Hands-on: Simple.TV might be the next big cord-cutting device

CNET goes hands-on with the Simple.TV over-the-air DVR and its apps for the iPad and Roku 2 XS.

Simple.TV
The Simple.TV over-the-air DVR could be an excellent choice for those looking to cut their cable subscription. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
LAS VEGAS--Simple.TV's DVR without a hard drive or video output may sound crazy, but it could end up being a killer product for cable-cutters.

That's the impression I got after spending some hands-on time with the over-the-air-friendly DVR, which was already working on an iPad and a Roku 2 XS box in the booth.

To recap from my initial story , Simple.TV allows you to access over-the-air TV programs, either live or stored on a connected hard drive (that you supply), from a number of devices on your home network--at launch there are apps for Roku, Google TV, Boxee, and iPad. So fire up your iPad and you can watch live broadcast TV or any of the recordings on the connected hard drive.

Simple.TV's iPad app
Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Simple.TV's iPad app
Simple.TV's iPad app is nicely designed and lets you set recordings, watch live TV, or previously recorded shows. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
The iPad app is seriously slick. There's a nicely laid out interface for browsing what's currently on TV and you can set the DVR to record right in the app or watch live. Even with dodgy connectivity issues of the CES showroom floor, the app was surprisingly responsive pausing live TV and fast-forwarding through recorded content. Even more impressive was that the live content we were accessing was from an off-site Simple.TV box, a la Slingbox.

The EPG interface on the Roku app.
The EPG interface on the Roku app could use some work. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
The Roku app was having some connectivity issues, but we got to see the design of the interface. It's much more basic than what's on the iPad app, but you can still watch live TV and access recordings. The EPG interface could certainly use more screen real estate and we'd prefer network names like CBS vs. "KPIXDT", but the app isn't finished yet.

Most encouraging for cord-cutters is that Simple.TV's CEO and President Mark Ely clarified that you won't really need to pay that $5 monthly fee to get good EPG data. Simple.TV is providing basic EPG data (not just the data included with an over-the-air TV signal) without a subscription, despite what's implied by the chart on Simple.TV's Web site. The premium service is still required for watching content or live TV remotely (i.e. placeshifting) and "season pass"-like automated recordings, but those looking for just basic over-the-air recording won't need to pay.

An iPhone full of over-the-air TV recordings.
An iPhone full of over-the-air TV recordings. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
Simple.TV will also have a Web interface, with an HTML5 video player for accessing content on your Simple.TV. I was also surprised to hear that you can import your recorded programs right into iTunes, allowing you to offload shows onto an iPhone or iPad. It's a great solution for you're planning on taking a long flight without Wi-Fi, but I can already foresee legal threats from TV networks. (Disclosure: CNET is a CBS property.)

The biggest limitation as it stands now remains the single tuner, which means you can't record two programs at once. The Simple.TV does have an antenna-out connection, which you can run to your TV's tuner if you want to watch a different live program while the DVR records, although you won't be able to pause live TV.

Of course, lots of products demo great, then end up as duds, but it looks like Simple.TV has a good chance of standing out in a market without a lot of compelling options. Even with the required add-ons like a hard drive and a streaming media box, the Simple.TV's $150 price is attractive, compared to the $400 Channel Master TV. I'm looking forward to seeing how it fares in the real world when the Simple.TV is released in the spring.

 

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