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TiVo says it can ape Aereo legally. What might that service look like?

Jared Newman | May 22, 2015
The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to cord cutters last year when it ruled that Aereo was illegal.


The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to cord cutters last year when it ruled that Aereo was illegal.

For $8 per month, Aereo let users watch and record over-the-air channels (such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) without the expense and hassle of additional hardware. And instead of confining users to their televisions, Aereo's Internet streams worked on phones, tablets, and laptops.

While the Supreme Court didn't agree with Aereo's methods--each user was assigned an individual set of antennas, which streamed from remote warehouses--TiVo now thinks it can capture the spirit of the now-defunct service. As early as this summer, the DVR provider plans to offer "the Aereo model, done legally and better," according to TiVo CEO and President Tom Rogers.

Consider me skeptical of this claim. The magic of Aereo was that it was as simple to use as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other streaming-video app. But Aereo's approach--no antennas at home, no hardware to install--is precisely what made it illegal in the eyes of the court. Any other system will be a compromise and a turn-off for many people.

That's not to say TiVo can't offer a decent product that's better than current Aereo alternatives. So let's consider what those options might realistically be.

Aereo alternatives: the current landscape

In terms of watching and recording live over-the-air television, Aereo wasn't the only option beyond a basic antenna plugged into your television. Here's what we were left with after Aereo shut down:

Tablo: For $220, this box hooks up with your Wi-Fi router and streams broadcast channels to its various apps on phones, tablets, computers, and set-top boxes. The up-front cost is considerable, however, as you must supply your own antenna and your own external hard drive for its DVR. Tablo also requires a $5-per-month subscription for certain features, such as a 14-day channel guide and series-based recording.

HDHomerun: Like Tablo, this box also hooks up to your router and an antenna of your choosing; but it's cheaper at $170, and you can use a desktop PC to store recorded shows. On the downside, app support isn't as widespread as Tablo, and HDHomeRun is still working on its own DVR software.

Channel Master: This $250 box plugs directly into your television to provide a channel guide and DVR with no subscription fees, and you can get a built-in 1TB hard drive for an additional $150. It's a simpler solution than Tablo or HDHomeRun, but it won't let you stream to other devices in your home, such as phones and tablets.


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