How to Watch TV On Your Cell Phone

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A quick look at how you can see over the air TV on a cell phone or tablet.

Yes, I know.  We can all get video on our cell phones like YouTube and some other sources.  What I am talking about is over the air (OTA) TV from local network stations like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, Univision and others.  Up to now there has not been a suitable solution.  Now there is.

The most direct approach to this is to put a TV tuner inside your smartphone.  As it turns out that is not a great solution.  There are excellent single chip TV tuners available and the smartphone processors are certainly fast enough to handle it.  However, the additional power consumption is a problem in a smartphone that already has 5 other radios in it.  But the main hang up is the antenna.  To get decent reception of the low VHF TV stations (54 to 216 MHz) you need an antenna several feet long.  That is generally unacceptable in our world of smaller and more elegant devices.

A new company called Aereo is now offering a service that delivers OTA TV to your smartphone or tablet.  It essentially picks up the signals with its local antennas and repackages the TV channels for delivery over an Internet connected device.  It works with iPhone 4S and 5 and iPads and a few other devices like the AppleTV and Roku over the top (OTT) boxes.  You subscribe to the service for $8 to $20 per month depending on hours of usage.  Right now, it is only live in NYC where the local channels are streamed to the remote devices.  Aereo is expanding its services to another 22 major cities in the US over the coming months.

Part of the subscription is a cloud DVR function.  If you want to record Downton Abbey, you can.  Aereo keeps it in its cloud servers for later viewing.  But just as a warning, you are using your data plan for the Aereo service so watch your minutes so your monthly bill does not surprise you.

This could be a very good business as many still want to watch local channels for news, weather and local sports.  The big problem has been the opposition by the TV networks to the use of their material without payment.  Today, cable TV companies have to pay the networks to have them carried on the cable.  Aereo does not.  The broadcasters have claimed copyright infringement but the courts have ruled, so far, that no infringement has occurred.  So it appears to be legal.  I am sure Aereo has not heard the last from the broadcasters on this topic.

There are other actual OTA alternatives to the Aereo service.  A company called Dyle sells two interesting dongles that plug into the power ports of an iPhone or iPad.  The dongles feature a real TV tuner as well as a telescoping whip antenna.  One of these is the Escort Mobile TV Receiver.  The other is the Elgato EyeTV Mobile TV Tuner.  Both use Dyle’s mobile TV app.  Obviously, the broadcasters fully support such dongles.  If you don’t mind the extra gadget hanging off your phone or tablet, the dongle is the way to go.  You can get one for less than $100 and since you are getting the signals right from the ether, there is no hit on your data plan.

If only the quality of TV would improve all of these options would be a good deal.

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Blogs on topics such as wired and wireless networking.

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel is the Communications Technology Editor for Electronic Design Magazine where he writes articles, columns, blogs, technology reports, and online material on the wireless, communications...
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