Media

Simple.TV’s unique DVR is a cord-cutter’s dream (but isn’t for everyone)

Simple.TV has all the makings of the perfect cord-cutter’s device: It can broadcast free over-the-air (OTA) HDTV content to web browsers, iOS devices, and Roku set-top boxes. And with the addition of a USB hard drive, it also turns into a full-fledged DVR, allowing you to schedule recordings and view them across multiple devices.

On paper, the idea sounds fantastic. After debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Simple.TV walked away with the Best in Show prize in Home Entertainment. And following up on that hype, it also managed to raise more than $226,000 on the crowdfunding site KickStarter.

Today Really Simple Software, the company behind Simple.TV, will finally begin shipping out units to pre-order customers and KickStarter backers, after being delayed from a late-September launch. It’s retailing for $149 for the DVR box, $199 for the box plus a year’s worth of DVR service, and $299 for the Simple.TV unit with lifetime DVR service. DVR service is also available monthly for $4.99.

Simple.TV is positioning itself as an alternative to Hulu and Netflix, both of which don’t have access to live TV content. (Hulu is backed by broadcast networks, but you still have to wait a few days for new TV episodes to become available.) And even though most HDTV owners can already access OTA HD content, they may be tempted by a box that offers DVR capabilities, as well as the ability to stream TV content almost anywhere.

I’ve had some time to play around with the device, and while it mostly lives up to its promises, I found it to be too complex (and potentially too expensive) for mainstream consumers. But for media geeks, it may just be a dream come true.

Hands on: Built for media hounds

At first glance, the Simple.TV box seems elegant and simple. But that impression quickly changes as you hook up all of the cables required to run the device: One for power, one for an ethernet connection to your router, and another to connect to the included HDTV antenna. And if you want to use the DVR service (and I imagine everyone who buys this thing will), you also need to provide your own external hard drive and find a place for it among the bundle of cables behind the Simple.TV.

Simple.TV is simple in theory — but not so much when you actually need to set the thing up.

Once you’ve got the Simple.TV connected, you’ll have to set it up via a web interface. Scanning for local channels took around 10 minutes for me. Once setup, tuning to channels takes around 5 seconds. Picture quality still looked high-definition, though there was a noticeable softness to the image, and the frame rate was slightly lower than HDTV’s 30 frames per second. I was able to connect to the Simple.TV across most web browsers, but haven’t been able to try the iOS apps (the company says they’ll be coming out today).

Simple.TV may be particularly tempting to Roku owners. You can access Simple.TV’s live broadcast and DVR content from within a dedicated Roku app, which could be useful for Roku fans who miss instant access to live TV. (Though many Roku owners I know can already get OTA HDTV on a separate TV input.)

If you’re even vaguely interested in what Simple.TV has to offer, I’d recommend holding off a bit to see what its competitors have come up with. Right now it’s just a bit too expensive and complex for most consumers.

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