Like many who work in the TV and Internet industries, Ottawa’s Grant Hall of Nuvyyo has been watching the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
On Tuesday, the court heard arguments for a case that’s being called the fight for the future of television. Aereo, a U.S. company that has built a cloud-based digital video recorder service, is fighting for its life against the broadcasting industry. It’s a subscription-based service that charges a monthly fee to deliver over-the-air TV shows on-demand to users’ devices. Aereo collects signals with an array of tiny yet powerful digital antennas — one for each user — and transmits the shows over the Internet that users can watch or record for later in their virtual DVR.
Since launching in New York City, Aereo has come under fire from traditional broadcasters, as the company doesn’t want to pay licensing fees to the broadcasters for the shows it provides to its users. After all, the company claims, it’s merely repackaging the signals that anyone can harness free with an antenna. The Supreme Court heard arguments and is expected to release its ruling in the summer.
Aereo is still U.S.-only, and I’ve only read about it, but I have recently had a pretty good taste of the future the company is offering, thanks to Nuvyyo’s Tablo.
The product has much of the same functionality as Aereo, minus the legal murk. That’s because, rather than serving broadcast signals from the cloud, Tablo requires all of the components in your home. This improves the streaming quality, although it does require more set-up work and a bigger upfront investment.
“Obviously, we have been watching it pretty closely and it’s very interesting; the Aereo really is our solution in the cloud, and that has pros and cons,” says Hall of the court case. “Their main pro is that you don’t have to deal with any additional equipment. Overall, we’re a little cheaper, and because we distribute the signal over your wi-fi network, you can use more bandwidth and deliver a much better picture than they can generally over the internet.”
Both companies take advantage of free, over-the-air TV signals, which many cord cutters have been using for years. Simply by sticking up a digital antenna at home, most city dwellers can get between nine and 12 HD channels on their set. Hall sees this as one of the benefits of the press surrounding the lawsuit, since most people don’t know those signals are there.
Tablo’s two-tuner model is available for $244.99, but it costs $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year for the optional channel guide service. (Aereo’s subscription starts at $8 a month.) But you still need more equipment: Beyond a digital antenna and the Tablo, it requires an external hard drive and an Android tablet or iPad to control it. Then, if you want to watch the shows on a TV, you require an online video streaming box like Apple TV, Roku or Chromecast. If that sounds like a lot, it is. But once set it up, it is easy to use.
Using an iPad for my setup, I got about nine channels in my east-end Toronto home. Tablo arrayed all the shows available on those channels in a slick, Netflix-like layout, and I selected which ones I wanted to record. It also allows you to easily watch live TV on the tablet. For both recordings and live TV it worked really well.
It is impressive just how many shows you get on the small number of channels, and the best thing that it provides is access to local newscasts and some sports, but it is still limited compared to a full cable experience.
To get the show onto TV, I used Airplay with my iPad and added the Tablo channel to my Roku streaming stick. It worked fine, but with the slick and easy-to-use tablet interface, much of my watching has been happening on that smaller screen.
Tablo is not the only company in this space — Simple.TV and Channel Master are two other American outfits that do similar things — but Tablo does the job really well, and brings a lot of modern TV functionality to the cord-cutter’s home viewing experience.