Simple.TV Combines DVR and Media Streamer with Over-the-Air TV

Really Simple Software has started shipping its Simple.TV DVR and streaming device, which can now be ordered from the Simple.TV website. Broadcast TV is free with an antenna. The goal of Simple.TV is to stream Live TV for free to iPads, Roku Boxes and computer. And with the Simple.TV Premier service you can stream live TV anywhere you have access to the Internet. The best thing about Simple.TV is that it works beautifully. I've been able to test a pre-release Simple.TV and I found that this handy little streaming DVR may make it possible to finally cut the cord on cable.

What is Simple.TV?

Simple.TV was introduced at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It won the Best in Show award for Home Entertainment. To bring this cool little gadget to market, founders Mark Ely and Bruce Randall requested $125,000 of funding from Kickstarter only to receive over $225,000 in pre-sales and support.

The Simple.TV tunes into over-the-air or basic cable broadcasts and is a full-featured DVR that records TV shows. This initial model requires that you provide a USB external hard drive (USB 2.0 or 3.0 for smooth streaming). While it's odd that a DVR would arrive without memory, it's easy to add a 320 GB portable hard drive that can hold up to 200 hours of recorded TV and will cost under $50. If you like to save your shows you can choose a higher capacity drive or fill up the first drive and swap it out for another hard drive.

Setting Up the Simple.TV

To set up the Simple.TV, attach an antenna or basic cable connection. Add the USB external hard drive and connect an Ethernet cable to your router. Next, visit the Simple.TV website on your computer's or iPad's web browser and set up an account. Once you've connected your box to your account, scan for channels. Within about 15 minutes you are ready to stream to your players.

Some DVRs boast that you can tell it to record when away from your DVR. For Simple.TV that is the only way to tell the Simple.TV to record. It doesn't hook up to a TV, instead it streams the live TV and recorded shows to your devices. Of course, the devices--an iPad or Roku Box--can then play the streamed TV shows on a TV.

The Simple.TV has only one tuner which means that only one live show can be watched and/or recorded at a time. However, the Simple.TV provides up to 5 simultaneous streams so each family member can stream a different recorded show whether at home or on the road.

Simple.TV is not WiFi-enabled and requires a wired (Ethernet cabled) connection to your home network router. If you don't have whole home Ethernet wiring, the Simple.TV will need to be placed near your router--perhaps in your home office. If you are connecting it to basic cable it will also have to be near a cable connection, otherwise anyplace in your home where indoor antenna reception is good is ideal (i.e., it probably won't work well placed in a closet).

Beta Test Drive

I was able to try out a Simple.TV for a few weeks before its release. All aspects of the test were part of their beta (pre-release). Testing during a beta period is full of bugs, as the manufacturer adds new features and works out the problems of getting them to work. In fact, in the final days before release, my review unit failed as it was manufactured prior to the final design. I had a couple of good weeks with it, but in the last few days, I had to access the Simple.TV at one of the employee's homes. The fact that I could have the same experience connecting to a Simple.TV that is at someone else's home is further testament to how it doesn't matter where you are when you want to access your Simple.TV. (Note that I will receive a new unit and add updates to the review if the experience changes).

Live TV Anywhere

My favorite aspects of the Simple.TV:

  • Wherever I am I can watch live TV as well as pause, rewind or skip forward.
  • Wherever I am I can watch shows I have recorded.
  • I don't need an antenna for each TV in the house
  • I can get all of my great streaming channels and now add Live TV to my Roku box.
  • I can stream to my iPad and send it via AirPlay to my Apple TV to watch on my home theater big screen (again, without adding another antenna).

Because I travel a lot, I am happy to be able to watch live news, televised live sports, or keep up with "The Amazing Race" by watching recordings while I'm in a hotel room, or even as we drive the boring stretches of I-5. Simple.TV streamed to my computer, and later to Safari on my iPad without a glitch.

Roku Channel

Roku has a Simple.TV channel that can be downloaded to your box. Setup entails copying a code to the simple.tv/roku page on their website. In the early stages of testing, there were problems connecting, but in the end, the Roku channel worked perfectly. The Roku menus and playback is different than watching from the web. It is similar to other Roku channels, giving you a choice to play a recording from the beginning or start where you left off. To access the 5 second rewind and 30 second skip forward features, use the navigation back and forward arrows. A quick push of the arrows will result in an eventual rewind or fast forward. A spokesperson for Simple.TV assured me that the delay will be fixed in the first weeks of the public release of Simple.TV.

Little Annoyances

When watching live TV on a computer, the 5 second rewind and 30 second skip forward take a full count to 6 before it kicks in. This too should be smoothed out shortly. If you are one of the first users, have patience that a single press will do the trick. Another annoyance is that there is no resume video on the web player. If you stop viewing a recorded program you will have to use the scrub bar to find the place where you left off.

Setting to Record TV Shows

Like other DVRs, you can choose to record a whole series or just one episode. When recording a series indicate whether you want to record all instances of the show, or only new episodes. Also, you can choose to buffer a show's recordings by adding one to four minutes before the beginning and after the end of a show. There is no setting for "on time." It wouldn't let me record two shows in a row.

Records Different Formats to Your Hard Drive

Each TV show is recorded in 3 different MPEG 4 formats at the same time. The best, compatible format is automatically streamed to each device. Video for an iPad would be a more compressed format than what is streamed to a computer or Roku box. During my test period, the Simple.TV was successful in choosing the best format for each device as the picture quality on the Roku, iPad, and computer were as good as the video that was received by the Simple.TV

You need Premier service for all features

Without the Premier service, you will have to choose the channel, time and duration of a recording manually. If you want to schedule recordings by show title from a grid guide, you'll need the Premier Service. The two week grid guide also includes metadata with summaries and other information about each episode. A year's subscription is included in the $199 price of the Simple.TV and subsequent years will cost $49 or $4.95 a month. Simple.TV boasts that the cost is well below the subscriptions paid for other DVR services (TiVo runs $12.99 per month). The Premier service is also required to stream to mobile devices and to stream outside the home.

Final Words

Whether you are ready to get rid of cable or simply want to record and stream TV to your devices, the Simple.TV is a cool addition to your media streaming arsenal. Yes, there are a few glitches but the Really Simple Software engineers have been fixing the bugs about as fast as we have been finding them. I don't hesitate recommending the Simple.TV.

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