New OTA TV boxes are a little expensive

Second-generation Simple.TV device

Second-generation Simple.TV device

Two small boxes made for recording and streaming over-the-air TV hit the news recently. They both sound interesting, though I’m unconvinced that they’re better than a couple of alternatives.

Simple.TV is now taking pre-orders for its second generation DVR. The newest version includes dual tuners, apps for iOS, Android and Roku, and a “Download to Go” mode for offline TV viewing. You’ve got to provide your own hard drive, and for a remote control you have to use an app on your phone or other mobile device.

If you’ve ever used a DVR, you know that an important benefit is browsing future TV listings and scheduling recordings to watch later. (Simple.TV’s new device will pull its data from, my favorite source of programming information.) In free service mode, the Simple.TV will only be able to record what’s on now, and it will only be able to stream it across its local network. Subscribers to Simple.TV’s Premier service (about $60/year, $150 lifetime) also get the ability to schedule recordings in advance using a full program guide, plus unlimited global streaming for up to five users.

The Tablo sounds remarkably similar. According to its Indiegogo campaign page, the Tablo device is designed to stream OTA channels to HDTVs and devices, especially tablets. Just like Simple.TV, the Tablo requires you to add your own hard drive and uses an app on your mobile device as its remote control. The Tablo streams globally, just like a subscribed Simple.TV. And the Tablo will require a subscription of about $50/year, according to Engadget’s Tablo review.

Compare those costs to two other alternatives I’ve described here before. First, a Windows Media Center computer costs maybe $200 to put together, and its guide data is free. Side benefits: Also provides access to any video programming available over the internet. Probably plays DVDs and local video files. Also includes full computer, useful for sending email and reading blogs. Drawbacks: Microsoft might stop providing free guide data one of these years. Form factor is often unwieldy, and typically requires more electricity. Adding streaming or even a good remote isn’t that easy.

Second, consider an Aereo subscription, currently $8/month. With no upfront cost, you get the same functionality as the Simple.TV or Tablo. Side benefits: Works even where OTA antenna placement is impractical. No device to plug in or place on a shelf. Includes Bloomberg. Easily streams to lots of device types. Drawbacks: Requires third-party device to stream to most TVs. Only available in certain TV markets. Won’t stream outside of home market. Might not be legal.

That question of Aereo’s legality continues to gather amicus briefs as it heads towards a possible Supreme Court decision. More about all of that in tomorrow’s column. And later, I owe you a review of the Roku 3, which does a lot of things really well.