quality" feature, which checks your internet speed and will adjust the quality of playback based on the results. But still, I imagine there is an internet speed that would make this app stutter. Keep that in mind for your situation. However, notice I said "looks beautiful." Actually playing the show was mostly great, but there were issues to be elaborated on soon. Rounding out the settings menu are options to link with Roku and customize your guide.

Screenshot_2013-10-23-21-23-04 Screenshot_2013-10-26-13-32-55 Screenshot_2013-10-26-13-23-21

Playback vs. Live TV

As with the cable/satellite providers, there are advantages to watching recordings versus watching live TV. With live TV, you won't be able to rewind or fast forward, but you can pause. Aereo says that you can rewind a live show, but you can't. I tried. It simply doesn't work. You can pause only. Whereas while watching a recording, you can fast-forward past commercials, pause, and rewind. You can scroll along the timeline by tapping it, which is way cooler than a traditional DVR, with exceptions. With older shows, it has a lickety-split reaction time. You put your finger wherever you want to go in the timeline and bam, it goes. But with any show that is newer, it can take much longer. If you want to rewind, Aereo takes some time to catch up. Maybe this is because there is more data wrapped up in a high definition TV show? Maybe it's a function of the internet at the time I was using Aereo, because sometimes it was snappier. But for the most part with older shows, the playback rewind/forward function is great and with newer shows, you will need to have your patience in check.

There is one feature that I use a lot with my traditional DVR that Aereo doesn't allow. I like to begin watching something that has already begun recording, but has not finished. Starting 15 minutes in allows me to forward through the commercials. What can I say – my time is too limited for commercials. I don’t have to wait until the show is completely finished recording to begin watching it. (I’m busy and impatient.) However, Aereo is not that sophisticated. I tried it and it just will not allow me to start a show from the beginning that is only halfway through being recorded. It will only start from the point it is at in the live broadcast. Perhaps with the upgraded plan, this would work? Perhaps it’s not that advanced. Perhaps I’m the only person who even wants this feature?

Screenshot_2013-10-25-17-46-50 Screenshot_2013-10-26-13-45-10

left:playback mode has timeline bar for scrolling. right: live/currently recording mode doesn't allow rewinding, as promised.

Roku

Yes, you can watch Aereo on the big screen with Roku. I was able to pair with my Roku account and add the Aereo channel. My recordings were available there, and I could also watch live TV, just as on any of my devices. The picture was crisp, clear, and streamed just fine. The device limit of five doesn’t include Roku in that total. In other words, when I set it up, Aereo stated that this was one of five Roku devices allowed on my account. So, I suppose if you own four more TVs in your house, you can go to town hooking up Aereo to all of them.

It Is Still In Beta

In addition to the quirk mentioned earlier regarding playback, I hit another snag. Late one night I tried to play Grey’s Anatomy on the N7 and after I hit play, I got a green screen of death, but I could still hear audio. The N7 froze and I couldn’t get anything to work. Out of curiOSity, I picked up my N4, tried to play the same show and it worked beautifully. So, I tried two more times (I can be stubborn that way) and the same thing kept happening. At one point, I got an error that Aero had stopped working and it shut down, but I could still hear the audio. That's right, the app was literally shut down, but the audio kept playing. I had to restart my N7 to get it to shut up. After I restarted, I signed in to Aereo again and it played fine. I'm chalking this up to Aereo’s beta state. I really didn’t notice any other glitches. I was able to replicate the green screen of death the next day, so by my calculations it happened about 10% of the time on my N7. It never happened on the N4. For a beta, I'm okay with that.

As For Those Limitations

In addition to the access limitations of your home city and your version of Android, legal issues bring possible limitations to Aereo. If broadcasters have their way, Aereo may lose channels. Broadcasters have been suing Aereo for several reasons. One claim was that Aereo infringed their copyrighted material because Aereo's streams constituted public performances. Federal appeals court ruled that Aereo’s streams to subscribers were not public performances. This makes sense to me, since most of us don’t invite the public into our homes to watch TV. The other, bigger issue is money. Aereo isn’t paying the fees to broadcasters that cable companies pay, so yeah, I suppose that’s hitting them in the piggy bank. For now, the courts have allowed Aereo to continue, but some networks have threatened to remove their broadcasts from the air and make them cable only. Since Aereo works using an antenna, this would sufficiently stifle the access.

Another limitation for many people is sports. To really "cut the cord," my husband would need sports. You get some sports with the major five networks, but I didn't see ESPN in Aereo's lineup. Or ESPN 2, ESPN 3, ESPN 4 or however many there are now. So, we will not be cutting any cords in my house until one of these streaming services win over the big sports broadcasters.

Is It Worth 8 Bucks a Month?

If you are in the small subset of the population who live in one of the seven cities, have Android 4.2, and wish to give the cable company the boot, this service is a no-brainer. Yes, many of the network shows are available on the other streaming services, but they are not organized in this elegant manner, nor are they available live. Even if you add this in to your repertoire of streaming services, you are still saving a huge amount of money over the cost of a cable/satellite bill. Maybe you still want to use Netflix for the original programming or Hulu for the cable-only shows, but live TV on the big five networks is where Aereo shines. And it shines brightly.

Pamela Hill
Pam is a librarian by day, triathlete by night, and Android enthusiast 24/7. She's typically seen with at least two gadgets on her at a time, although that number can stretch to four or five some days.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/psychomaniac189 psychomaniac189

    unavailable in my area so i cant even try the free trial :(
    would be nice if they put this on consoles too!

  • Aleksey_US

    Their biggest limitation is how they inform their Chicago customers about their failed rollout.

  • Wyatt Neal

    Does the app have the ability to fling something to my Chromecast? If not ... that's a feature they need to have.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      That's not something open to all developers to release yet - we're all waiting for Google to open this up, and then you'll see a flood of Chromecast-enabled apps.

    • PamelaLibrarian

      You can tab-cast from the browser, but it will not be smooth. Worth a shot. For now, Roku is your option for the big screen.

    • Matthew Fry

      There's a place on the site to request device support. Chromecast was on it so it would seem they are going to try.

    • tdalias

      with the money u save in 3 months u could buy a cheap laptop/chromebook and hook it up to ur tv and get the benefit of a full internet browser on ur tv too

  • atlouiedog

    I would probably be very interested in this service if I wasn't 12 miles with a pretty much direct line of sight to just about every broadcast tower in the region. I get every channel that Aereo is promising coming in beautifully, much better than the screenshots above, but that may be just their Android streaming. I bought a $50 networked TV tuner (hdhomerun), a $10 antenna, and used an old laptop as a DVR. I can record/watch two things at once with as much DVR storage as I'm interested in adding, currently at 250 GB (OTA mpeg2 is about 6 GB/hr in HD).

    I do know someone who splits their time between Atlanta and another city, with the majority in the latter so they have no cable subscription in the former and their house is a broadcast deadzone even with a powerful antenna. I've recommended that they sign up for the trial next time they're there.

    • PamelaLibrarian

      The screenshots don't do Aereo justice. It's crystal clear on Android.

      • atlouiedog

        Maybe, but I doubt pulling in the same broadcast that I am, compressing it, and sending it over the Internet is ever going to be as good.

        • http://friskychatter.com/ _jsw_

          I agree with you there, absolutely, and if I could get OTA signals, I'd do what you mentioned. Then again, even though, absolutely, uncompressed OTA is better, it's arguably not important if you're watching on small devices. Even on my TV, using the Roku, the Aereo signal is pretty good. Again, not *as* good, but probably more than good enough for most.

  • Sean

    Just as a general note, I'm not in any of the seven cities (rather, I'm in NJ suburbia) but I've had an account with Aereo for awhile now. Even if you aren't listed, give it a try, you may be able to get in after all.

    • PamelaLibrarian

      You make a good point. Maybe Aereo thinks that you're in a "suburb" of New York? I'm also in a suburb, so it's worth checking into.

  • http://www.twitter.com/robertmoreno Robert_M

    I really don't understand this service much. Why would one pay a service fee instead of getting it free over the air. Just pay a one time fee for the antenna and you're set. And if I want to watch it later I'll go to Hulu.

    • atlouiedog

      Reasons I can think of:
      Hulu isn't HD unless you pay them $8 a month. At that point, it might be better to just pay Aereo for their features.
      No waiting until the next day or week for some networks on Hulu if you can't watch a show live.
      Many people even in big markets can't get decent reception with any antenna.
      Many people in apartments can't mount the large antennas they would need.
      People travel and would like to take their DVR with them.

      I'm extremely happy with my antenna and DVR setup at home and have no current use for Aereo, but I can still understand the value to others.

      • simp1istic

        Don't forget the obvious reason that every dollar you give Aereo really really pisses off the big networks and guys like Comcast.

        • http://friskychatter.com/ _jsw_

          This is actually another reason I subscribed - I very much want to show support for their business model, which I really do think is (as of now) fairly priced for those of us who can't easily get OTA signals.

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    • PamelaLibrarian

      Can you watch on Android through an antenna?

      • atlouiedog

        Yes. I have a tuner that plugs into an antenna and then my network and I can watch on any device. There's at least one Android app that will pick that up directly. Alternatively if you have a tuner that plugs directly into a PC there are many ways to get that sent to any device like an Android phone using popular software like VLC, MythTV, XBMC, etc. The latter may require a little more knowhow to setup and may be necessary as wireless networks might struggle a bit with the bitrate of broadcast TV.

        • PamelaLibrarian

          Ah, I see. Sounds complicated. Sure the readers here can figure that out, but I'm guessing your average Joe wouldn't mind paying 8 bucks to avoid all that.

          • atlouiedog

            It's not. I just setup live streaming in 3 minutes on my phone without the app that feeds directly from my tuner.

            Are you affiliated with Aereo?

          • PamelaLibrarian

            No, I'm not affiliated with Aereo. I just know a lot of non-techie people who like easy. I, on the other hand, would be all over setting up an antenna system like that, especially if I could get sports. But until then...I'm stuck paying for ESPN, et al.

    • Freak4Dell

      Yeah, it makes little sense unless you're in an area where your antenna can't pick up all the channels. Antennas are cheap, and if you really want to watch it on the go, you can get something like Slingbox.

      Unless this company starts paying for the content, they'll never get the cable channels on board. And if they do start paying, the prices will go up.

      • http://friskychatter.com/ _jsw_

        The antenna + Slingbox option is great, but if you want to record (because you can't always watch live), you need to throw in other equipment. It's not rocket science, but it does start to add up, and the equipment does need replacing from time to time, so it's not really free at all. The signal's free, but the rest can be somewhat costly.

    • Matthew Fry

      Hulu plays the same damn commercials over and over till I want to pull my hair out. This at least has commercials for local companies and they vary. Many shows have a 7 day wait before they are put on Hulu (last time I checked). You can skip the commercials. We live in a condo, so installing an antenna is not easy. The channel line up is limited but when I learned that the local stations here in SLC were suing them I had to sign up and show my support.

    • tdalias

      i don't get good antenna signal in my house, that is why. also their dvr interface is way better than any windows/roku/etc interface.

    • Lookatthemonkeys

      Yeah, but there are plenty of people who don't want to pay for Cable, have an antenna, but dont want to set up their own DVR. Hulu doesn't carry all the local stations and you often have to wait days. Plus Hulu doesnt show sports. I would not need Areo because I have my own HTPC and server running, but I don't know anyone else of my friends that would be able to do that or even want to. Aereo takes it all out of your hands and they can handle everything.

    • Itchy_Robot

      Because HD antennas are very finicky and rarely work well in older neighborhoods where you have a lot of older growth tree cover, or in areas with rolling hills and mountains. I tried it myself, with multiple antennas, and couldn't get it work well enough to keep them.

  • tdalias

    some of the article is incorrect, on my service i can rewind live tv and i can watch shows partially recorded. maybe you have to manually rewind (a single click) to start from the beginning.

    also, it uses about 1gb an hour on high quality.

    • PamelaLibrarian

      You can rewind live tv when streaming via a laptop, but not with Android. I chose to focus on the Android app, this being an Android blog. No amount of tapping on that timeline allows me to rewind on Android. Did you figure out a way?

      • tdalias

        you are correct about the android app, no rewinding as of yet... time for a post edit.

  • Lookatthemonkeys

    Hey Pam! Great to see your writing articles for AP! Congrats!

    • PamelaLibrarian

      Thanks!

  • Greek_Ice

    Waiting for a Chicagoland release.

  • Itchy_Robot

    This sounds like a great service, but the crappy shows that make up network television now a days just makes it a thought sell for me.

  • http://friskychatter.com/ _jsw_

    I've been a customer of Aereo in the Boston area since they opened for business here earlier in the year. To me, the service is easily worth the ~$100/year (actually, ~$150 for me, as I have the dual antenna plan). I can see why others question its value, but, again, it works for me.

    I have, in the past, had a cable box connected to a Slingbox Pro HD and was able to watch that online. However, I'm trying to ease my family off cable, so I've returned that spare box. I also had that box connected via an elgato Eye TV HD box to my Mac, so I could record using it as a DVR and watch remotely. None of this was particularly complicated for me to set up, even the IP blaster I had to jury rig, and it allowed me to watch or record anything on the cable box, including pay channels. I'm just pointing this out to note that I'm not using Aereo simply because I can't figure out other options.

    But, again, I'm looking to cut cable, so... I looked into OTA signals. Where I am, which is over 20 miles outside the city in a wooded lot literally surrounded by 100' trees, my signal is horrible. Not an option. Along came Aereo, and I can now watch all the broadcast channels plus others I'd not normally watch, but... well, the Six Million Dollar Man brings back memories of early childhood, so... gotta watch it.

    Basically, I understand it's not the same as a one-time-cost for an antenna, but of course there's also the cost for all the other equipment, and then there's the issue of bad storms, power outages, and so on. For my $144/year, I have more DVR hours than I need, assurance my shows will be recorded, the ability to record things that won't make it to Hulu, the ability (via an older component-out Roku) to record onto my Mac, and so on.

    Will I cut the cable out entirely? I dunno. That's not entirely my call. But Aereo makes it easier for me to make my case, and, since I've got a VPN set up, I can watch it from anywhere. I've been waiting for the Android app for a long time, and I'm really glad it's finally here.

  • FrillArtist

    Great app except there is nothing on network TV that I watch.

  • Eric Vaughan

    I cut my Uverse and switched to Aereo exclusively a couple of weeks ago. Are there some limitations? Yes. Am I saving $100 a month. Yes! As for using it to record all of our favorite shows as we are used to doing with a DVR, it does a great job of it. I've gotten the hang of how to fast forward quickly through commercials, and the quality has been great. I'm looking forward to seeing improvements in the app and in the service, but so far, I'm a happy camper.

  • jeffsongster

    Good Luck to Aereo and thanks for shaking up the Broadcasters and the cable/satellite industry... I am fortunate enough to be on a hilltop between four broadcast centers... I get Free TV from about 5 areas easily. SF, Sacramento, Sonoma mountain and Fremont. So I get lots of free tv. I also built my own PVR... I also stream to tablets and phones about my home... but most folks aren't techie enough for that... for them the Tivo HD's work reasonably well... But if you can't easily receive signals... then Aereo is another good option.

  • Off_inthe_Shower

    Pam. If you have a Roku box you can watch ESPN on it.

  • Marcelo

    Can you watch live sports and when will it be in So Cal