Woot!  Woot!  I got a Simple.TV on Woot last week for $105 (shipped).  I have been intrigued by the Simple device since it was offered on KickStarter.  At $100 including lifetime Premier Service, I jumped in.  My logic was that I was getting the tuner for free since the Premier lifetime license was $150.  This is particularly attractive since Simple has promised the license will support their v2 device and that the v2 device would be compatible with legacy hardware.  From their FAQ

Rest assured whether you buy a unit today or upgrade to a new unit a year from now, we won’t charge you extra for the subscription. Every Simple.TV subscription can accommodate new units as long as you have a valid Simple.TV subscription.

We believe in value and we don’t nickel and dime you to death. Our subscriptions are tied to you (the viewer) and you can choose to have one unit or many units on your account. As long as you’re the primary subscriber, you can have as many units as you wish.

Since our subscriptions can cover multiple units, you can get started with us today and upgrade your Simple.TV unit at anytime in the future — risk free.

What is Simple?  According to the manufacturer, “Simple.TV is the first personal DVR that streams live and recorded TV to your favorite devices, wherever you are. Get all your broadcast TV favorites on your iPad, PC, Mac or Roku box.”  That pretty much sums it up.

What they do not say, however, is that the Simple completes the Roku.  If you have a Roku and are missing local programming and/or your DVR, Simple is what you need.  Look at this…


Instead of routing your broadcast signal to each television, feed the signal into a bank of Simples and stream programming to Rokus.

You will want one Simple and one Roku for each television plus one Simple to serve as a whole house DVR since the Simple serves as a tv tuner for the Roku.    Of course, any/every Simple can be a DVR, so designating a lesser used tuner (guest room) is fine.  In this configuration, you can schedule favorite shows to record with the Premier software.  It will record only new shows or new shows plus reruns.  Either way, it will not re-record an episode already saved.  From your Roku equipped television, you can pause, rewind, fast forward, and record live television.  You can watch shows recorded on any Simple device on your network.  You can do all of this on the road as well (I haven’t tried this yet).

So, that is the concept.  How does it work?

Let’s start with the DVR.  Before connecting anything, you need to set up an account using the provided code.  Then you plug in a USB disk, an ethernet cable, an antenna, and power.  The web app will discover the DVR, prompt you for local information, and set up your guide.  It will offer to format the USB disk.  Once the disk is formatted, you are ready to begin watching live tv via the web interface and schedule recordings.


DVR Screens


Roku Channel Screens

Setting up the Roku channel is even easier.  Install the private channel.  Open the channel, type the code into and you’re done.  The Roku channel is about an [un]impressive as any Roku channel — simple drill down navigation with 2D scrollers, limited search and programming — but it works and some of the screens like ‘upcoming’ are pretty nice.  They key missing features are…

  1. Device oriented
  2. No play all in My Shows
  3. No search for programs to record
  4. No slow motion
  5. Limited record functions

By device oriented, I mean that you have to select a DVR in the Roku menu before you can use it to tune channels or watch a show.  If you save programs on multiple DVRs, you need to know which one recorded the show you want to watch.  If you connect to a DVR that is currently recording a show or on which someone else is already watching television, your connection will interrupt the current activity.

One other shortcoming is that the Live TV list is a list of programs not channels, so if you have the same program on a strong and a weak channel, you may not be able to select the strong channel.

Some Roku channels have an option to record all programs.  The Simple pops out to the show description upon completion.  Search is limited to shows on the DVR.  Via the Roku channel, recording options are limited to record this episode and record the series.

My ideal Roku channel would be device independent.  If I wanted to watch live tv, the first available DVR would be connected.  The Live TV list should include all tuned channels even if the same show is on two channels. Recordings should start on the next available tuner.  When I choose to watch live tv, if a tuner is already in use, I should be prompted before it is disconnected (this tuner is recording the Super Bowl, do you want to interrupt the recording?)  I should be able to search programs on all local DVRs.  When I choose to watch a show, an option ought to be to watch all recorded episodes.  I’d also like to be able to start and stop recording manually or record channel 38 from 6pm to 8pm every week night.  I’d like to be able to rewind something and watch it in slow motion.  This is essential for sports and wardrobe malfunctions.

Let’s think through some use cases…

  • You cut the cable and installed an antenna and have run cable to your televisions and are enjoying broadcast programming.  You have installed a Roku for Netflix and other internet programming.  You might install one or a few Simple devices to record programs and to use to view, pause, rewind, and fast forward for some programs.
  • You want to put a tv where you have no coax and do not want to run coax.  You install a Simple DVR where there is coax and stream wirelessly to a Roku where the television is.
  • You want to watch tv by the pool or on the deck.  Simple can stream to a laptop, a tablet, or a wireless Roku by the pool.
  • I have five DTVPal DVRs scattered throughout my home.  We also have five Rokus.  We just installed our first Simple DVR.  I program it to record shows we like and we watch them using the Roku channel.  Five Rokus can stream a program at the same time.  This is a great way to intelligently record programming without spending for a Tivo.

I’ve only had this for a couple weeks and I love it.  I’ll post a followup once I have had a chance to use it for remote viewing (college boy is supposed to test this for me).  In the meantime, I strongly recommend anyone watching unencrypted cable or broadcast television grab one of these.  Watch Woot — these have been $100 with lifetime twice.  In case you missed the link in the first paragraph, here is a big on to the specs on the v2 device…

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA

Simple: Live Broadcast TV for the Roku

This is compiled from other sources as I do not have a Simple device.

Simple.TV is a device that let’s you stream and record over the air (OTA) programming.  The Simple device attaches to your own antenna, a USB disk you provide, and a wired ethernet connection.  Simple streams broadcast television to as many as five connected devices concurrently.  Simple is also a DVR.  It can record programs to an attached USB disk.

Simple.TV charges $149 for their DVR. For $299 you can purchase a Simple device plus their premiere guide lifetime license which schedules individual recordings and also entire seasons. You do not need to purchase the guide except you then lose access to a lot of extra features and will need to schedule your shows manually. The guide service is another $49 a year.

Simple is not for everyone, but if you are already receiving broadcast television via an antenna, Simple can add DVR function and stream to Roku boxes where you have no coax.

You can install the Simple Roku channel here.

Skitter: Live Broadcast TV for the Roku

This is compiled from other sources as I do not have access to Skitter.

Skitter is a service that streams broadcast channels via the internet for $12/month.  Subscribers are able to view live broadcast content plus internet services like YouTube. Skitter is currently available in Portland, Oregon but there are plans to enter other markets.

Skitter quality is not as good as broadcast and there is no DVR functionality beyond pause and resume.  Skitter on the Roku uses a simple 2D channel list.

Skitter streams ten live channels, including CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and PBS. There are plans to add additional channels including content not available over the air.

You can add the Skitter channel here.

Aereo: Live Broadcast TV for the Roku

Aereo is a service that leases remote television antennas and virtual DVRs.  Aereo subscribers are able to view live broadcast content and record it for later. The service offers all major broadcast channels plus Bloomberg. The service costs $8 per month for a single tuner and 20 hours of DVR space. Aereo’s premium tier adds a second antenna and boosts DVR space to 60 hours. Aereo debuted in New York City, but is going nationwide in 2013. Boston went live in May, Atlanta will go live in June, and Austin, Baltimore, Birmingham, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Madison, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, Raleigh—Durham, Salt Lake City, Tampa, and Washington (DC) will follow.

Aereo has prevailed against broadcasters in two court decisions.  On April 1, 2013 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of Aereo, upholding a July 2012 decision denying a request for a preliminary injunction against Aereo.

Aereo isn’t for everyone. You have to have a robust internet connection to to stream Aereo. If your only internet option also happens to be your cable provider, you may find internet expensive without the television and phone bundle discounts. Part of a cable or satellite bill pays for infrastructure and service. Aereo requires a set top box. Right now, the only choice is a Roku. That’s $100 per set. When your Roku breaks or becomes obsolete, it’s up to you to provide replacement equipment. Aereo’s Roku channel is a private channel. Roku has a history of pulling the plug on channels that run afoul of Big Entertainment. You may one day turn on your Roku and find it unable to stream Aereo. Premium services provide a LOT more channels. If you are a fan of baseball, basketball, hockey, profanity, or nudity, broadcast television may not work for you. You can subscribe to pay services, but those costs add up and you may not be able to stream your teams due to blackout rules. Finally, some internet service providers (ISP) cap or throttle bandwidth which may lead to degraded or no service.

Aereo is different than broadcast television.  For starters, the user interface is two dimensional — channel-by-time or time-by-channel.  You scroll across a row of channels for a time or a row of programs for a channel.  I much prefer the channel-by-time-by-program grid.

Programming is organized as shows.  You cannot sit in front of the television and watch for hours on end.  When a show ends, you are returned to the program guide.  Aereo doesn’t actually know when a program begins or ends, so you may be dumped before the end of a show or after a show begins.  Once at the guide, you have to wait for the next block to begin before you can start a program in that block.  It’s only seconds, but it feels like forever — especially if you were dumped from the beginning of a program or before the end of a program.  Aereo says they are working on continuous channel viewing.

When recording programs, you can adjust the beginning and end of a program, but only from a PC.

Aereo does some nice things for the user.  You can watch Aereo on a PC or tablet.  It’s almost worth $8/month to be able to take the ball game out to the pool.  If you are using a Roku, you can stream videos from a lot of the programs which are only on premium providers.  You can also play movies off a thumb drive or usb disk.  Recorded programs are available wherever you access Aereo.

Finally, the picture quality is excellent.  During heavy downpours that pixelated and disconnected my broadcast channels, Aereo only suffered picture quality degradation and occasional pauses.  During these downpours, I found Aereo very watchable.

You can add the Aereo Roku channel by following these instructions.