Roku Channel Review – Aereo (Beta)

 

 One of the first things I thought about when I first Cut The Cord was, “it would be awesome if there was a Roku channel for live, over-the-air channels.” After all, you can pick up many HD channels (many with better display quality than if you were to view them via cable or satellite) with an inexpensive antenna. How cool would it be if you could keep everything centralized, with everything available through your Roku, without having to flip back and forth? Sure – it’s really not that big of an issue: on our family room television, we simply select “HDMI1” for all things Roku, and then “TV” for over-the-air broadcasts.

   As is the case whenever I have such a curiosity, I began to scourer the inter-webs looking for said awesomeness. My first thought was to simply look for Roku channels created by individual local stations. Some stations do have their own Roku channels, but the vast majority of those channels only carry the station’s news broadcasts due to licensing constraints. And that’s when I stumbled across a news story about something called Aereo that was causing a legal stir in New York.

   Without going into the complete history of it all as that’s not the purpose of this post, long story short is that the cable giants and networks have been fighting Aereo in an attempt to shut them down but thus far they have been unable to. Why? Because of the simple genius behind Aereo. As you may know, you can buy a simple antenna and hook it up to your TV and pick up free broadcast HD channels (some older TV sets will require you to buy a low-priced HD converter box). The genius behind Aereo is that they house your “antenna” for you. They do this with “Antenna Farms” that are simple, tiny antenna on circuit board arrays.

   I don’t know about you, but when I first heard about this and saw it my mind was literally blown! I’ve often thought throughout my life that the answer to most issues, or the best ideas, are born out of simplicity. So, I HAD to have Aereo! But, it was not available for my market yet (Cincinnati), however I was able to send a request to be alerted as soon as it was available. I did. And I waited….
   Aereo skipped over Cincinnati and headed west, continuing to grow. So, I kept sending requests. I had already installed the Roku channel in anticipation of the remarkable day when it would be available. And then it happened. On January 13, I received notification that I was invited to join the beta community for Cincinnati. I created my account and was off to log into the Roku channel with excitement and anticipation! But unfortunately on that day, I happened to be at work when I received the email so my initial log in was done online via PC. Roku viewing would have to wait until I got home later that evening.
Functionality – 
   When I logged in on my PC, I was impressed with the video quality of the channels. Crisp, clear live TV broadcasts of local stations. And what’s this? A record button? That’s right – with the basic $8/month plan you get 20 hours of remote DVR storage. You can set up future recordings – either single shows or series – as well as record what you are currently viewing. You also get 1 antenna (more on the significance of that in a bit). So far so good. I could hardly wait to get home to start viewing live TV channels on my Roku players via Aereo.
   

   When I first got home and logged into the Arereo Roku channel, the first thing I noted was the initial screen. Pretty simple (which I like) and easy to navigate. No extra frills, ads, or other useless mumbo-jumbo. So, I selected the first option on the list – “Guide”. The next screen gives you the option to select by time or channel – I selected “Channel” out of curiosity as to what was available. Quite frankly, I was immediately disappointed. With the HD antenna I have hooked up to my TV, I receive 34 over-the-air broadcast channels. Aereo listed 22. No big deal? Well, many among the 22 are channels I have absolutely no interest in, but at least 3 of my favorite local channels are there.  So I selected one and received the typical “loading” screen one gets from any streaming channel. The loading time was a bit on the long side and once the dialogue box went away, another one popped up on the lower left hand side of the screen that displayed “35%” for a few seconds, counted down, then went away.  Finally, it was happening! I was watching a live, local channel stream through my Roku! Was this the solution I was looking for? Well, maybe not so much.
   I assumed the excessive load time was maybe due to initial setup. Unfortunately, this never went away. Whenever I launch the Aereo Roku channel, and select something to watch (whether it’s by channel or show time), the same thing happens – very long loading followed by the “35% countdown”. I provided this feedback, along with my network speeds and viewing environment to the support team (who happen to very responsive) but it seems this condition still persists. Maybe it’s just a beta thing, but I’m not sure at this point. 
Picture Quality – 

   During my initial viewing experience, I received notification that there was an Aereo Beta app for Android available in Google Play. I downloaded it onto my 2013 Nexus 7, logged in, and was completely blown away by the sharp video quality, and (oddly enough) nearly no loading time and no video time-outs. I’ve even used it to watch local weather updates while at the office during this crazy winter we just lived through.
   
   Sadly, I can’t say the same about the picture quality on the Roku channel. It is riddled with pixelation, general blurriness, and the picture often blacks out momentarily as if watching satellite television during a heavy storm. In fact, at one point my wife and I were watching a show (she had no idea that it was on Aereo) and she asked, “what in the world is wrong with the picture? It looks horrible.”
   Again, I informed support and received an obligatory “thank you” and insurance that this would be addressed. To date, it has not but again I chalk this up to (hopefully) the fact that we are still in the beta phase.
Other Things To Note – 
   Keep in mind that Aereo isn’t a free Roku channel offering over-the-air broadcasts. The base package, as I mentioned above, is $8 per month and gets you 1 antenna and 20 hours of remote DVR service. So what does “1 antenna” mean? This means that if you are watching TV through your Aereo channel on, let’s say, your Nexus 7 and someone else in your family wants to watch on your Roku, they will receive a message indicating the antenna is “busy” broadcasting to the Nexus 7. You would either need to stop viewing on the Nexus 7 or upgrade your Aereo account to obtain at least 1 more antenna. I personally upgraded to the $12/month plan which lets you record 2 shows at once, watch on multiple devices simultaneously, and save 60 hours of programming on a remote DVR.
My Personal Rating – 

   Overall, I was not too impressed with Aereo. I say was because as of May 11, 2014 I allowed my account to expire. It was the end of my beta period, which meant I would need to start paying the $12 monthly bill to keep it. Quite frankly, I didn’t see the value in it. From the extremely long load times to the horrific picture quality, I simply couldn’t justify paying for what would only amount to a remote DVR service for me. I do applaud Aereo for this concept, and I am one of their biggest cheerleaders when it comes to their court battles with the “big boys” as far as cord-cutting is concerned. But my initial experience with this Roku channel has been sub-par. Hopefully once the beta dust gets blown off all of these things will improve. At which point I will be more than happy to re-activate my account. Until then, if I had to give a rating using the 5-star system, I give the Aereo Roku channel a 2.5 at best. 
   Do you use the Aereo Roku (or other device) channel? Do you live in a “fully live” city, or are you also beta testing? If you are using it, please share your thoughts below!
   

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