Well, it’s taken a while, but SimpleTV is finally shipping its $149 streaming TV box to users. After previewing its hardware and CES, and following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the combination Sling-TiVo device will soon be in users’ living rooms. For real, this time.
The SimpleTV box converts TV signals into video streams, which can then be watched on your PC, iPhone, iPad, Roku box, or Apple TV via AirPlay. In that way it’s kind of like a newer, cheaper Slingbox. But it also has a USB connection, letting users connect their own storage devices to create DVR-like capabilities. It’s sort of the ultimate time- and place-shifting device, for folks who care about those capabilities.
Since introducing the product to users, SimpleTV has been focused primarily on the cord-cutter market. It has no video out option or pass-through capabilities, so you can’t tie it into your cable setup without splitting the line. In its Kickstarter campaign, SimpleTV bundled its box with over-the-air digital antennas in some packages, which users without cable could use to get free local broadcast signals. One other downside is that users have to connect the box via Ethernet, since Wi-Fi isn’t available.
Basic service is free, including free streaming to any of the devices it’s built apps for. But for $4.99 a month, or $49 a year, users get access to premium features like Series Pass-like TV recording, an updated program guide and in-depth information on content, and unlimited remote streaming for up to five users.
I’ve played with a SimpleTV setup on and off over the last few weeks, and found it pretty easy to use. The web interface and program guide work pretty well for navigating shows that are available to stream now, and setting shows to record is a breeze, if you’ve connected a hard drive to do so.
The question is, would I recommend to users? For those who don’t care about having cable but want some of the same functionality — like being able to record 60 Minutes and watch it later — sure. At $149 for the hardware, it’s not totally out of range for the cord cutter set (although it’s tough to sell any TV add-on for more than $99). But users who want DVR will need to factor in the cast of a hard drive to connect, as well as monthly service fees.
All in all, it’s a decent value for the money, but in future versions it would be good to see video pass through, HDMI capability, and Wi-Fi connectivity… maybe some built-in storage. All of that will no doubt push up the price, but it would also make SimpleTV a more complete solution for cable users and cord cutters alike, potentially broadening its addressable market.