Aereo Cincinnati Coming: 1/21/14 – Sign Up Here
I was able to get into the Aereo Cincinnati beta and a month trial a few days prior to the official release here in Cincinnati, Ohio and am putting it to the real test now watching a broadcast NFL game from their DVR feature.
I actually was able to finish the super fast sign up process last night and start immediately watching live TV from my computer in just minutes after clicking the invitation link that I had sitting in my inbox from Aereo. My PC runs a monitor with the same standard High Definition resolution as my television, so it was easy to see the results – I was stunned. The first thing I tuned to was a live broadcast of the PBS series, Pioneers of Television – it looked great – and better it was about sitcoms so I easily clicked the record button and now have it saved on Aereo’s cloud DVR for me to finish watching later.
I then went to the Roku channel install page and pushed the Aereo
application channel to the Roku 2 sitting across the room on our 42″ bedroom TV. What we immediately found was a small limitation to the service. I couldn’t watch the live show from my PC and the Roku at the same time. Then I realized this was because I was only using one antenna on my beta account. Since there is no cost, the service is totally free for the first month, I went ahead and upgraded to the two-antenna plan, for nothing. The pricing normally is $8 per month for the base service, which gets you one rented antenna and 20 hours of DVR recording space. I upgraded to the $12 per month plan for my trial, which seems like the smartest purchase, which instead allows you to stream two shows on different devices or record two, or some combination of thereof. We watched the rest of the recording after watching something else on the Roku and on the bigger TV it looked just great.
We are in the middle of the second quarter of the AFC championship game now between the Patriots and the Broncos (yes, I saw through social media who won) and the test is going very well. The first thing we saw was the color representation was great – the color is clear and just the same as you’d expect from a HD NFL broadcast. The grass is the nice green you’d expect and the jersey colors look great. Of course watching a game with the Broncos orange against the field is a great test. The quality of the image is great when plays are in motion too. Because it’s streaming video there are some sacrifices made it looks like – occasionally there are some large averaging blocks of similar color. For example, prior to the snap there are sections of the field that become larger blocks without definition. Mathematically and visually this makes the most since in compression technologies, the object is the same color and doesn’t move. And in reality, I care more about the players, the ball and other aspects. However, I’ll admit, your eye does notice and goes there occasionally. This isn’t too frequent, and isn’t the worst I’ve seen. Then again – I’ve streamed NFL games online from less than reputable sources and have seen a lot worse.
The bottom line thus far is the game from our recording is clearly in high definition with only some drawbacks.
Fast forwarding through commercials is pretty smooth. I’ve let her fast forward and control the commercial skipping as the ultimate test – she’s not the best at this sometimes and gets frustrated with it. There hasn’t been an issue yet of overshooting the game itself or stopping short. No frustration from the misses, so we are both happy. The fast forward feature works on 30 second intervals so your mileage will vary among different shows and different networks because it’s not as granular as other DVR software. I have to say we’ve saved a ton of time not watching commercials and the half time discussions so that makes me extremely happy – NFL games are notoriously long advertising frenzies. (And I’m not against ads and commercials, on the contrary, I’m just for more time-efficient viewing and skipping Boomer’s comments on the game).
Streaming the game hasn’t used but a fraction of our bandwidth either. While we are watching I’m running some (HTTP & SSH) downloads and haven’t seen any real issues with quality or stuttering. The only thing I’ve noticed is that after a few commercial skips the Aereo Roku channel/app asks if you’d like to instead switch from High quality mode to Auto to eliminate the very tiny buffering that happens when it comes off of a commercial. Makes sense, we’ve just skipped past the portion of the video that was cached and the Roku has practically no storage space to hold a large cache of high definition video. I’ve seen this happen on other services like Hulu when skipping ahead to the middle of a show, so that doesn’t surprise me that it happens. We tried the Auto quality feature at their request – but that seemed to be a major mistake. Many more artifacts were introduced and the video then was subject to network issues possibly outside of our control. Going back to High quality showed an amazing difference again and we’ve kept it that way since.
The bottom line is – the service is exactly what I’ve expected thus far and has exceeded expectations. It may replace Hulu as our way to watch current shows since we can simply DVR them and watch them time-shifted after they’ve aired with no wait (or while they air with all the abilities of a DVR along with portability to watch them on our Androids and computers)
For the record, we buy our internet service from the local cable company, Time Warner, who will inevitably start using the traffic shaping tools they have in our area once it launches on the 21st of January. I’d expect then to start seeing more ads for cable service on local channels too. Aereo is very popular where it’s available, and is a darling of tech journalists. It’s clearly catching on like wildfire and has faced some court battles, it’s more important coming up with a trip to the Supreme Court (see below for that story). As far as bandwidth used, the most I’m seeing used is 1.27 MBps (that’s megabytes per second), or about 10 Mbps at peak. The average seems to be ~6.25 Mbps (megabits per second). I’m also running this setup via WiFi to the Roku 2 XS via an ASUS RT-N56U with 5 wireless devices connected to it including the Roku and two machines wired via gigabit.
Aereo Cincinnati Review – Update (1/20/2014):
What would a proper review be without talking about the service’s interface and options?
Overall, the service is dead simple to use. The web interface is slick and clean and the guide is easier to navigate than other guide sites – it follows the same metaphor you are used to in reading a program guide – without clicking “next” and loading a new page to see what’s upcoming later. Simply just hold and scroll like you do on a smart phone. Navigating the listings couldn’t be easier and the Aereo offers powerful search options such as “on CBS tonight” that are simple to cook up as well as returning the results you expect. You are greeted with a slideshow of the most popular shows on TV for easy recording, but with the easy to use chronological guide and the search options you’ll always find what you are looking for.
Besides the guide, you have only a few other items to click-through on the web interface because it’s such a simple service. You get highlighted notifications of how many new recordings there are, there is a simple “newsfeed” drop down with notable TV events, the search drop down, quick access to your settings and the antenna and recording status drop down.
You also have the option of integrating your Aereo service with your social networks and once you’ve set a recording to start through the website you are prompted to tell your friends, family and followers on Twitter and Facebook what you are watching and recording. Initially I shared what I was doing to rub-in that I was in the beta program because I knew others were interested – but this feature could come or go for me. I would hate a world where we all share what we are watching all the time, but I also think it’s cool to go ahead and highlight what you’ve discovered that most others may have overlooked. Of course, it’s great advertising for Aereo – the links you’d share would direct people right back to their site.
Playing your recordings back or watching a live broadcast is pretty much effortless, no different than watching something via YouTube. There is a pretty neat feature in the web interface that allows you to basically minimize the player window and let the video continue to stream while you browse the guide or adjust your settings. Then when you are ready you can click the video and maximize it again or then make it full screen and sit back and enjoy it.
I’d honestly not want to sit at my desk and watch TV, even if I have the sound system and monitor for it. We are interested in the service mostly to use on the Roku and while it works well, it suffers from the Roku standard look. The guide isn’t a grid, it’s boxes – and not as fun to navigate or see at once. In fact, seeing what’s on at one time, across networks is basically impossible. Instead you have to browse by time – but I feel like this is the fault of the Roku – and other channels come through the same way. Hulu is a bit prettier than Netflix, so there must be ways to customize the look and feel – but I’m really not going to ding Aereo for this. In fact, the Roku was bought for her, she uses it while I’m at the computer mostly, and she likes it. So maybe I’m not the best judge, I’m not the target audience. I’ll be fair, I spend a lot of time in World of Warcraft customizing my user interface – for fun.
The Android app is pretty amazing compared to the Roku channel – I was blown away. Another app that makes me wish I not only had a tablet but also that I had enough time at work to passively sit and watch TV (or at least be able to have it going in the background). Navigating the guide grid is effortless, accessing recordings just as simple and easy as well as the ability to summon up a live broadcast. Of course the Play store will show you screenshots, but below are a few I took of finding a show to watch and then streaming it to end the review!