Aereo is dead. Long live Aereo!
As you may have heard, the nascent TV-streaming service was just handed the equivalent of the death sentence by no less than the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the company violated copyright laws.
That’s a pretty big blow to cord-cutters, folks trying to eschew hefty cable bills in favor of Internet-powered television. Aereo helped solve a big piece of that puzzle, delivering local channels to your TV or mobile device and letting you record them, DVR-style, for later viewing.
So what now? You probably know that a pair of rabbit ears will let you tune in local channels, but what about recording them? What about slinging them to phones, tablets, Roku boxes, and the like?
Have no fear: There are other options. A new breed of DVRs caters expressly to the antenna crowd, giving you a home for those sweet, sweet over-the-air TV signals. Here’s an overview of three relatively new products.
Channel Master DVR+
This flat black box works a lot like a VCR, but without the tapes. An HDMI port connects it to your TV; an antenna pulls down local broadcasts. You’ll also need to plug in a USB hard drive, which is where the DVR+ stores your stories.
I’ve tested the gizmo, and it works quite well. The onscreen channel guide is fairly easy to navigate and program, and the remote is blissfully uncomplicated. You can record up to two broadcasts simultaneously while watching a third, recorded, show. My cable- deprived (and technology-challenged) mother-in-law is using a DVR+, and she loves it.
However, it hits the wallet hard. The box itself costs $249.99, and that doesn’t include the optional Wi-Fi adapter ($39.99), which is necessary if you want more than two days’ worth of channel-guide programming. It doesn’t include an antenna. And, as noted before, it’s BYO hard drive. All told, you could easily spend close to $400 on this rig.
A DVR that doesn’t plug into your TV? It’s true: The Simple.TV 2 requires only an antenna, a hard drive, and a wired connection to your router. Then you watch live and recorded shows via your mobile device (Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows Phone, etc.) or on your TV (via Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku box, etc.).
In other words, it’s a thoroughly modern DVR. It features two tuners, just like the Channel Master DVR+, but it adds the streaming capability not found there. The box costs $199.99, but, again, you’ll have to supply your own antenna and hard drive.
The other wrinkle: Although the Simple.TV 2 offers basic features without a subscription, to really get the most from it (including season-pass recording and outside-your-home streaming), you’ll want Premier, which costs $59.99 annually or $149.99 for life.
I haven’t tried the Simple.TV 2 (yet), but the Ethernet requirement gives me pause. Especially when compared with the next product…
The dual-tuner Tablo looks and operates a lot like the Simple.tv, but with one fairly major advantage: It works over Wi-Fi, meaning you don’t need to run Ethernet cable from your router. That means you have a lot more flexibility in where you place it.
Nearly everything else is the same: connect an antenna, plug in a hard drive, then stream live and recorded shows just about anywhere. Alas, once again you’re on the hook for a subscription: $49.99 annually or $149.99 lifetime. Without it, you lose out on TV-guide data and must schedule recordings manually.
My Tablo testing revealed this to be a great DVR solution, though a bit less great if you want TV viewing: The Roku-box channel is slow and clunky, and using an Apple TV box requires you to use an iPad as well.
Which box is best?
It’s hard to pick a winner here. I find all three of these solutions annoyingly overpriced, especially when you consider the comparative versatility of a $50 Roku box or $35 Chromecast. These over-the-air DVRs should all be priced at $100 or less. In fact, some would argue that if you’re going to spend this kind of money, you’re better off with the entry-level, tuner-oriented TiVo and lifetime service.
That said, I would probably give the nod to the Tablo, which combines modern DVR functionality with even more modern streaming capabilities. In the meantime, let’s hope Aereo manages to find a way to survive–because for $8/month, it was arguably the best deal of all.