I have updated this post to add some Aereo channels. Notably, Aereo has added Movies! which is an excellent 24×7 movie channel. I noticed that the current version of Playon adds an Aereo channel. I’ll be reactivating my Aereo account to test this. The results will be documented here and this entry will be linked from a new post to ensure people see it. Great summer for cable cutters in New England!
I received my invitation to try Aereo on May 27, 2013. By this time, Aereo had already changed their pricing plan. Instead of getting two antennas for $80 per year, I would get one antenna for $8/month or two antennas for $12 per month. That’s about an 80% increase in price!
Aereo actually costs more than $12 per month. Assuming a two television home, Aereo requires a Roku for each set. The least expensive Roku is the 720p LT which costs $50. The flagship Roku 3 costs $100 and my favorite Roku 2 XS costs $80. (All of these are Wal-mart prices.) And you will need fast internet. Fairpoint charges me $45/month for high speed internet. If you also need VOIP phone service, that will probably add $10/month to your bill. The Rokus are warranted for 90 days, but let’s assume you get a year of service out of them before they fail or you decide to upgrade. $12 + $45 + $80 * 2 / 12 = $70 per month.
I called Comcast to see what a similar configuration would cost. They recommended the Triple Play with the Digital Starter tier of programming. That plan costs $144.95/month plus $7/month for a modem/router, plus $32/month for a pair of HD DVRs, plus taxes and franchise fees that could not be calculated in advance of my purchase. $144.95 + $7 + $32 +? = 183.95 + ?
I called DirecTV next. DirecTV recommended their Entertainment package. With two DVRs, that came to $101 per month plus taxes they could not specify until I checked out. $101 + $45 + ? = $146 + ?
Last call was to Dish Network. They offered me their America’s Top 120 package with two DVRs for $57 per month. That price included all taxes. $64 + $45 = $110
Even after almost doubling their price, Aereo is still the least expensive option.
Let’s compare programming (I’m going to leave off digital music, religious, foreign language, and shopping channels as well as ‘west’ incarnations of the same channel for this comparison)…
|ABC Local Weather||X|
|ABC News Now||X|
|Baby First TV||X||X|
|Game Show Network||X||X|
|Hallmark Movie Channel||X|
|Horse Racing TV||X|
|Independent Film Channel||X|
|Lifetime Movie Network||X|
|NBC Weather Plus||X|
|Turner Classic Movies||X||X|
|TV Game Network||X|
|TV Guide Network||X||X||X|
|The Weather Channel||X||X||X|
|World Harvest Television||X|
Obviously, Aereo has the least programming and Comcast has the most. Aereo has less programming than broadcast. Aereo has informed me that they have no plans to announce new programming at this time. Note, though that Aereo has programming not found on the premium services. ThisTV, MeTV, RTV, Movies!, and Cozi are great channels.
Cost and programming are pretty objective things to consider, but there is another aspect of television that is just as important — the user experience. On this front, Aereo falls flat on its face.
For starters, the user interface is two dimensional — channel-by-time or time-by-channel. You scroll across a row of channels for a time or a row of programs for a channel. I much prefer the channel-by-time-by-program grid.
Programming is organized as shows. You cannot sit in front of the television and watch for hours on end. When a show ends, you are dumped back to the program guide. Aereo doesn’t actually know when a program begins or ends, so you may be dumped before the end of a show or after a show begins. Once dumped to the guide, you have to wait for the next block to begin before you can start a program in that block. It’s only seconds, but it feels like forever — especially if you were dumped from the beginning of a program or before the end of a program. Aereo says they are working on continuous channel viewing.
When recording programs, you can adjust the beginning and end of a program, but only from a PC.
Aereo does some nice things for the user. You can watch Aereo on a PC or tablet. It’s almost worth $8/month to be able to take the ball game out to the pool. If you are using a Roku, you can stream videos from a lot of the programs which are only on premium providers. You can also play movies off a thumb drive or usb disk. Recorded programs are available wherever you access Aereo.
Finally, the picture quality is excellent. During heavy downpours that pixelated and disconnected my broadcast channels, Aereo only suffered picture quality degradation and occasional pauses. During these downpours, I found Aereo very watchable.
If cannot recommend Aereo at this time, but it is a welcome addition to our entertainment ecosystem.