STV2 Simple TV DVR

It’s no secret that I am a fan of the Simple TV DVR.  I own five of the single tuner models.  Three of these are collecting shows to attached 2t disks for playback via Plex and my Simple DVR Roku app.  One is ‘on loan’ to an out-of-market friend.  I’m hoping to use the last one to swap antennas with someone in the UK.

I also have a two tuner model.  This is the model with the ventilated top.  And this is the model I want to talk about today.  While it is officially called the STV2-2ATSC, I am going to refer to it as the STV2.  Throughout this review, I will refer to the STV-1000 as an STV1.  I deliberately used my STV1 review as the basis for this review.  I wanted to make it very easy for a reader to decide between the two models since the STV1 is still available and there are very good reasons why the STV1 could be a better choice for you.

The Simple.TV DVR is a whole house Tuner/DVR for broadcast television.  According to the manufacturer, “Simple.TV is the first personal DVR that streams live and recorded TV to your favorite devices, wherever you are. Get all your broadcast TV favorites on your iPad, PC, Mac or Roku box.”  It plugs in to your antenna, ethernet, and usb drive, but not your television.  To watch the Simple DVR on your television, you need a Roku.  Up to five devices can access live or recorded programming concurrently, but there is only one tuner, so all people watching live programming must watch the same channel.

wholehouse_wide

What Does This Do?  In the most common configuration, you attach the DVR to your antenna and LAN and use a Roku to access the DVR from your television.  You can use the tuner to watch live television from your antenna or play files already stored on the DVR.  You can pause, rewind, or fast forward the programming, delete files from the DVR, and schedule recordings (one episode or all episodes) with the Roku.  If you have more than one DVR, you can switch from one DVR to another.

Remote access is excellent.  Image quality and buffer management are good enough to enjoy live and recorded programming via public wireless networks.  My mother can use my antenna to watch broadcast television via a Roku at her home which has poor reception.  There are iOS, Android/Kindle Fire, Windows 8, and Plex apps for the Simple DVR.  I cannot speak for the iOS app, but the Android app is amazing.  The Plex app only supports playback (no live tv or file management), but you can use it to watch your recordings on many devices including the Amazon Fire TV.

What Doesn’t This Do?  With the current software, you cannot watch the video as you rewind and fast forward and there is no slow motion or frame by frame review.  You cannot do time based recordings (record channel 38 from 3pm to 8pm weeknights).  I’d really like to see a ‘Play All’ and/or Play List option for recordings and it would be great if the Premier software managed all DVRs as one — choosing the next available tuner, showing all programs in a single browse window, etc.  Finally, and this is a big deal for me, it doesn’t work at all when you have no internet connection.  It will record scheduled shows, but you cannot watch live tv or your recordings.

This is NOT for cable TV.  While the STV1 officially supports Clear QAM, the STV2 does not.

A Poor Man’s TiVo  This isn’t a TiVo.  The TiVo provides more sophisticated search capability, a better rewind/fast forward experience, plus internet apps.  A lot of people are going to be very happy to buy a TiVo Premier, pay for the lifetime service, and watch television.  A two tuner Premier with 75 hours of storage with a lifetime service contract will set you back $550.  If you want to share the two tuners with another room, you can buy a Tivo Mini ($250 with lifetime) and if you want to watch your Tivo away from home, you can add a Tivo Stream for $130.  So, living room, bedroom, remote use, with 75 hours of storage for $930.

Alternatively, one could purchase a pair of Simple DVRs ($185), a pair of usb disks ($200), and two Roku 1’s ($80) for $465.  This would give you two tuners, 800 hours of storage, remote access, plus thousands of streaming media channels for 1/2 the cost of a basic TiVo installation.

For the $930 you did not spend on a TiVo, you could purchase four Simple DVRs, four Rokus, a Channel Master DVR+ for the living room, and two years subscription to Netflix.

Support I have been very disappointed with Simple support.  The documentation is sparse, the support site is inaccurate, and email support is sporadic.  Worse, they don’t seem to know any more about the product than I do.  The best help has come from the user community.  I hope this changes.  It’s easy to see how nontechnical users could become frustrated.

Installation The setup process is very straightforward.  In this area, the STV2 is much improved over the STV1.  You have to use specific browsers to configure the device.  I have used Chrome and Firefox.  Internet Explorer does not work.  It seems that security software can interfere with the process as well.

  1. Plug DVR into your network, a usb disk, and your antenna
  2. Open your browser to http://simple.tv, sign into your account (or create an account)
  3. Activate your lifetime subscription
  4. Click Activate Your DVR
  5. Select the DVR to register
  6. Prepare your disk
  7. Scan for channels

You Will Love the Simple DVR If…

  • Your home is situated such that television signals come from multiple directions.  Instead of using a rotor or combiner, you can install one or more DVRs for each market and access the antennas via a Roku.
  • Your home is not pre-wired with coax.  Run coax from the antenna to your router and install the Simple DVR(s) next to the router.
  • You have to have a television where no one thought to install coax.  A Roku brings live tv to your remote television.
  • You want to watch tv by the pool or on the deck.  Simple can stream to a laptop, a tablet, or a wireless Roku by the pool.
  • Your remote vacation home does not have television but does have internet access.
  • You travel a lot and hate infomercials.
  • All your favorite shows air when you are at work.
  • You want to share antennas with a friend in a different market

You May Not Love the Simple DVR If…

  • You have poor broadcast reception
  • You need visual cues when fast forwarding or rewinding a program
  • You have a poor network in your home

I love the Simple DVRs.  After two months with the dual tuner Simple DVR, I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

STV2 va STV1

Generally, the STV2 is a better device than the STV1.  It has a faster processor, two tuners, and more features.  The firmware supports bigger disks, recognizes more disks, does a better job scanning for channels.  It also changes channels faster when you are watching live television.

The STV2 runs hotter.  So hot, in fact. that the it has a fan that can be heard in a quiet room during normal operation.  Of course, there is no reason for the Simple DVR to be in a room where the sound of the fan would be an issue.

I have concerns about two tuners writing to one disk at the same time. Seems to me that is a recipe for fragmentation and all the performance issues that come with it. I harvest programs for my on-demand library using STV1s.

More STVs means support more antennas. I have two markets plus a station that is just in the wrong direction. I can point an antenna at these stations and watch them with my Roku. I can leave my market altogether by swapping one of my STVs for one one in another market. I would like to swap STVs with someone in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, or Britain.

Recommendation

Everyone should get a single tuner Simple DVR with lifetime premier subscription.  This combo is still ten bucks less than the subscription alone.  If you plan to watch live television using the Simple DVR, get a dual tuner DVR.  If you want to harvest broadcasts for on-demand viewing, get more single tuner DVRs.  If you want to share your antenna with others, get more single tuner DVRs with additional lifetime subscriptions.

 

Pointing An Antenna

Most people point their antenna by trial and error — using a compass then fine tuning by judging picture quality or watching a signal strength meter on a TV or DVR.  Some people invest in a signal strength meter.  I have a better way.

I use a Silicon Dust HD Homerun to point my antennas.  The HD Homerun has many advantages over much more expensive signal strength meters including…

  • inexpensive
  • easy to use
  • simultaneously monitoring two stations
  • dual use
  • better information

An HD Homerun is a dual tuner device that streams your antenna signal on your LAN.  The least expensive OTA HDHR available at this time is the HDHR Dual which retails for $129.99 and is currently selling for $79 on Amazon.com.

It’s very easy to use…

  1. Attach the HDHR to you LAN and antenna
  2. Install and run the HDHR app
  3. Open two instances of the HDHR Config Tool
    • Set each to a channel you want to analyze
  4. Adjust the antenna to achieve the highest possible Symbol Quality

Notice I said Symbol Quality.  The HDHR app reports signal strength, signal quality, and symbol quality.  Per Silicon Dust…

  • Signal Strength (ss) is the raw power level as measured by the receiver
  • Signal Quality (snq) is how clearly defined the digital data is
  • Symbol Quality (seq) is the amount of correct or corrected data over the last second

A less technical explanation where the concepts are explained in terms of the experience of listening to a radio…

  • Signal Strength represents the volume
  • Signal Quality represents how clearly you can hear the lyrics
  • Symbol Quality indicates the percentage of the lyrics you could hear or guess correctly

Signal Strength is somewhat irrelevant; if your antenna isn’t pointed properly, it doesn’t matter how loud you turn up the volume, the static will prevent you from hearing the lyrics correctly. Similarly, amplifying a weak HDTV signal can result in a high signal strength but too much noise to decode the digital data correctly.

Use the Signal Strength for a rough idea of direction, but align the antenna for the highest Symbol Quality, ignoring Signal Strength.

Let’s take a look at a real life example…

hdhrus

Here I show my TVFool report next to two instances of the HDHR Config Utility.  As I adjust the antenna to pull in WMUR, I can easily see the impact of the change on WBZ.

Once you have your antenna pointed, the HDHR is a great tool for understanding performance issues.  When I am having a bad reception day, I pop up the Config Utility to see what is going on.

Finally, the HDTV was not designed as an antenna pointer.  You can use it to watch broadcast television via a number of apps and servers.  To sum things up, everyone should have an HDHR on their network!

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

Sony BDP-S5100 Review

With my Roku 2 XS fleet grounded, I found myself once again in search of a device that would support my streaming needs…

  1. Netflix
  2. Amazon Instant
  3. Simple DVR
  4. Plex
  5. PlayOn

To my delight, the svelte BDP-S5100 did this — and more.   In fact, first and foremost, the BDP-S5100 is a highly regarded 3D BD player which upconverts standard DVDs, plays files off a thumb drive, and streams video.  It has both wired and wireless internet, can play files of a USB disk, and included apps from Sony Entertainment and the Opera App Store.

BDP-S5100 manufacturer refurbs can be purchased via Amazon for $54.99 and carry the same 90 day warranty as NEW Rokus.

The BDP-S5100 is a very good 3D BD player.   Review the specs here and read reviews from CNET, T3, and Trusted Reviews.  There are nearly 2000 user reviews and 1000 questions answered on Amazon.com.  The bottom line is that the BDP-S5100 is a great disc player.

The BDP-S5100 plays files off a usb device.  There is a usb port on the front and one in the back.  Supported file types include: .asf, .avi, .mkv, .mov, .mp4, .wmv, — just about anything.  One of my favorite features is that, if you start a video in a folder, when that video finishes, the next video in the same folder will play without intervention.  If you name the files properly, you can play through three or twelve parts of a series in order without intervention.  Great way to spend a rainy weekend.

We wouldn’t be talking about this device on a Roku blog if it didn’t stream.  It streams.  The BDP-S5100 streams content from Sony Entertainment as well as apps installed from the Opera app store.  Let’s start with the apps that matter most to most people…

  • Netflix: Netflix is a great source of premium programming.  The BDP-S5100’s Netflix app does not require a PC to activate.  A lot of people who are buying streamers do not own or use PCs, so this is a great feature.  The Netflix app supports profiles and Netflix Kids (unlike most Rokus).
  • Amazon Instant: Amazon Instant/Prime is another source of premium programming.  Prime registration can be completed via the streamer or a PC.  The interface is snappy and attractive, but I ALWAYS find it difficult to locate media I own.
  • Simple DVR: I have an antenna and six Simple DVRs.  These things are awesome.  They sit in my basement recording shows I like.  It’s important for me to be able to easily access the recordings.  While there is no Simple app for the BDP-S5100, there is a Plex app and this app plays files from the Simple DVR disks.  It will not, however, schedule recordings or stream live TV.
  • Plex: Plex is a free media server.  With Roku, you pay $4.99 for the client app.  With the BDP-S5100, the client is free (or included or not necessary).  The server shows up under the Video section.  When you select the server, you browse files and streaming media channels as if they were files on a computer.  Plex provides access to ‘cable’ program episodes posted to the internet.  Shows from CBS, Food Network, Fox News, HGTV, History Channel, MSNBC, MTV, NBC, Nick Jr., PBS, PBS Kids, Spike TV, The Colbert Report, The CW, The Daily Show, Vevo, The WB, and other web sites are available via Plex.  You must run Plex on a computer/server.
  • PlayOn: PlayOn is an inexpensive media server.  You pay around $80 for a lifetime subscription to PlayOn, PlayLater, HD plugins, and a Chromecast.  PlayOn provides access to ‘cable’ program episodes posted to the internet.  Shows from A&E, ABC, Adult Swim, Animal Planet, BET, Bio, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CBS, CNN, Cooking Channel, Discovery Channel, Disney, DIY, ESPN, ESPN 3, ESPN Live, Food Network, Fox, Fox News, HBO Go, HGTV, History Channel, Hulu (free), Investigation Discovery, Lifetime, Live News: BBC, Live News: Bloomberg, Live News: C-Span, Live News: NHK, Live News: RT, MLB, MTV, NBC, The CW, National Geographic, NFL Rewind, NHL, Nick, OWN, Oxygen, OBS, PBS Kids, Redbox Instant, Spike TV, SyFy Rewind, TBS, TLC, TV.com, VH1, Vevo, Vudu, WWE, and other web sites are available via PlayOn.  PlayOn also supports third party plugins.  PlayLater is a DVR for the channels that PlayOn streams.  You must run PlayOn/PlayLater on a WINDOWS computer/server.

The BDP-S5100 natively supports ACC Network (college sports), Amazon Instant, Crackle, Facebook, Huffpost Live, Hulu Plus, Netflix, MLB.TV, NBA Game Time, NHL GameCenter, TMZ, Vimeo, VUDU, WealthTV, XOS College Sports, Yupp TV, YouTube, and other content.  The Opera TV store adds games, social media apps, screen savers, and niche channels (Speed Racer).

The BDP-S5100 includes a web browser (authenticating on public WiFi is not supported on other streamers).  You can plug a keyboard into a USB port to help navigate the internet with the built in web browser.

Other areas where the BDP-S5100 distinguished itself from other streamers…

  • Sleep timer (my TV shuts itself off after the BDP-S5100 goes into sleep mode)
  • Parental Controls
  • HDMI Control with compatible televisions
  • Advanced BD settings
  • Rock solid performance
  • Snappy PS3-like user interface
  • Remote controls TV functions; has Netflix and SEN hot buttons; takes AA batteries

I highly recommend this device at any price and love it as a $55 refurb.

Aereo Survival Guide

I wish I could send an email to the 500,000 Aereo customers who lost service last week.  Hopefully, some will find this post.  I have been asked by many of these refugees for a dummies guide for transitioning from Aereo to an antenna.  Here it is.

  1. Run  TVFool report for your address.  This report will tell you what channels you can expect to receive, what type of antenna is required, and where the broadcasters are relative to your home.
  2. Visit TitanTV.com.  Use the local broadcast guide for your market to see what is on each VIRTUAL channel on your TVFool report.
  3. Make a list!  Make a list of the channels on your TVFool report that you would like to receive.  Include the REAL channel, the VIRTUAL channel, the PATH, the DISTANCE, and the MAGNETIC AZIMUTH.  Sort the list by VHF vs UHF (VHF stations have REAL channels from 2-13 and UHF is the channels from 14 on), then by MAGNETIC AZIMUTH.

Now you have a realist prediction of channels you can receive via an antenna.  If the list is insufficient for your needs, you probably should go back to cable or satellite.  If you like the list, it’s time to  consider installation and operation options

Scenario 1: all broadcasters you want to receive are green on your TVFool report.  You should be able to get by with a set top or window mount antenna.  I would start with a RadioShack model 1501874 simply because it is inexpensive ($15), can be purchased and returned locally, supports vhf and uhf reception, and is easy to position/reposition.

Scenario 2: some stations are yellow or red on your TVFool report.  It’s just one channel or a group of broadcasters in the same general direction from your home.  You can probably put an antenna in your attic and aim it at the ‘weak spot’ to make things work.  A very directional UHF antenna like the 91XG will provide excellent gain at fringe ranges.  The 91XG will pull in high VHF channels which are strong, but, if you have low VHF or marginal VHF stations you may want to couple a VHF antenna.

Scenario 3: stations that are in yellow or red which are not clustered close together.  Depending on how far away and how far apart the broadcasters are, you might be able to pull everything in with a broad beam antenna like the HDDB8X.  In parallel, it’s two arrays provide up to 23 db gain.  Each panel can be aimed separately reducing overall gain while widening the beam or aiming in two directions.  If this is not sufficient, a directional antenna can be put on a rotor and pointed at whatever individual station you want to watch.  This creates problems when you have multiple televisions or DVRs usng the signal.  Some people use multiple antennas switched at the television set.  I pull in an individual station with a separate antenna which is connected to a Simple DVR.

Choosing a location.  The best place for an antenna is not necessarily on the TV, behind a picture on the wall, or wherever the Comcast cable pops out of the side of the house.  Conventional wisdom says to put the antenna at the highest place with an unobstructed view or the horizon facing your broadcasters.  Reality, due to matters of cost, convenience, and magic, might dictate an alternate location.

I prefer the attic to the roof.  While you will experience some signal attenuation through the roof and walls, you will not need to ground your installation and your hardware will be protected from the elements.  An antenna in the attic is much easier to service than one on the roof.  If you decide to install your antenna outside, be sure to do it safely.  Wherever you install the antenna, experiment.  Professionals ‘walk the roof’ to find the spot with the best reception.  I had my attic antenna mounted on a hospital pole and wheeled it around until I got the best reception.  A music stand works well too.

Note that you have not yet spent a dollar.  It’s important to minimize investment until you are committed.  Your decision to move forward or go back should not be based on avoiding sunk costs.

Now we have to spend a little money.  You need to buy an antenna and a commercially terminated RG6 coaxial cable long enough to reach from the furthest possible antenna installation point to a television — preferably with some kind of signal strength meter — plus hardware to temporarily mount the antenna.

Mount the antenna and run a cable from the antenna to a television.  Scan for channels and see what you get.  If you are not satisfied, move the antenna to another location.  If you can not get a satisfactory signal, add an amplified at the antenna.  I like the RCA TVPRAMP1R  because it lets you couple a separate VHF antenna.  Once you get the antenna pointed, you will want to run that cable to a central point in your home for distribution to your televisions.  I use the EDA2400.

Add a DVR!  Aereo’s service included a basic DVR and a program guide.  The broadcast TV signal stream includes data to create a guide, but most televisions have no provision to craft a nice guide from the data.  TiVo makes a great DVR which includes a really nice guide and scheduling interface.

A lot of people are going to be very happy to buy a TiVo Premier, pay for the lifetime service, and watch television. A two tuner Premier with 75 hours of storage will set you back $550. If you want to share the two tuners with another room, you can buy a Tivo Mini ($250 with lifetime) and if you want to watch your Tivo away from home, you can add a Tivo Stream for $130. So, living room, bedroom, remote use, with 75 hours of storage for $930.  Alternatively, one could purchase a pair of Simple DVRs ($185), a pair of usb disks ($200), and two Roku 1′s ($100) for $485. This would give you two tuners, 800 hours of storage, remote access, plus thousands of streaming media channels for 1/2 the cost of a basic TiVo installation.  For the $930 you did not spend on a TiVo, you could purchase four Simple DVRs, four Rokus, a Channel Master DVR+ for the living room, and two years subscription to Netflix.

In any case, your DVR will surpass Aereo’s.

 

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

SCOTUS Kills Aereo

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States found that Aereo infringed on copyright protections afforded the broadcast networks.  Chief investor Barry Diller declared that the decision was the end of Aereo.  Pundits are weighing in on the consequences of the decision.  Many are declaring the Broadcasters the Big Winner.  Others claim Big Cable is the beneficiary.  They are all wrong.

Aereo was the biggest loser today.  They had a profitable business model and it’s gone.  Aereo’s customers were losers as well.  Investment in Rokus are sunk money and they have to put up an antenna or crawl back to their premium provider.

Broadcasters won nothing.  They did not secure additional carry fees and they lost eyes for their advertisers.  In the end, they may wish Aereo had prevailed.

The premium providers were also losers.  They still have to pay fees and this will not slow the momentum of cable cutting.  In fact, this may alienate more people who feel the FCC and the courts are in bed with Big Media.

The Supreme Court was a loser.  Their decision was nonsense.  They came down on the side of Big Media “because I say so.”  Their arguments were unconvincing and the decision exposed the institution as an instrument of Big Business.  An institution that has failed the country and its people lowered itself further.

Who were the winners?  That’s easy — Channel Master, Mohu, Simple, Tablo, and all of the other vendors invested in broadcast television.  These are the guys who were going to be disrupted by OTA-over-OTT services.  They are the clear winners.  With today’s decision, consumers hate the cable company a little more, trust the government a little less, and are a little more interested in putting an antenna in their attic.

Believe it or not, cable cutters were winners. The internet was not designed to support streaming media and there is little bandwidth available to significantly increase the number of households streaming or the amount of time they stream — never mind 4k video. When primetime and special events prove to be unsatisfactory (buffering, dropped connections), people will move on.  Forced to install an antenna, cable cutters will enjoy a better picture and more reliable service with no fees at all.  Expect to see a lot of antennas growing out of rooftops

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, OTT

FCC Form 2000E

Broadcasters are required to maintain PSIP guide information including time and program name.  If a broadcaster is cheating by simply sending ‘DTV Programming’ or something similar, they are breaking the law.  When you notice a problem, it is polite to report the problem to the station, but you can report the problem directly to the FCC using FCC Form 2000E

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

  • by telephone

1-888-CALL-FCC or
1-888-TELL-FCC (TTY)

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

Amazon and HBO Ink Deal

Amazon Press Release

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Apr. 23, 2014– (NASDAQ:AMZN)—Amazon.com, Inc. today announced a content licensing agreement with HBO, making Prime Instant Video the exclusive online-only subscription home for select HBO programming. The collection includes award-winning shows such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Big Love, Deadwood, Eastbound & Down, Family Tree, Enlightened, Treme, early seasons of Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, as well as mini-series like Band of BrothersJohn Adams and more. Previous seasons of other HBO shows, such as Girls, The Newsroom and Veep will become available over the course of the multi-year agreement, approximately three years after airing on HBO. The first wave of content will arrive on Prime Instant Video May 21. This is the first time that HBO programming has been licensed to an online-only subscription streaming service. This programming will remain on all HBO platforms.

In addition, HBO GO will become available on Fire TV, targeting a launch by year-end. HBO GO is HBO’s authenticated streaming service offering subscribers instant access to over 1,700 titles online including every episode of new and classic HBO series, as well as HBO original films, miniseries, sports, documentaries, specials and a wide selection of blockbuster movies.

“HBO has produced some of the most groundbreaking, beloved and award-winning shows in television history, with more than 115 Emmys amongst the assortment of shows coming to Prime members next month,” said Brad Beale, Director of Content Acquisition for Amazon. “HBO original content is some of the most-popular across Amazon Instant Video—our customers love watching these shows. Now Prime members can enjoy a collection of great HBO shows on an unlimited basis, at no additional cost to their Prime membership.”

“Amazon has built a wonderful service—we are excited to have our programming made available to their vast customer base and believe the exposure will create new HBO subscribers,” said Charles Schreger, President of Programming Sales for HBO.

“As owners of our original programming, we have always sought to capitalize on that investment. Given our longstanding relationship with Amazon, we couldn’t think of a better partner to entrust with this valuable collection,” said Glenn Whitehead, Executive Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs, who along with Schreger headed up HBO’s negotiating team. “We’re also excited to bring HBO GO to Amazon’s Fire TV. The features like unified voice search will provide a compelling experience for HBO customers.”

Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:

  • All seasons of revered classics such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome and Six Feet Under, and of recent favorites such as Eastbound & Down, Enlightened and Flight of the Conchords
  • Epic miniseries, including Angels in America, Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific and Parade’s End
  • Select seasons of current series such as Boardwalk Empire, Treme and True Blood
  • Hit original movies like Game Change, Too Big To Fail and You Don’t Know Jack
  • Pedigreed documentaries including the Autopsy and Iceman series, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and When the Levees Broke
  • Hilarious original comedy specials from Lewis Black, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis CK and Bill Maher

The multi-year deal will bring additional seasons of the current series named above, along with early seasons of other series like Girls, The Newsroom and Veepto Prime members over the life of the deal.

By Len Mullen Posted in News, OTT

ABC, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., 13-461

Today is THE DAY.  April 22, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments that could impact almost nothing.  Seriously, do you know anyone who has Aereo or Skitter?  Regardless of the outcome of this case, broadcasters ought to embrace the technology and the idea behind Aereo and extend their reach beyond the fringe.

So, what is going on here?

Most people do not understand the Aereo proposition. The Supreme Court is not going to rule that Aereo can rebroadcast without paying a retransmission fee. That, as they say, is settled law. The SC is going to rule WHETHER Aereo is rebroadcasting at all. If the court finds that Aereo is rebroadcasting, then Aereo will need to license content just like the cable companies. If the court finds that Aereo is simply leasing an antenna to a customer, there is no law against that. In fact, it was common in the early days of television for communities to erect repeaters to improve reception in a valley or behind a hill and it is common today for people renting apartments or staying at hotels to pay the proprietor to use his antenna.

None of this has any impact on the cable companies’ requirement to pay re-transmission fees. I think a more reasonable comparison would be to satellite companies that erect an antenna for reception of local channels then integrate that signal into their programming. That, of course, was never challenged and no re-transmission fees were ever paid.

In my opinion, that is the basis of the case and the court should rule that it is legal for Aereo to lease antennas and DVRs.

The implications of an Aereo win are not clear. I think there are a three likely outcomes…

1) Aereo branches out and the reach of broadcast tv extends dramatically. This accelerates cable cutting, streaming, and a resurgence of ad supported television
2) Google or Amazon buy Aereo to add local programming to their streaming products.
3) Comcast improves and lowers the cost of basic programming.

I think the third outcome is most probable.

Aereo will not be widely adopted because it’s not inexpensive and it’s not very good. You have to have a good network connection. You need to buy hardware for each television. You end up paying $8 per month for each set. There is no continuous programming. DVR space is too limited.

Cable re-transmission fees are not related to this court case.

Broadcasters will not shut down OTA channels because 1) they are profitable, and 2) there are alternatives to the the Big Four networks. Syndicated programming and clones of network reality programming would be less expensive and nearly as popular as what airs now. Look at the top ten programs…

1 CBS NCAA BSKBL CHAMPSHIPS(S) CBS 12.4 21,196
2 NCIS CBS 11.1 17,392
3 THE BIG BANG THEORY CBS 10.0 16,288
4 NCIS: LOS ANGELES CBS 9.3 14,560
5 DANCING WITH THE STARS ABC 9.3 14,467
6 CBS NCAA BSKBL CHMP-PRE-2(S) CBS 7.3 12,015
7 VOICE NBC 7.2 11,966
8 BLUE BLOODS CBS 7.1 11,051
9 VOICE-TUE NBC 6.9 11,085
10 60 MINUTES CBS 6.8 10,987

Syndicated programming is not much worse…

1 JUDGE JUDY (AT) CTD 7.2 9,908
2 WHEEL OF FORTUNE CTD 6.8 10,611
3 JEOPARDY (AT) CTD 6.7 10,435
4 BIG BANG-SYN (AT) WB 6.0 9,119
5 FAMILY FEUD (AT) 2/T 4.9 7,306
6 LAW & ORDER:CI-WKL (AT) NBU 4.3 5,632
7 MODERN FAMILY-MF-SYN (AT) 2/T 4.2 6,060
8 BIG BANG WKND (AT) WB 4.1 6,457
9 MODERN FAMILY-WK-SYN (AT) 2/T 3.6 5,461
10 ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT(AT) CTD 3.5 5,112

Cable trails far behind…

1 GAME OF THRONES HBOM 3.5 6,310
2 WWE ENTERTAINMENT (WWE RAW) USA 3.3 5,313
3 WWE ENTERTAINMENT (WWE RAW) USA 3.2 5,094
4 WWE ENTERTAINMENT (WWE RAW) USA 3.1 5,032
5 WMNS NCAA BKBL CHAMP L (ND/CT) ESPN 2.8 4,271
6 REAL HOUSEWIVES ATLANTA BRVO 2.6 3,816
7 PAWN STARS HIST 2.5 3,692
8 WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE BRVO 2.4 3,506
9 AMERICAN PICKERS HIST 2.3 3,543
10 BREAK HBOM 2.1 4,018

It’s easy to imagine broadcast television without ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC.

I think there are some significant barriers to market entry. I’m not sure Aereo is very profitable. I don’t expect to see their hardware cloned and even Aereo has not had a lot of success with the software. I think they well may be a national niche.

There is lots of precedent for people paying to receive broadcast television via equipment owned by others.

– If I rent an apartment and there is an antenna on the roof and a cable in my living room, the landlord is renting an apartment with an antenna not re-transmitting programming.

– DirecTV leases a box that takes a signal from the air and integrates it into your DirecTV program guide. You pay a premium for that equipment and do not own it.

– TiVo streams broadcast television over ethernet to other televisions. TiVo charges a monthly fee for this service — one fee for the transmitter and another fee for the receiver.

If you read the FCC FAQ on Must Carry, it’s clear it does not apply to Aereo…

http://www.fcc.gov/guides/cable-carriage-broadcast-stations

Note that 1) the requirement for cable carriers is specifically documented, and 2) that this was added to the fcc rules as a matter of fairness to broadcasters who were singularly required to abide by the rule until 1992.

The fcc would have to amend their rules again for them to apply to re-transmitters who are neither broadcasters not cable carriers. The problem with changing the law to include Aereo without specifically naming the company is in the use cases I cited above. Any law would be unenforceable and Aereo could say they are being targeted.

Here are a couple more articulate presentations on the matter…


I don’t expect the media to get this right. I hope the court does. Either way, you should cut your cable. Put up an antenna and enjoy high quality ad supported television. It’s completely free and works when the internet is down!

Amazon Fire TV Hands On

I’ve had my Fire TV (FTV) for about a week and it sits right next to a Roku 2 XS as I compare and contrast. We cut our ties with Comcast five years ago and are OTA first cable cutters — which is to say we have an antenna and most of our programming comes in via that antenna. We have had a lot of streamers and currently use six Rokus plus this Fire TV. None of these are Roku 3s because using WiFi for streaming audio+video+remote is a really bad idea — especially if you have a half dozen streamers.

The Fire TV streamer is the best streamer available at this time. It combines the most popular features of Apple TV, Roku, and Ouya in a sleek package which is much faster at the same price point. I think it is worth noting that Amazon warrants its streamer for a full year while the others only stand behind theirs for 90 days.

At launch, FTV had nearly 200 apps available including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, Plex, and YouTube — the most streamed services. Within a few days, people were running XBMC on the Fire TV hardware.

The Fire TV is better hardware than Apple, Roku, or Ouya devices. A faster processor, more memory, usb, wired and wireless ethernet, and optical out all perched on a substantial heat sink ensures cool, smooth operation. During my week of comparison, the Fire TV has not yet hung or rebooted. During this same period, the Roku 2 XS sitting beside it has rebooted three times.

The USB port is a bit of a mystery. I am using it for a wired Xbox controller. Amazon claims it has no current use.

The more time I spend with this streamer, the more I appreciate the user interface. It’s elegant and well thought out. The left margin is a series of topics. As you scroll down the topics, the right side of the screen is filled with subtopics and items. These topics are ordered naturally and default to the logical destination. Press the Home button on your remote and you are taken to the main menu with the Home topic selected revealing your most recent apps and a lot of recommendations. Right click once to return to the last app used, twice to the one before that. Once you settle in with Fire TV what you do will be just a couple clicks away from your favorite apps.

There are a lot of apps for the Fire TV. Many are always free and quite a few were reduced for the launch. Apps purchased for my Kindle Fires are in my Fire TV library even if a different app is required for the FTV.

Fire TV has apps for the most popular services. The Netflix app supports profiles. The Plex app is being revised. It looks great but lacks some recent features like Play All. The YouTube app can be linked to a PC or tablet so that items selected on that device are played on the TV if the app is running. I like this a lot. There are not a lot of news apps, but I like Now This News. NTN plays news clips. On my Roku, there is a black loading screen between clips. On FTV, clips one after another. I guess this is the first application of Amazon’s smart buffering.

Conspicuously absent at launch: a web browser, an email client, social media apps, PlayOn.tv (which works in a browser on my Kindle Fires), Simple.TV DVR app, Tablo DVR app, and the top news and sports apps. I expect these to make their way to FTV as most are already on the Kindle Fire.

The Fire TV is a really decent casual game console. Fire TV launched with 136 games. Thirty of these are free. If you have already purchased an app for your android device, you get the Fire TV version for free.

There are familiar titles (Crazy Taxi, Deus Ex, Minecraft, Prince of Persia, Sonic, Rayman, and Tetris), original titles (Sev Zero), and 47 games that can be played with the included remote control.

I did not purchase a controller for Fire TV. I had hoped PS3 or Xbox controllers would work as I have these in my home. While I was unable to pair a PS3 remote with my Fire TV, I was able to plug in an Xbox USB controller. It was immediately recognized and it is a fine controller for the Fire TV. I will probably get at least one Amazon controller. At $40, it is not overprices and it includes media controls. The $40 price includes Sev Zero and $10 in coins. If you want Sev Zero and/or have your eye on some other paid apps, this will reduce your cost to $23 which is a very good price for a full fledged game controller. The controller takes AA batteries. So, $39.99 for a controller, Sev Zero, Crazy Taxi, and Air Fighters Pro seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Fire TV supports Parental Controls and Amazon’s Freetime will be on Fire TV next month. For $2.99/month, Freetime includes content from Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, and more. Parents can create custom profiles for up to four kids, choosing the movies, TV shows, apps, and games they can access and limit/restrict certain types of content.

Another feature I haven’t really played with, but may be compelling for some, is a feature called Second Screen. This allows you to mirror a Fire HDX tablet to the TV. Second Screen allows a Fire HD or HDX to display additional information about media playing on the TV. Just pointing this out.

I give this streamer a big thumbs up. Fire TV is a terrific Netflix player that supports profiles. It supports other popular services and is totally integrated with Amazon Prime. FTV plays games with real controllers and plays your media using third party apps like Plex. It’s fun and safe for kids with integrated parental controls. Good job Amazon!

This review on Amazon