Next Wave: Over the Air HD + DVR for Mobile TV

The next wave in mobile TV is the combination of DVR and mobile device, setting up your programming to watch on your handheld. The big hook is the over-the-air HD channels that are all around us. Many are tired of cable and satellites constantly ramping up rates and contracts, but are we ready to rethink what TV means to us? is getting out of the gates with its new box that is scheduled to ship later this month. Simple.TV is a personal DVR that streams live as well as recorded TV programs to many Web-connected devices such as the iPad, Roku, PCs and Macs. It includes a single HDTV tuner that records to an external hard drive. You get free HDTV on your computer, tablet or connected TV — all without a cable subscription. It works by first hooking up the small device to your OTA antenna. There are a number of types available, in all different price ranges. However most good ones can be had for less than $50. Then you can hook up an external hard drive. This is where the unit differs, in a good way, from other competitor options coming up. You can choose how much local storage you want to apply to the device. Running out of room? Simply add a bigger hard drive. Once the hardware is set up you can move to the software. The company offers a Website where you can scan though local programming, see what is currently live, and schedule shows and series to be recorded. The programming lists are subscription based (yearly rate of $59 or $300 for a lifetime sub plus one Simple.TV unit). So, even though you are getting TV for free, you still will at least need to pay a nominal yearly fee for the programming guide. There is no requirement to join and pay the yearly fee; however, the process of watching and recording TV is manual going that route, so it’s probably a good idea to spring for the yearly or lifetime option. 

Once everything is set up, you have a few viewing options. You can stream live and recorded TV to an iPad, Mac/PC or Roku box. Streaming to the Roku box is via a channel available on Roku, offering a front-end interface for your main TV. The iPad works via a dedicated iOS app and could be one of the main ways that mobile viewers will watch their favorite programming. In fact, one of the coolest features is that you can watch your TV shows on your iPad from anywhere you can hop onto an internet connection. Do you live in New York, but are in LA for a week? No problem. The software lets you view your content from anywhere in the world. Bringing an iPad along on a trip will give you access to all your favorite shows, are available and ready to be enjoyed. When you are back at home, you can stream up to 5 different devices at once on your network. Of course, this is dependent on your bandwidth as well as your hard drive performance. 

Simple.TV started as a Kickstarter campaign and generated enough support to make the product a reality. Although it’s sure to have a few kinks to work out, it does signal a growing change in how programming may be consumed in the future. Along with the launch this month of the Boxee TV, another device that offers DVR functionality of over-the-air signals, the trend could be to capture the gorgeous HD signals that are all around us, of which mostly consumers are unaware. Content producers can focus on local TV for programming, and advertising can center on a single market if devices like Simple.TV begin to catch on. 

Programming on satellite and cable has become increasingly more expensive and often includes long term contracts. Anyone shopping for satellite services these days may be surprised to see phone-like requirements for one and two year commitments. Cable TV has absolutely improved both in quality and breath of content, but prices for digital have been rising to support the infrastructure and many consumers are faced with $100 to $200 bills each month for something that used to cost $50. Aside from looking at other options out there, many are also wanting to watch their content on their own mobile device. Ideally they would like to mimic their current functionally with being able to record and playback their favorite content on their own schedule. Devices such as the new iPad mini make excellent units for person viewing of mobile TV, and any product that can tie into that, and offer functionality at a reduced price, surely has a chance of being a hit. 

It’s still early to tell if the cable and satellite market will be deconstructed like the music and book industries in the decade before, but the unrest is certainly there as it was in those markets. Consumers want more control and more options, as well as content on their terms and at their convenience. The huge infrastructure of free HD programming locally could be the next new frontier that has up until now been largely untapped in this new digital world of connect devices. But with units like Simple.TV striving for a breakthrough, consumers and content producers may have some new, more ideal, options available to them in the coming months and years.