Cable TV channels and 4K from an antenna? It's rolling out to this US city for $49
Boise, Idaho, is the first to get Evoca, a new kind of pay-TV service broadcast over the air. More areas are coming soon.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Today there are basically three ways to get live TV shows from big-name channels into your home. The most common is paying for a service like cable or satellite. An increasingly popular alternative is a live TV streaming service like Sling TV and YouTube TV, which which offer hundreds of channels for a monthly fee. The third option is free and also sounds the most old-fashioned: getting an over-the-air antenna and watching channels broadcast in your area.
Evoca started rolling out this week in Boise, Idaho, but it's hoping to have the service available in other markets soon. It currently offers over 60 channels of sports, news and other entertainment for $50 a month. Here's how it works.
Watch this: Free 4K TV for your home is coming soon
What's Next Gen TV?
Beginning this year, many stations across the US will start broadcasting Next Gen TV, formerly known as ATSC 3.0. It's a huge leap forward in tech compared with the current ATSC 1.0 broadcast standard for HDTV -- almost big as the leap from fuzzy analog TV signals to HDTV itself (2.0 was skipped and rolled into 3.0).
The headline features for Next Gen TV are 4K resolution, HDR and potentially higher frame rates. We might eventually get the ability to watch live broadcast TV on phones and
too. One of the more obscure but important features is the fact that it's IP-based. That means it's kind of like streaming video, just sent over the air instead of via wires. This has several benefits, not least that it will be easier to send broadcast video to various devices around your house.
Many Americans live in big cities with access to fast home Internet, numerous broadcast stations and multiple TV providers. But in smaller cities not only are there fewer local broadcasters, but the "high-speed" internet could be slow or have data caps. Both of these things mean that "cutting the cord" by giving up an overpriced cable service isn't easy. Over-the-air content might be limited, and streaming TV either doesn't work or costs too much money (or both).
With its Evoca service, Edge Networks wants to be like other pay TV providers, offering a slate of channels for a monthly fee. Instead of running wires to your house, however, it'll use Next Gen TV's tech to broadcast those same channels over the air.
This sadly doesn't mean that everyone in Boise with a Next Gen TV-capable television will have free HBO. Edge Networks customers get a special tuner box, similar to a cable box, that decodes the broadcast. The difference is that the "last mile" from the provider to the house is the airwaves.
In addition to the Evoca tuner box, all a potential customer needs to get started is an antenna and an internet connection (and it can be a relatively slow one) for downloading optional video-on-demand content. The box will give a single point of access, functioning as a tuner for Next Gen TV and other local broadcast channels, plus the various cable channels and specific video-on-demand content.
With Evoca there shouldn't be bandwidth issues in the home when watching multiple streams, HD or even 4K video, since the signal isn't reliant on the speed of an internet connection. This is useful for anyone without a superfast internet connection, but especially so for people with speeds that might not support 4K at all -- Netflix requires 25Mbps to stream in 4K, for example. Evoca recommends a minimum speed of only 5Mbps.
The niche for Edge Networks is in smaller markets that are under-served by internet providers and by cable/broadcast. Many communities are in so-called "TV deserts" where there are few, if any, local broadcast stations. These areas often also have poor internet for streaming. Next Gen TV, with its more efficient HEVC compression, opens up possibilities like this for high-quality, more varied content.
It's unlikely Evoca will expand to larger markets, where internet is generally cheaper, faster and lacks data caps. In those markets, cutting the cord usually just means getting an antenna and/or streaming everything not broadcast.
To Boise and beyond
Like all antenna TV, Evoca is a local endeavor, but after Boise Edge Networks intends to expand to other, similarly sized markets in the future. $49 is technically below the $50 it promised earlier this year, and initial signups will only have to pay $20 a month for the rest of the year plus they'll get a free antenna.
For the rest of us, how well Evoca does might have some influence on offerings in other, larger markets. Perhaps more stations might see this as a way to offer a wider variety of content, in new ways, just on a smaller scale than a full "cable" TV package.
Update Sept. 4, 2020: Added details now that the service has official launched.