Simple.TV – Television Without The Screen


Simple.TV is the retail DVR you wanted five years ago. And yet it’s still interesting enough to make my personal list of top product announcements coming out of CES 2012. Why? Because it’s a truly viable, inexpensive way to add digital video recording to your TV set-up without cable’s help. Maybe you remember the Replay TV? Or even those precious few DVD players available around 2004/2005 that imported guide data and sported DVR functions? The Simple.TV box does the same, but with a few twists.

Briefly described, Simple.TV is a bring-your-own-hard-drive DVR that slings over-the-air (OTA) and clear QAM cable content to various mobile devices and media extenders — sort of a sexier, evolved HDHomeRun… albeit, with  fewer tuners. Simple.TV doesn’t directly attach to your TV, but if you want to DVR stuff on the flat screen, you can always access the box via apps on your Roku, Boxee Box, Windows Media Center or Google TV device. The Simple.TV transcodes content to MPEG-4 with variable bit-rate streaming, and it makes any video, live or recorded, available through one of the company’s apps. CNET got a hands-on with the device, and found the iPad app in particular to be pretty slick.

Perhaps the best thing about Simple.TV is the price. The cost for the box is $149, and you can add on unlimited remote streaming for up to five users, as well as richer guide data and automatic recording for $4.99 a month via their Premiere Service. If you have cable TV service, you can connect the Simple.TV box to the coax along with your broadband connection. Or if you don’t, you can catch those over-the-air signals.

The cable DVR solution is certainly the simplest option for consumers out there, but for die-hard cord-nevers (like some of my neighbors), and college students or recent grads who don’t have the cash for a pay-TV subscription or premium-tier extras, Simple.TV is a cool DVR alternative. And it’s been a while since we’ve had an inexpensive one of those.

27 thoughts on “Simple.TV – Television Without The Screen”

  1. As with all these solutions, we’ll see how well it performs… what will the video look like when it hits my Roku or iPad? I will say that both the hardware and software look sharp. But I wish it had at least one more tuner and integrated hard drive. Or at least give me a slot, so I don’t have the clutter of a USB drive.

  2. So it’s OTA and clearQAM only? If it doesn’t work with cablecards it’s a non-starter for most consumers, including me.

    Also, the $5/month fee is mandatory to actually use it as a DVR. Not that $5/month would be a problem if it worked with cablecards.

    Interesting yet ultimately fatally flawed product.

  3. I saw this on Engadget and I’m still wondering this: why not just serve the client app the mpeg-2 stream when it’s supported and fast enough? Boxee Box, WMC, and Google TV should be able to handle the video just fine, and if you’ve got them on a wired network, why transcode? I can see transcoding for mobile devices or for wifi, but I can move HD mpeg-2 around my network just fine.

  4. Mary, now we are talking! :-D The problem with that would be how to maintain your season passes across boxes so that they don’t end up recording the same show twice.

    This does look promising though and I did signup to reserve a spot.

  5. @ Rodalpho

    I agree with you about the monthly fee, but I think leaving out the cable card is the right way to go. At least with the first version. I don’t think this is targeted towards the masses. I think it’s pretty much geared straight at cord cutters, with ClearQAM thrown in as a bonus. My guess is it’s hard to even buy digital tuners from manufacturers nowadays that DON’T support ClearQAM.

    The box is probably pretty cheap to produce (no storage) so they can probably be successful with somewhat modest sales. And if they’re successful at all, I’m guessing there’s a cable card version in their pipeline.

  6. @ Adam (the comments are coming in fast and furious!)

    HOPEFULLY when stacking you can designate one as a “parent” device that controls the others. If they’re actually suggesting stacking them they have surely considered the logistics of it…right?

  7. @Maddux

    I hope so. But then the other piece is how to share a USB drive across tuners? I wonder if the device supports offloading to a NAS of some type. Either way, I’m still excited! :-D

  8. @Maddux:
    OK, but my understanding is that the only channels available on clearQAM and OTA are networks. Can’t you already get that content from hulu+?

    I guess some people really like to watch the local news, but that’s about the only use-case I can find.

  9. Maddux, not all home networks may be as capable. On a more practical level, it wouldn’t work with Roku and would be difficult under iOS. For example, the HDHomeRun Prime streams only SD MPEG2 to the iPad at the moment. Although El Gato is working on 720P support, probably possible only via only the iPad 2. I’ve always had pretty robust networks and have regularly experienced HD video stuttering WMC -> 360. I’d say the Roku support is pretty critical – hardware starts at fifty bucks and have attracted many cord cutters. So these solutions are very complimentary.

  10. Was pretty excited about this until I realized it lacks a hard drive, has only one tuner and doesn’t have a a TV output. Whenever TiVo released their own transoder box, Premiere might be a better option if you can score a good deal on hardware and an OTA-only discounted rate.

  11. Dave,

    I guess the OTA channels might be HD, so you could get ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX shows in HD, but any clear QAM channels are almost certainly SD. Which would drive me insane at this point.

    Didn’t Comcast et al get a waiver to support embedded encryption with their DTAs (which only support channels up to 99 anyway)? Doesn’t this suggest that at some point soon they’ll flip the switch and all/many of those clear QAM channels will vanish?

    Certainly if you look at threads like this:

    and this:

    It suggests that we’re on a slow role towards all channels being encrypted. I’m not sure how much value clear QAM recording is going to have going forward…

    Hey Dave, with all the focus on internet connected TVs at this years CES do you start to wonder if Roku will still be able to sell their boxes in a few years?

  12. Probably doesn’t matter… “Normal” people don’t know what clear QAM is. And the number of folks that do isn’t large enough to support a sustainable business. This will be marketed as a cord cutter solution – in fact, most coverage is presenting it as such.

    Regarding the connected TVs and secondary boxes, we shall see. Smart TV experiences and television hardware doesn’t get updated like cheapie boxes you can replace every other year. Also, it’s not clear how much those connected TV features drive HDTV sales… or are used. But Roku’s hedged their bets – their experience is available for license and they’re shrinking the box into the size of a thumb drive. Certainly integrated functions and fewer boxes is a more elegant solution and simpler for many users. Guess we’re all waiting to see what Apple does (or doesn’t).

  13. “Normal” people don’t know what clear QAM is.”

    Sure they do. It’s when your the camera lens on your smartphone isn’t smudged, right?

  14. I think, this year “smart TVs” are a lot closer to what we all think they should be, in large part because of embedded Android (and Google should do more to convince manufacturers not just to roll out their own version of Android but do GoogleTV experience with some customizations).

    With regards to Roku stick, it’s pretty neat, but need for MHL makes it a non-starter. How many people have TVs with MHL? I think, Always Innovating’s HDMI Dongle did it better by being USB powered (more TVs have USB ports than MHL-enabled HDMI ports and, as a last resort, others could use any of a million USB power adapters).

  15. This seems really awesome. I’ve been a TiVo owner for years, and I just can’t justify paying $20 a month for a new one. This seems like a better sollution… I don’t mind paying $5 a month to let me stream on the web, have good guide data… or whatever. Seems to have way more features that TiVo has.

    I’ve heard a few people complain that this doesn’t have WiFi, but if cable is your ISP, that doesn’t matter, this box doesn’t have to be anywhere near your TV, just put it next to your cable modem.

    I admit the no hard drive turned me off at first… but USB drives are cheap (and I have extras). The 1 tuner thing seemed odd, but if you can stack em… easy enough. On both of these, i suspect within a year they’ll upgrade to a 2 tuner model, a cable card model, and probably have a hard drive pod you can “stack” in as well.

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    @ Dave
    You’re right that considering the ubiquity and affordability of Roku these days, this might as well be considered a companion box for Roku first and foremost and any other compatible clients just icing on the cake. So in that case transcoding is about your only option. I’d just like the ability to manually disable transcoding for particular clients, but that’s probably asking a lot.

    @ Rodalpho
    There’s actually LOTS of stuff on the OTA networks that isn’t on Hulu Plus. Sometimes the best stuff. The first thing that springs to mind is The Good Wife. And broadcast HD is going to be better quality than Hulu Plus.

    @ Glenn
    Where I am the ONLY Clear QAM I have is the local HD streams. I thought that was standard practice, but I guess not.

    (Geeze, I’ve never commented this much. Tivo and other time/place shifting news gets me riled up!)

  17. Better to add a $100 HD Homerun Dual (ATSC & clear QAM) to the net-top (running 7MC) already connected to my HDTV.

    $150 for a single-tuner is a non-starter in 2012.

  18. Sorry, $4.99 a month for anything that could even remotely be called a “DVR” = FAIL!

    Right now Amazon has the dual tuner HD HomeRun for $99. Everything that the Simple.Tv can do and MORE x 2 for a lot less and no $5 a month fee to get 1080p, etc.

  19. @waynedunham Really? So the HDHomeRun can offload it’s shows to an external hard drive?

    You still need the software piece for anything that can be remotely called a DVR. Even if you have the HDHomeRun, you would need to either buy El Gato’s EyeTV software (which requires a yearly fee for guide data), or use WMC 7 which still costs you money to get OEM.

    Paying a company $5 a month for the ability to record shows but also fling them to any device is worth it to me.

  20. @Adam
    Yes, it can. It work with Windows Media Center which comes with Everything since Vista Home Premium. Plus there are many free or alternative media center applications like MythTv, XBMC, etc.
    Yeah, the guide issue is a small problem but you can get guide data free with some work, or get a $25 per year sub to Schedules Direct.

    Yes, might appeal to some folks, but then again since they’re willing to pay for guide data, they’ll probably just get a TiVo. This gives them at least twice the tuners, cable card capability, etc, etc.

    Me, I prefer to pay once and be done with it. I use my 2 HD Homeruns with SageTv (free guide data) along with my 2 Hauppauge HD PVR’s hooked to 2 cable STBs.
    For me, over the air isn’t an option because I’m on the wrong side of a large hill and can’t get more than a few Digital signals for 2 networks plus one PBS signal.

  21. @ Dave
    That wasn’t meant to be a knock against you guys. The fact that you have comments at all means it’s a necessary evil. I just can’t believe that the people who build these bots actually think that somebody is going to follow that link and buy up some PAXIL! Whoohoo! Seriously? Really? Reeeeaaaalllly?!

  22. When you speak about these “normal people” are you referring perhaps to someplace like Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. That place sounds pretty exotic to me. Perhaps thats where that international pharmacy was located.

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