The future of over-the-air TV is in the cloud. Or at least that's what Aereo's banking on.
Startup company Aereo held a press conference in New York this morning to announce its new service, which allows subscribers to access live and recorded over-the-air TV on their iPad/iPhone for $12 a month. The service is limited to New York City at launch and will be invitation-only until March 14.
Aereo's subscribers will be able to tune in to live TV on any of the major networks in New York (including CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, CW, PBS) or schedule recordings just like on a traditional DVR. There's no traditional DVR hardware to buy or rent, however. Subscribers will simply launch the app that behaves just like a DVR, complete with a grid of live TV listings and a list of their shows recorded (and stored) not locally, but in on Aereo's cloud servers.
The technology behind Aereo's service is pretty unique. The company has several large "antenna arrays" set up somewhere in Brooklyn, filled with thousands of mini-TV antennas. Each array is capable of receiving local over-the-air TV broadcasts. When you're using your Aereo account, either to record TV or watch live, you're assigned your own individual mini-antenna.
The recorded or live broadcast is then streamed over the Internet to an Aereo-compatible device, which at the moment includes iOS devices, with support for Roku boxes and the Kindle Fire coming soon. (Aereo's interface is simply an HTML5 Web page, so I'm not sure why support is limited to iOS devices at the moment.) There's no need for any antenna in your house, just an Aereo-compatible device to stream the content.
If all those mini-antennas seem redundant, well, that's by design. Aereo is hoping that each viewer having his or her own antenna will help the company avoid (inevitable) legal challenges. As Aereo investor Barry Diller explained it, "Think of every little antenna having someone's name on it," although that's not quite true. Individual antennas aren't reserved for individual subscribers; when you stop using Aereo, someone else may start using the antenna you were just using.
An Aereo subscription also gives you two-tuner DVR functionality, with up to 40 hours of storage, as well as EPG data. The guide data on the demo units at the press event had about a week's worth of guide data, which isn't quite as much as you'd get on a TiVo.
If all technology behind Aereo seems convoluted, the experience of using it is very straightforward. The interface looks great and it's pretty responsive; live TV loaded quickly, and navigating recorded content was as simple as scrubbing the progress bar back and forth. Choosing to record a show brings up TiVo-style questions about whether you want just a single episode or the entire series. There's even a 30-second skip option, although you annoyingly can't access it while in full-mode. Image quality looked good on an iPad, but the real test will be how it looks blown up on a big-screen HDTV.
All attendees received a complimentary 14-day trial of the service, so I'll be testing it out over the next few days.