Time Warner Cable's mobile TV app finds ready audience

TWCable TV is a new app that lets users watch Time Warner Cable (TWC) channels on their iPads. Having great-looking, HD, live content on a mobile device is certainly a treat, and while the app does not overwhelm with features initially, (new features are coming, which we'll discuss in a bit) it does a great job of what it sets out to do.

While the app is free for anyone to download, there are a couple of requirements that must be met. Not surprisingly, you must be subscribed to both cable and Internet access from Time Warner Cable, and your Wi-Fi access point needs to use Time Warner Cable's broadband network to make it work. The current app does not support 3G at all, but with Road Runner and especially Road Runner Turbo, you'll get a solid high-quality stream. Also, you won't get all your cable channels to your mobile device, just a selection of about 30 channels. But the channels are some of the best, with CNN, E!, MSNBC, A&E, Bravo, Bio, Food Network, FX, IFC, Style, Sundance, Syfy and many more.

You can get up and running by typing in your Time Warner Cable user name and password. Fortunately, I had recently created a TWC account to use its Web-based online DVR tools, so I was all set. If you don't have a TWC account, you can easily set one up and log in immediately. After the TWC animated logo, you are suddenly watching live HD TV on your iPad. Very cool. The iPad's 1024x768 @ 132 pixels per inch beautifully showcases the 720p widescreen channels. There is no zoom option, in fact there are no adjustments at all to tweak the picture, but you really don't need it. On the left is a menu of all the channels; click on one to switch. On the right is a drop down list of recent/favorite channels. Simple and intuitive. Streaming quality is excellent, and aside from a few seconds to buffer when changing channels (about the same amount as switching digital cable channels) you are watching pure uninterrupted cable TV.

Worth noting is the controversy that erupted when the software was launched. Time Warner Cable's stance was that this was just an extension of its service, the tablet just another "TV" that you could use to view their channels. Many networks disagreed. In particular were Discovery, FOX and Viacom, which offer Animal Planet, TLC, FX, MTV, VH1 and many more. Time Warner Cable sent one of the most agitated emails to its subscribers ever (I got it, and loved it!) as TWC completely tore down the stand of these non-progressive networks stating that they were, in a sense, holding back the customers from the future of television. It was spirited and refreshingly blunt, and surprising coming from such a button-down corporate entity. The rant may have worked, as now some of the networks/channels are back in the app. I have to side with TWC, why not let channels I am paying (a lot) for also appear on my mobile device? And wouldn't networks love for me to watch commercials again instead of DVR-ing past them?

Time Warner Cable is committed to advancing the app, and the future sounds exciting. It is working on letting customers stream channels and not have to be tied to TWC's broadband network, using the iPad as a remote to control their TV and most importantly, adding DVR capabilities so you can schedule and record shows to the device's flash memory as well as pause live TV and rewind. As I mentioned, and as you may or may not know, Time Warner Cable now has an online DVR tool for scheduling shows for its subscribers. It even has a mobile version of the site so you can record/schedule shows right from your phone. To expand and join this with the mobile TV app would be great. While the viewing of channels is excellent, having control over content and cueing up a batch of shows to watch later would be great. Very cool stuff coming soon to a mobile tablet near you.

Other networks are getting in on this. Dish Network already has a mobile app to watch live and recorded shows, and Comcast is ramping up its own TV app for Android and iOS for later in the year. But for now, the TWCable app nails it. It's easy to use and produces great HD video, and is well worth the free download.