Bringing tech to the corn fields of the Midwest, gadgeteer and cat lover Adam Miarka contributes to Zatz Not Funny when the overlord allows. When not on ZNF, Adam posts pictures to http://www.adammiarka.com and harasses the public from @adammiarka on Twitter.
Being a Kickstarter for the first generation Simple TV, I’ve always been interested in technologies that could disrupt traditional TV viewing. When the original Simple TV was announced back in 2012, it looked like something that could actually let me break from my current (TiVo) setup while lowering our monthly expenditures.The original Simple TV had one fatal flaw, a single tuner for recording.
Despite this limitation, I decided to back the project to get a feeling for how this new setup might work in our household. The idea of having a device that could basically capture any OTA or ClearQAM signals and then have it playback on a myriad of devices (web browser, iOS devices, Android devices, Roku) was very enticing. You only need to bring a hard drive to get the Simple TV party started!
As for content, Comcast has decided to encrypt local ClearQAM channels last year so all my content comes from over-the-air (OTA) signal here in Indianapolis. That’s not necessarily bad as the OTA signal is less prone to artifacts and compression than the Comcast feed and we are roughly 15 miles away from the broadcast towers. For my original Simple TV I have the Mohu Leaf, while the new dual tuner gets the upgraded “Ultimate” Mohu leaf that has the added amplifier for signal. Overall I’ve been extremely happy with both Mohus and would recommend them to anyone that wants to try out OTA signals. If you are averse to having a rectangle dangling from your wall, Mohu has recently launched the Curve series which offers a better looking antenna that can be place along side those family pictures. ;-)
Enter the Dual Tuner Simple TV
When the dual tuner was announced back in September, I knew I would purchase it when it became available. At that time Simple TV also announced feature updates for the original device for both mobile software and web browser. The main update, to me, was the ability to add multiple devices to the same account essentially allowing you to combine multiple tuners for recordings. The catch with the single tuners was that you had to switch back and forth between devices depending upon where you scheduled the show. This was a nice update for existing users (and those buying additional ones from Woot), but the dual tuner would essentially solve the problem of having to switch.
When I saw that Newegg had the $250 dual tuner for sale for $200 (also on Amazon and BH Photo), I jumped on the purchase. My original order was in early January with a ship date of 1/17. That was eventually pushed back to 1/31. Lo and behold the dual tuner actually shipped on 1/30 and I had the device in hand on the 31st. I’ve had the weekend to put it thru it’s paces and here are my initial thoughts.
Unboxing and Hardware
The packaging for the dual tuner has been “upgraded” from the original card board box. We now get fancy new packaging outlining the features of the new device. My guess is that partnering with Silicondust allows Simple TV to expand their distribution presence and there was need to have a clearer marketing message of what the new device can do. In the new box is a very easy to read setup guide, the dual tuner, a power adapter, and a 6ft network cable.
The device is itself is much more streamlined than the original. Whereas the original was “bubbly”, the new one has straighter lines and is more compact. These are welcome changes in my view.
Overall I was impressed with the build quality. That is, until I turned on that device. :-)
What is that sound?
Following the instructions for setup, I connected the device to my network, plugged in the external hard drive, and then plugged in the power. Upon first turning on the new dual tuner, I was actually shocked by the following sound:
My first reaction was, “There is a fan in this thing?!”. The original Simple TV barely made an audible sound. I was surprised that the new model had a fan, especially one that was so loud. Loud as in, I am in the other room and can STILL hear it running! I chalked it up to the device booting up and figured the fan would eventually slow down / stop once everything was set up. I continued to setup the device according to the instructions. It was like my own personal white noise machine during this process. :-)
The actual setup process is the same as the older single tuner, at least for now. There is talk about a new website rollout in the near future which might change how devices are added, but for now, it’s exactly the same as the original device.
Once the updates were completed, I continued to searching for OTA signals. The new dual tuner was extremely fast for scanning channels. The single tuner would usually take about 20 mins to do a complete scan, the new dual tuner had completed in less than 2 mins. Excellent…except for the fact that the fan was still spinning at the same loudness. With setup complete and just generally using the website to tune channels and play recordings, the fan was really starting to bother me. Something needed to be done.
Unplugging the device, I needed to figure out why the fan was spinning so loud. I checked the sides (where there are holes for ventilation) and nothing was obstructing then. I then flipped over the device and saw that there were access screws so that I could take it apart. Seeing as there was no “Void if opened” on the box, I decided to open the thing. The new dual tuner has a very simple logic board, and a very BIG fan!
After removing the top of the device, I then decided to plug it back in to see if any more ventilation would help. At first boot, the fan did spin loud, but then actually slowed and eventually stopped. It seemed that the having the device open allowed for enough cooling for the device to work properly without the fan going crazy.
Along with this temporary solution, I contacted Simple TV to inquire if the fan noise I had been hearing was normal. Support got back to me within an hour stating that it was not and that a firmware update in the near future would fix both power and fan management. This is great to hear! Looking forward to seeing if the new firmware will fix the issue. But for now, my device is going convertible style so that I can actually use it without the fan spinning like crazy.
Using the new dual tuner
Despite the fan noise, the new dual tuner is an upgrade in every area over the original single tuner.
It’s Faster. Switching between channels takes only a few seconds in both the web browser (Safari) or mobile apps (iOS in my case). To me, the website also seems to load faster in both tuning and data (guide/my shows/etc). Using the Roku to watch recorded shows, the stream starts almost instantaneously. My single and dual tuner Simple TVs are on a wired network along with my Roku. iOS devices are obviously on Wifi. Overall, there is definitely a speed increase in tuning and general reaction time for the software. With future updates, I’m sure it will get even better.
More powerful. Having the new Zenverge CPU, I wanted to test the dual tuners streaming capability. The following is a picture of 2 live streams, 2 recordings being streamed, and 1 recording that is being watched from the beginning. The dual tuner had no issue with 5 streams at once. This is an upgrade over the original single tuner that would choke when trying to stream more than one show, especially a mixture of live and recorded.
Around the corner?
Suffice to say, the original Simple TV has served me well the past year, especially as the updates have made it faster and far more stable. With the new dual tuner, the ability to record two shows at once and having a beefier processor only helps the eventual transition to a headless DVR in our household. It’s still not a replacement for my TiVo, but an excellent backup for when I’m ready to finally make a switch. Of course that will have to go thru the proper channels for approval (aka The Wife).
So what would I like to see in the future in terms of software and hardware?
- Ditch Silverlight – For whatever reason, Simple TV allows you to stream via HTML5 in Safari, but not Chrome. Chrome still requires Silverlight. This not necessarily a deal breaker for most who use simple TV to access via a laptop or desktop, but for those who use Chromebooks, it’s a non starter.
- Embrace Chromecast – Chromecast has been slowly adding support for 3rd party apps. It seems that they are releasing these updates in batches of apps. My hope is that Google will soon announce the public API for Chromecast so that 3rd parties can start pushing out updates. The ability to quickly access a show on my phone (via Simple TV app), and then fling it to a TV is the holy grail I’ve been looking towards.
- Better communication of software roadmap – There is a lot of confusion out there in regards to “Version 2” of Simple TV software. There needs to be a clear roadmap of both hardware features and software features.
So what’s next? Overall, I am happy with the new dual tuner and will wait for the future update (supposedly this week). Despite the fan sound, it’s definitely an upgrade from the original single tuner device and having only one device to record instead of switching between two is a great benefit.
This month will also see the release of the Tablo DVR with the same setup as Simple TV. Competition is good. I really want Simple TV to succeed in this market and having two companies with a similar strategy for acquiring content will drive them to make both solutions better.