Aereo review

Aereo is an interesting take on streaming live television, but its limited channel selection, availability, and tuner functionality make it a tough competitor to the likes of Hulu Plus and Netflix.
Photo of Aereo

Cutting cable is increasingly tempting, with more streaming media services available than ever before. Between Netflix, Hulu, and, ahem, ‘other less-legit sources,’ there are few shows you can’t find easily without a television these days. They don’t stream live TV, though, and if you want to watch the news, talk shows, or sitcoms as they air, you still need either a cable subscription or a TV tuner. Aereo offers a unique alternative by providing a tuner and DVR off-site, letting you subscribe to terrestrial channels and get similar advantages that cable and satellite offer (without the huge number of channels) in a form you can watch on your TV, computer, or iOS device. It’s less expensive than when we first looked at Aereo last year, it’s expanding to more areas, and it performs really well now, even if it’s still not quite a cable or satellite alternative.

The Basics
While Aereo is slowly expanding, it’s still limited in availability and scope. You can subscribe to the service if you live in New York City or Boston, and will be available in Atlanta in the coming weeks. Because it streams terrestrial broadcasts in its respective cities, it doesn’t have any cable channels or more targeted networks. For example, you can access all of the major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, CW, and PBS), plus over a dozen other channels available in New York and Boston, including ION, Cozi TV, and This TV in both markets. But you can’t access, say, SyFy or ESPN with it. Both New York and Boston have a handful of Spanish language channels as well, and New York also has four Asian language channels including SinoVision and New Tang Dynasty Television. Finally, Bloomberg TV is also available in both markets.

Aereo offers access to two tuners and 20 hours of DVR storage monthly for its $8 plan, and that can be expanded to 60 hours for $4 more. Like a local DVR, one of the tuners must be engaged when recording, so if you want to record two shows at once, you’ll only be able to watch one of those shows and not something else.

Watching Aereo
You can access Aereo from any compatible Web browser. You can also watch Aereo through a special Roku channel if you have a Roku 3 box, or on any Apple mobile device using iOS 4 or higher (which you can then stream to your TV through Apple TV with AirPlay). The apps are free, but the lack of Android support is a big omission on Aereo’s part.

Since Aereo uses the company’s antennae at its own location, it offers perfect reception for all channels without any adjustment on your part. I had no problem tuning into mid-day television (The Ellen DeGeneres Show on ABC and The Dr. Oz Show on FOX) in seconds and getting cable-worthy pictures. At high video quality, shows looked sharp and smooth on my 1,920-by-1,080 monitor. The video quality depends on your Internet connection, but if you have enough bandwidth, the picture is close to what you’d get from tuning into high-definition OTA television on an HDTV.

The Aereo Web interface offers a lot of useful information (and the iOS client is similar), but for casual television watching it leaves something to be desired. The guide shows everything that is currently on, and clicking on a specific program offers more information about the program along with options to watch or record the program or share it on Twitter or Facebook. However, there’s no channel surfing function outside of the guide and it takes several seconds to change channels, so you can’t just flip through the two dozen-odd channels casually looking for something interesting to watch. However, the Web interface is very smooth and functional otherwise, and I didn’t experience any glitches or sluggish responses like when I originally tested it. 

Aereo is less expensive and much smoother than when we reviewed it a year ago. If you live in a city where it’s available, you watch primarily network television (or Spanish language television), and you want to get functions like DVR and streaming television outside of your actual HDTV (where you can hook up a digital antenna and get the channels for free), it’s a good alternative to basic cable. If your tastes are more specialized and you want to watch more than the standard combination of ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and CW, you might be better off putting that $8 per month toward an online service like Netflix or Hulu Plus if you don’t want to make the investment for cable or satellite. 

Aereo is an interesting take on streaming live television, but its limited channel selection, availability, and tuner functionality make it a tough competitor to the likes of Hulu Plus and Netflix.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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