Top positive review
47 people found this helpful
Aereo replacement? Well, almost.
on June 29, 2014
Aereo is (was) an online service available in various cities that allowed customers to connect to an antenna and then watch, record and play over-the-air broadcasts through a Roku box, tablet, smartphone or computer. On June 25, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Aereo was enough like a cable TV service that they would have to pay the broadcasters for the programs they were delivering, and on June 28, they ceased providing their service.
Immediately I began looking for an Aereo replacement and decided to try the Simple.TV 1 tuner model. Fortunately, it arrived the same day that Aereo was switched off, so I began using it immediately. There have been numerous reviews of the Simple.TV, so I'll stick to comparing it with Aereo in hopes that it will help other Aereo customers make up their mind. Simple.TV does basically the same thing that Aereo did, except that with Simple.TV, the hardware is in your home, not in the cloud.
I have been getting my TV programs over-the-air (OTA) with a roof-top antenna and was using the Aereo as a DVR. If you do not currently have an OTA antenna (or clear QAM cable) then you will not be able to use the Simple.TV. Your antenna plugs into the Simple.TV box. Your router also plugs into the Simple.TV box. It is NOT wireless. It's helpful if your antenna cable and your router are located close together. You also need to provide a hard disk drive. I used a WD 500 GB portable drive that's powered through the USB connection. The Simple.TV will not work without the hard drive, even if you don't plan to do any recording. By comparison, Aereo was entirely in the "cloud" and there was no hardware to hook up. Just establish an account, and then start streaming TV to your devices. Even though set-up is really simple, if you don't like working with hardware or setting up things, you might find Simple.TV frustrating.
I tested the Simple.TV with both my antenna and a clear QAM cable signal. Most people don't even know what a QAM cable signal is, and I won't bore you with the details. Basically, the cable company transmits its channels using this method and scrambles most of its channels. The FCC used to require that they provide the free OTA stations "in the clear" so that they could be decoded and watched on a digital TV set without using a set-top box. Some cable companies are removing them. Most cable companies that have them provide little or no support for them. Cablevision does not publish a program guide for its clear QAM stations, so it's not reasonable to expect that Simple.TV is able to fully support those channels. When I scanned the Cablevision signal, it resulted in hundreds of "numbered" channels--most of which it could not identify--and only a handful of actual network stations. My set-up with the roof top antenna provided a MUCH more complete listing of available channels in the NYC area and program guide.
Once the Simple.TV is set-up, and the channels are scanned and in the program guide, the user interface for a Roku user is very similar to the Aereo system. The on screen menu navigation and prompts on the Simple.TV made me think that I was still using Aereo. However, Aereo had some great features that I have not found on the Simple.TV. First, when playing back a show on Aereo, the FF and REW buttons on the Roku remote control would skip in 30 second increments. The arrow keys would jump in 5 min. increments. On the Simple.TV with the Roku, the FF and REW buttons invoke a stepped FF function (true fast forward) but make it more difficult to accurately skip over commercial breaks. You can still do it, but not as precisely. Another really nice Aereo feature was the ability to begin watching a program from the beginning as it was being recorded. You didn't have to wait for the recording to finish to begin watching it. The Simple.TV doesn't have that feature (that I can find.) The program doesn't show up in your recorded programs list until it has finished recording. You can watch the program live, but you are then watching what's being recorded, and then must wait until the end before you can go back and watch the beginning.
The web based program guide is where you set up most of your recordings on both systems. It is also possible to flag specific programs and series for recording on the Roku screen. Both Aereo and Simple.TV are the same in this respect. The online program guides are also very similar. I actually like navigating the Simple.TV guide better. It just seems faster and easier to jump around in. Remember, this isn't cable with hundreds of channels--just the popular over the air stations that we all know and love. Unlike Aereo, the Simple.TV gives you more control over the channels in the guide. Aereo never offered all of the local stations in a market--just the most popular ones. Simple-TV scans them all, so there are more sub-channels, more foreign language and public access atations. With Simple.TV, you can also remove stations you don't watch from your list. Simple actually says that you can improve performance by limiting the number of stations in your guide. I'm still getting used to this, but I think that I'll like it a lot.
With my 500GB drive, I can record hundreds of hours of programs. My Aereo account limited me to 20 hours of recorded content. In this respect, Simple.TV wins hands down.
One important capability that Simple.TV offers, not found on Aereo, is the ability to watch your live TV and recordings away from home--anywhere in the world. Aereo, by design, limited your viewing to the geographical area served by the local stations you were watching. With Simple.TV, I can be in London and watch the local news in NYC. I haven't tested this capability yet, but I will surely do this the next time I'm on a trip. This feature would be invaluable for someone with a summer cottage. Only an internet connection would be necessary to get TV from your hometown. I guess that it would also be technically possible to locate your Simple.TV at a friend or relative's house if you prefer to watch the local stations in their market.
Watching live TV on the Simple.TV and Aereo is approximately the same. Channel flipping is nearly impossible, as both systems take their time connecting to the antenna and locking in to a channel. I could understand this with Aereo, since they were assigning you an antenna in the cloud, but why does it take so long to open a channel on Simple.TV? With both systems, you can pause live TV.
The quality of the picture on my 46" TV is about the same with Aereo and Simple.TV. It's not as good as watching the signal directly from the antenna to the TV's own tuner, but the quality is acceptable for my needs. There's a lot going on inside the Simple.TV box--really unbelievable technology for the price--and then it's tied together with a credible program guide service.
When connecting your external hard drive, it's formatted for use ONLY with the Simple.TV. When setting up Simple.TV, everything on the drive will be erased, and you cannot use it for any other purpose, unless you reformat it. The Simple.TV 1 tuner model uses the JFS disk format, which is not supported by Windows or Mac. I was able read it and look at the files on a Linux system. The recordings are stored in a 'content" subdirectory with various indexing and metadata files. Each recording is saved in three different formats: Full HD for high speed connections, 960 x 540 for medium speed, and 480 x 270 for speed challenged connections. The files are fairly standard AVC/H.264 files and are playable with VLC or FFMPEG.
I haven't had the time to try the Simple.TV with the iPad or Android apps but I suspect that it will work just fine.
In summary, the Simple.TV does many of the same things that Aereo did so well: receive free-over-the-air television and deliver it to a Roku box, iPad or computer screen. Pause live TV. Record and watch at your convenience, all with a nice easy to use web based program guide. While I'm going to miss my Aereo, I'm eager to try some of the new capabilities of the Simple.TV like out-of-town viewing, and recording hundreds more hours of content. It's not really a contest anymore. Aereo is gone and probably won't be back. If Simple.TV can keep improving and building its audience, there's no reason that it can't become a dominant force in free television viewing. Then the networks will try to shut it down like they did Aereo.